FEATURE | March 2015
Explore The South
MUSCLE SHOALS, AL
The quad cities’ musical mecca
Tucked away in the northwest corner of Alabama, Muscle Shoals is said to have earned its name from the mussels that inhabit the shallow banks of the nearby Tennessee River. And while the aquatic life of the area is surely of note, the breadth of activities in the quad-city area of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield boast more than enough music, arts, cultural and historical activities to suit any taste.
ARTS AND THEATER
Much of Muscle Shoals’ musical history is rooted in the signature sounds that originated from FAME Studios, a legendary recording studio that produced tracks for renowned artists like Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Otis Redding, the Osmonds, Jerry Reed, Alabama, Bobbie Gentry, Jason Isbell, Matisyahu, Band of Horses, Drive by Truckers and Jamie Johnson, to name a few. The “Muscle Shoals Sound” has gained iconic status as its own subgenre of sorts, thanks to FAME founder Rick Hall’s willingness to incorporate a variety of recording artists of different races and backgrounds, creating a musical melting pot. The smooth, distinct bass produced and pioneered through artists like Mavis Staples and Arthur Alexander are said to have left the Beatles’ John Lennon green with envy, yearning to replicate the sounds of FAME. With a repertoire of recordings that stretches more than half a century, it’s no coincidence that the influential Tennessee River’s Native American nom de guerre is “The Singing River.”
Ivy Green, the childhood home of American icon Helen Keller, is located in nearby Tuscumbia, Alabama. This sprawling early 19th century manor draws scores of annual tourists for live performances of William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker. The town hosts its popular Helen Keller Festival every June, a citywide summertime celebration that not only pays tribute to its eponymous honoree, but also the music and arts that bring the city to life.
The city of Muscle Shoals and the Greater Colbert County area sports a few highly praised spots for enterprising anglers. Pickwick and Wilson Lakes have been cited by local fisherman as some of the best fishing in the country by B.A.S.S. Bassmaster Magazine, Timmy Horton Outdoors and Bill Dance Outdoors, among others, with a diverse habitat packed to the gills with cover, structure and deep channels. A large helping of bass, crappie and most popular species of freshwater fish has drawn the attention of numerous fishing enthusiasts and made Muscle Shoals home to a number of big tournaments, including Cabela’s Crappie Classic and KingKat Classic, B.A.S.S. Pro-Am and Top 150, Southern Fishing-Russell Sporting Center Top Rod Championship and the EverStart Series Championship, and more.
Muscle Shoals packs a full schedule of annual events, including the large-scale Civil War drama and reenactment of Recall LaGrange in early May and the Trail of Tears Motorcycle Ride in September, an expansive excursion that tracks the fateful path of Native Americans in honor of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole nations. Additionally, the W.C. Handy Music Festival takes place in July. This 10-day festival celebrates Muscle Shoals’ rich musical heritage and casts a spotlight on local blues and jazz acts, all while incorporating a bevy of educational, artistic and athletic events.
Tourist Information: cityofmuscleshoals.com
Additional Information: colbertcountytourism.org
FAME Studios: fame2.com
Helen Keller Birthplace: helenkellerbirthplace.org
Pickwick Lake: fishpickwicklake.com
W.C. Handy Music Festival: wchandymusicfestival.org
Trail of Tears Motorcycle Ride: al-tn-trailoftears.net/index.php