WHY WONDER? Very few people are unfamiliar with Stevie Wonder. That is to say, you don’t even need to know the man’s name to instantly recognize his face. His sunglasses, long locks and piano-playing swagger are as iconic as anything else in music today. But I’d venture to say that not as many people know the story of how the R&B legend got his start. Like most of the world’s most talented musicians, Wonder (real name Stevland Hardaway Judkins) began at a very young age. At 12, he was introduced to the Apollo Theatre, and the rest was history. This week, Virginia Samford Theatre in Caldwell Park is offering you a further glimpse into the artist’s career with their returning production, A Glimpse of the 8th Wonder, Act 11: Music Seen Through the Eyes of a Genius. The play is a musical review that will span many years of Wonder’s life and recreate many of his most popular songs. The production will go until March 13, with showtimes on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. All tickets for all performances are $30. For more information, call (205) 251-1206 or visit www.virginiasamfordtheatre.org.
FREEDOM FILM: Black History Month was over a few weeks ago, but based on the events I’m seeing, Birmingham has just up and decided to extend it through March. Starting at the very end of January, the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute began screening the award-winning documentary series, Have You Heard From Johannesburg? The films are a seven-part look at the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa during the Cold War. Now, almost two months later, they will wrap up the series on March 11. Previous screenings have included Road to Resistance, Hell of a Job and the New Generation, and Fair Play and the Bottom Line. But none of those titles are as indicative of the material as this week’s, Free at Last. If you’re interested in the subject, but weren’t able to attend previous screenings, this is probably the best way to get an all-encompassing look at the movement. The screening takes place at the Civil Rights Institute at 5:30 p.m. There will be an introduction to open the film and a post-film discussion afterwards. The event is free. For more information, call (205) 328-9696 or visit www.artsbma.org.
GET DOWN AND DIRTY: For those who don’t know anything about Jones Valley Urban Farm, here’s a quick rundown: 1. They are a nonprofit organization based out of Birmingham. 2. They are also a farm. 3. They are essentially a downtown backyard, drawing on over three acres of downtown property. 4. They strive not only to grow organic produce, but to educate the city about growing, farming and eating healthy. I’ve covered a couple of Jones Valley’s events in the past, but I’ve never taken a look at one of their classes. This Saturday, they’ve organized one entitled “Organic Gardening/All About Soil,” and it’s the perfect workshop for someone looking to start a garden. That’s simply because the class is a look at soil. If you’ve never gardened in your life, or only have rudimentary knowledge, the first thing you’re really going to need to know about is soil. That’s not exactly groundbreaking information, but learning how to garden organically isn’t as easy as many would think. The workshop will be taught by farm manager Sarah Ellison and it will run from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $15. For more information, call (205) 439-7213 or visit www.jvuf.org.
CAPTURE THE FLAG: “What is the sound of an avalanche taking out a dolphin? What do get when you cross a hamburger with a hot dog? The answer is: WILD FLAG.” Such is the way pop/psychedelic group Wild Flag opens their MySpace description. Honestly, that’s amusing enough that I’d probably go see them live having heard none of their songs. But it helps that they’re also talented musically. The group consists of members from Sleater-Kinney, Helium and The Minders, which may or may not be bands you’re more familiar with. If you’re not, trust me that they’ll give you your money’s worth. The members’ respective bands may be fairly obscure, but all three have been critically praised for years in their own separate underground circles. Opening for this “supergroup” are acts Yellow Fever and Times New Viking. The former gives me a very “Gang of Four” vibe, despite their female vocals, and the latter favors a kind of moody ambience with drowned out indie production. All three acts are interesting on their own merits, which is something you can’t say too often. The doors of Bottletree open at 8 p.m., and the first band starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 the day of the show. Ages 18 and up. For more information, call (205) 533-6288 or visit www.thebottletree.com.
READ WHAT YOU KNOW: No one in town is better at picking out local writers than Alabama Booksmith. They understand the extra something people get out of reading about where they live. In the South, especially, we’re a nostalgic people. And authors from Alabama that write about Alabama are better for being nostalgic. Mark Childress, the guest author this week, sets his novel, Georgia Bottoms, in Six Points, Alabama, where a girl named Georgia decides to start affairs with several different lovers, one for each day of the week, to get by after losing her family fortune. Childress will appear at Alabama Booksmith at 4 p.m. for a signing. The event is free. For more information, call (205) 870-4242 or visit www.alabamabooksmith.com.
HEY, SMARTY-PANTS: Spring is just about upon us, which means it’s time for season two of “Thinking Man’s Trivia” at Parkside Café. Every Tuesday, host Ben Lewellyn pulls questions from music, history, sports, geography and other categories for teams trying to win a $50 tab at the bar. Speaking as a one-time champion of the game, I can tell you the questions are pretty damn hard, but the rules and the atmosphere make for an entertaining experience nonetheless. Lewellyn does his best to keep things fresh, mixing in personal anecdotes, non-sequiturs, and looks “behind the scenes” of the games (which usually means discussion of the latest “special guest” that couldn’t quite make it—among them Janet Reno, Brian DePalma, and last week, Charlie Sheen). To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/parksidecafe.
NOT THAT KIND OF TURKEY: The Birmingham International Center is quite an organization, I must say. They’ve been around almost 60 years now, and their contributions to the city and the culture of the city should not be forgotten. One of the coolest things about them, to me, is their spotlight on a different country each year. It takes a lot of commitment to devote yourself to just one a year, especially when a country like Turkey gets chosen, as it has been for 2011. I’m not saying that Turkey is a less culturally viable country, but it’s one that’s far less well known in its region (though i’d imagine it’d be pretty hard to garner attention when you’re surrounded by Israel and Lebanon and Saudi Arabia). I suppose that’s the point, though— to expose us to a culture we otherwise wouldn’t notice. This week, the BIC is doing their part for International Women’s Day with a spotlight on two Turkish representatives. One is Bonnie Joy Kaslan, the Honorary Consul General for Turkey in San Francisco, and the other is Aynur Vloon, President of the Turkish Association of Alabama. They will be recognized at the “Woman of Consequence” awards luncheon, starting at 11:30 a.m., taking place alongside a “Turkish Outdoor Bazaar,” which goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 a person, or $120 for a table of 6. For more information, call (205) 252-7652 or visit www.bic-al.org.
THE FIGHTING FABULOUS: Unsurprisingly, Bottletree is the subject of two of my picks this week. There are venues that can rival Bottletree on music alone, but when it comes to sheer diversity in events, it’s hard to match them. Just look at the disparity between the Wild Flag / Yellow Fever / Times New Viking show on Sunday, and the screening of Stonewall Uprising they’ll play next Thursday. One is a solid line-up of three indie bands. The other is a documentary on the Gay Rights Movement. For those who don’t know, the Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York, in the late ’60s. So, it being the late ‘60s, the bar was subject to police raids. On June 28, 1969, when cops tried to bust up the establishment with tear gas and billy clubs, the occupants started a riot that lasted three days and, in essence, triggered the Gay Rights Movement. The documentary, directed by Karen Cooper, examines what exactly happened those three days and just how much of a difference it made. The screening will start at 6 p.m., but the doors will open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10, but there is limited seating, and Bottletree will not be accepting reservations. Students can get in for $5; Stonewall members get in free. For more information about pricing or food and drink specials, call (205) 533-6288 or visit www.thebottletree.com.