SUNSHINE STORIES: The Emmet O’Neal Library in Mountain Brook Village is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week by having “An Evening with Carl Hiaasen”, the New York Times best-selling author. Hiaasen has, at this point, written close to 20 novels, not to mention his non-fictive output, which puts the total number around 25. The author is a Florida native, and sets his stories almost exclusively in the Sunshine State. Much of this stems from his work as an investigative, environmental journalist for the Miami Herald, where he still writes. Ecological issues pervade almost all of his writing, yet he’s able to maintain his dynamism by framing his arguments within a traditional mystery or procedural structure. Using this template, he has swung from his award-winning children’s book Hoot, about a group of kids attempting to save an owl’s nest, to his most recent work, Star Island, about a stunt double who is spotted as her celebrity counterpart and mistakenly kidnapped. But even though he likes to stick to some of the same basic themes, he’ll always understand that the writing and characters have to transcend the setting and subject matter. Hiaasen will be making his appearance starting at 6:30 p.m. After a book signing, lecture and reception, the event will come to a close at 8:30 p.m. All tickets are $25. For more information, call (205) 879-0459 or visit www.eolib.org.
ALL THAT JAZZ: When I read the description for Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame’s Ninth Annual “Student Jazz Band Festival,” I immediately thought it was a competition. And I think a lot of folks would have thought the same thing. But I’m pleasantly surprised to say that the event, which includes 34 bands (from schools all over the state and surrounding areas) and comprises 750 students, will simply be a showcase for Birmingham’s young talent. I suppose it’s become easy for me to believe a gathering of such magnitude would only be for competitive purposes. Either way, the sheer amount of participants is staggering. Day one, April 7, will host the middle school portion of the festival, including performances from Homewood Middle, Phillips Academy, Mitchell-Inglenook and Mountain Brook Jr. High. Day two, April 8, will be devoted to high schools, including Carver High, Oak Mountain High, Spain Park, Ramsay High and the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Day three, April 9, is all about the universities, including Jackson State, Wallace State, Stillman College, Jacksonville State, Tennessee State and our very own UAB Jazz Ensemble. Saturday will also see a performance from Annie Sellick and the Nashville Jazz Orchestra to close out the festival. Times are as follows: Thursday, 9:35 a.m. ‘til 1:40 p.m.; Friday, 8 a.m. ‘til 4:35 p.m.; Saturday, 8:30 a.m. ‘til 6:10 p.m. The whole festival is free and open to the public. (Annie Sellick performs Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $5.) For more information, call (205) 254-2731 or visit www.jazzhall.com.
READY, SET, COOK: A few weeks ago I mentioned Pale Eddie’s Pour House’s kick-off party for Railroad Park’s Cajun Cook-off. If you weren’t able to come out and show some support for Girls Incorporated of Central Alabama then, you’d be good to do so this Saturday. The competition will be broken down into gumbo/ jambalaya category and open cajun/creole categories. Participants will be able to try variations of all the dishes, and then vote for the best. There’ll be live music from The Swamp Poppas, plus complimentary wine and beer. It all starts at Railroad Park at 11 a.m., and goes until 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of. For more information, call (205) 599-5683 or visit www.bhamcajuncookoff.com.
UNEXPURGATED HUCK: Sunday is your last chance to see Red Mountain Theatre Company’s production of Big River. The play is an adaptation of Mark Twain’s classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and it takes everything it can from the source material. It’s quite a topical time to see this, given the recent controversy over removing the “n” word from certain copies of the text. RMT warns that the production contains language “appropriate for the story’s time...but that may not be suitable for some young audiences.” I’m just curious to see how they portray the Ohio River onstage. Big River plays from Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. All tickets are $20. For more information, call (205) 324-2424 or visit www.redmountaintheatre.org.
AN ARTIST AHEAD: This week, the Birmingham Public Library makes the transition from their Holocaust-inspired “Darkness into Life” exhibit into something a little more light-hearted. And by a little more, I mean infinitely more. The library will open “Rhythms of the Heart: The Illustrations of Ashley Bryan” this Monday, a display of some of the author and illustrator’s work. Bryan has been in the children’s book business for about 50 years now, and he has a considerable amount of talent. But his background may be just as interesting as his output. After graduating high school two years early, he was accepted into the Cooper Union Art School at a time when institutions less prestigious still wouldn’t accept black students. His schooling was interrupted by World War II, and he spent much of his time in the armed forces honing his artistic craft. He finished school some years later, but wasn’t published until he was 40 years old. After that, he hasn’t looked back. He’s been writing a little, but mostly illustrating his various books of African- American folk tales, poetry and spirituals. Drawings from these publications will be on display in the coming month-and-a-half. There will be a reception for the show in a few weeks, on April 28 at 6:30 p.m. In the meantime, the exhibit is open to the general public during business hours through May 20. For more information, call (205) 226-3604 or visit www.bplonline.org.
BORN TO RAP: Most of the music events I select for Eight Days come from (unless it’s a big, theatrical venue like Alabama Theatre or the Alys Stephens Center) Bottletree and Workplay. This isn’t a coincidence. I think most would agree the bulk of groups worth seeing come to these venues. And that isn’t just because they get the bands from out of town—on the contrary, they tend to house the best of the local scene as well. But I can’t give them all the credit. Sometimes there are talented groups and artists that slip between the cracks. For instance, Lyrics Born at Zydeco. Lyrics Born, a Japanese-American rapper, has been around since 1992, and has used all that time to craft a number of albums, not to mention a fully-formed live show. He probably just won’t ever have the sales to back it up (indeed, the most mainstream thing I’ve seen him involved with was a Coke commercial with Adrien Brody that used one of his tracks). But that’s what makes smaller venues, like Zydeco, so interesting. It’s the groups you haven’t heard that end up affecting you the most, at least in my experience. The show starts at 9:30 p.m. with opener Skins & Needles. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. No one under 18 will be admitted. For more information, call (205) 933-1032 or visit www.zydecobirmingham.com.
SOME LIKE IT HOT: If you’ve ever been to a Sloss metal arts event , or even considered attending one, then the National Conference on Cast Iron Art should not be avoided. Register between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, or from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. on Friday. Wednesday includes three panels on sculpture parks, casting and iron safety, a basic electrical safety presentation, a parted mold workshop and a cupola contest. Thursday will have all the same workshops, new panels on gallery interactions, digital technology and homebrew foundry applications, iron pours, a painting demonstration, and a keynote address from Robert Cooke, followed by the main juried exhibitions and a reception. Workshops continue on Friday with panels on cast iron organizations, surface finishing and iron pour fiascoes, a green sand molding demonstration and a performance night with molten iron performance art. The last day, Saturday, will have similar workshops and panels, but will close out the Conference with a screening of “From Industry to Art,” a Sloss documentary. Everything is free and open to the public. For more information and a full schedule of events, call (205) 324-1911 or visit www.slossfurnaces.com.
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING: Last week I opened a pick by proclaiming that “The Virginia Samford Theatre has done an excellent job of using the space it has in Caldwell Park to produce some of the most eclectic events in town.” Last week, it was a concert presented by the Alabama Asian Culture Foundation. This week, it will house the new production from Magic City Actors Theatre: My First Time. The play highlights the experiences of six different characters, who each detail the story of their first sexual encounter. Regardless of what you think about either of these events, you can’t deny VST’s diversity, and you can’t fault their willingness to bring everything they can to their limited venue space. The play opens this Friday, April 8, and will go until Sunday, April 17. Shows start at 8 p.m. from Thursday through Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Adult tickets are $20; students get in for $10. For more information, call (205) 251-1206 or visit www.mcactorstheatre.com.