Tuesday, October 17, 2017
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High notes in the Deep South

ANDREA McVEIGH goes on a short road trip through America’s Deep South, world famous for its music and musical icons, space rockets and America’s Civil Rights movement...

AS THE band on stage struck up the first few bars of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama I was already on the dancefloor, wearing the biggest grin and ready to pledge allegiance to Dixie and the Confederate flag and declare myself to be as Southern as fried chicken and collard greens. As dancefloor debuts in foreign lands go, dancing to Sweet Home Alabama - in Alabama - is probably as good as it gets.

We were at Gip’s Place, a ‘Juke Joint’- which roughly translates as an anything-goes (no drugs, no profanity and no baggy pants are the only house rules) bring-your-own-booze party - in Bessemer, Alabama, just outside the city of Birmingham and one of the many stops on our road tour of some of the deep south’s most iconic musical destinations.

Founded by Henry Gipson, or just plain Gip to the thousands of party pilgrims who have made their way to his backyard gigs since 1952, Gip’s Place has welcomed some of America’s finest blues and rock musicians, who drop by to play a few songs and share some southern hospitality with their octogenarian host. It’s quite difficult to find Gip’s Place, but it’s well worth searching out - it’s one of the very few remaining authentic Juke Joints and of all the stops on our trip, it’s probably the one where I’m most proud to say that I visited and, quite literally, got the T-shirt.

Birmingham is probably most famous for the civil rights movement which emerged during the 1960s and, given the parallels with the situation in Northern Ireland around the same time, we took some time out from our musical odyssey to learn more about the events which sparked the momentous changes to equality in America.

A tour of the Civil Rights District began at the 16th Street Baptist Church where, in 1963, four little girls were killed by an explosion while preparing for morning worship. The bomb had been planted by the Ku Klux Klan and it was this pivotal event which led to protests and marches which soon spread both beyond the city and Alabama itself.

A visit to the nearby Birmingham Civil Rights Institute presented a history of the city, its origins being that of a mining town where poverty-stricken blacks and whites lived side-by-side, before segregation laws were introduced to suppress the black community.

To read the rest of Andrea McVeigh's feature on her trip to Alabama and see all the pictures, pick up a copy of Northern Ireland Travel News...

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