Monthly Archives: October 2004

Vintage Bike Racing

Vintage Bike Racing

How low can you go?: Taking a turn at the Barber track. (click for larger version)

October 21, 2004

With riders who ride at gravity-defying angles while ripping through turns at more than 100 miles per hour, no form of motorsport teeters closer to the edge than motorcycle racing. Vintage motorcycles (some dating back to the 1920s) will be racing at the Barber Motorsports Park on October 22 through 24 when the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) comes to town. And what better place to feature historic motorbikes than at the home of the largest motorcycle collection in the world, the Barber Motorsports Museum. For details, visit or call 800-240-2300.

City Hall — Animal Control Issues


October 21, 2004

City Councilor Roderick Royal was furious. Pacing outside Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s office after the October 12 Birmingham City Council meeting, Royal waved a police report detailing a recent encounter with a ferocious pit bull that occurred while the councilor walked his Springer spaniel in his Pratt City neighborhood on September 29. During the council meeting, Royal had introduced a pair of resolutions: one allowing an increase in the $20 fine for anyone whose dog chases someone; the other requiring anyone with more than three dogs to have a fenced-in yard, if state code does indeed allow such an ordinance. If not, the resolution requested that a city representative lobby the state legislature to permit the fenced-in yard law. Royal became irate after a reporter told the councilor that during the Mayor’s post-council meeting press conference, Kincaid had described Royal’s proposals as nothing more than political posturing. “I don’t appreciate him saying this is politics when I was being chased up the street. And I’ve got the police report to show it!” Royal fumed as he waited to express his anger directly to Kincaid.

Royal’s resolutions requested that the Mayor direct the law department to both amend city code to allow for the penalty increase and to submit a fenced-in yard resolution to the council. But Kincaid was not happy that Royal took that route, and during the council meeting City Attorney Tamara Johnson told the council that they should have simply sent a memo to the law department requesting that the proposed resolutions be investigated for viability. At his press conference, Kincaid explained that when the council calls for a change in ordinance, the normal procedure is to go to the law department for the drafting of a resolution rather than introducing it on the dais at the weekly council meeting. “I view it as just a political ploy,” said Kincaid. “The process was to refer it to a committee in the first place. . . . That’s why council meetings are lasting so much longer. They are being used for committee meetings and for political posturing. What you saw [today] was political posturing at its finest. . . . One year from today is the election for city council, so you’ve seen the political posturing start.”


During the council meeting, Councilor Carole Smitherman said that it was not fair to levy identical fines for small and large dogs, and suggested that fines be increased up to $500, depending on the ferociousness of the animal. Councilor Valerie Abbott agreed, focusing her criticism on pet owners. “What we really have is an irresponsible owner problem,” said Abbott. “We need to increase fines to the point that it gets the attention of irresponsible pet owners.” Instruction in elementary schools on proper pet care was one of Councilor Carol Reynolds’ solutions, while Councilor Joel Montgomery complained that Birmingham Jefferson County Animal Control is perhaps not doing its job. “Folks, we pay animal control $56,000 a month to pick these dogs up,” said Montgomery.

In an interview two days later, Royal took exception to Kincaid’s explanation of legislative procedure, complaining that it frequently takes too long to get the law department to respond to council requests. Royal argued that the Mayor doesn’t control the council’s agenda, and that councilors are free to discuss any resolution or ordinance they feel is necessary. He then explained the definition of a dangerous dog: “The [city] code says that a dog is vicious if it comes out of the owner’s yard and chases you, attacks you, or bites you.” The councilor continued: “[These days] people don’t have poodles that chase you, they have Rottweilers.” Addressing the public health advantage of a fenced-in yard, Royal explained, “It’s just to further protect the public safety. It’s more likely that you can protect the public safety by an enclosed yard than by an unenclosed yard where a dog is chained to a tree or pole. . . . If you have a female dog, and a male dog chases you, I don’t think you’d be posturing at all. In other words I wasn’t posturing when I was chased by a pit bull. Anything I bring up, [Kincaid] is against,” said Royal. “What’s the likelihood that I would be making a show out of something that would cost me a limb? So on this point, [Kincaid] is just clearly off-base,” the councilor concluded. Royal agreed with Councilor Montgomery that the current animal control vendor may not be up to the task. “The city may need to look at other providers, because $56,000 a month is a heck of a lot of money.”

City Hall — Liquor Store Blues

City Hall

Liquor Store Blues

“We don’t want that mess in our neighborhood!” exclaimed west Birmingham resident Geraldine Jackson during a heated discussion at the September 16 city council meeting. She was referring to the request for a license from a liquor store opening near Elmwood Cemetery. Jackson joined Titusville community residents and Councilor Carole Smitherman in bitter opposition to On the Way Spirits opening at a new development currently under construction at Sixth Avenue Southwest and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The building will house a service station and adjoining convenience store in addition to the package store. Complaining about present traffic congestion, Jackson told councilors that recently she was stopped in traffic for 45 minutes, while two funerals simultaneously entered Elmwood. Allowing a liquor store to move into the area would only complicate traffic, said Jackson, who was also irate that city councilors would try to exert their will into neighborhood matters concerning the sale of alcohol: “People that live in the community have a say-so as to what they want to do in their neighborhoods . . . you [the council] don’t live in these neighborhoods!” At a recent neighborhood meeting, of the 35 people in attendance, 19 voted against the liquor store, with 16 in favor.
But what wasn’t stated until near the end of the debate was that the same neighborhood group that opposed the liquor store had voted earlier in the year in favor of a beer and wine license for the convenience store. The city council approved the convenience store’s beer and wine license on March 25. The approved applicant, however, has since decided against moving into the convenience store space.

Also, City Traffic Engineering Chief John Garrett said that the new development will increase traffic by “less than one half of one percent,” and the service station “will drive the majority of the traffic flow that will be in and out of this site.” Garrett added that 22,000 vehicles presently traverse MLK Boulevard per day, while 19,000 use Sixth Avenue Southwest.

Noting that the Titusville Community is one of the oldest in Birmingham, Councilor Carole Smitherman was not happy at the prospect of another liquor store moving into her district: “There was a monument company there before [at the service station location], which was very compatible to Elmwood Cemetery. A lounge where you sell liquor, beer, and wine is not the image that we want in Titusville. We don’t want people coming into our neighborhood and going into Elmwood and then seeing some people coming out with brown packages of liquor tied at the top. That’s just not what we want. The churches oppose it, the residents oppose it. We find it to be a nuisance.” Smitherman acknowledged the need for revenue. “We need the business, we truly do, but we also need to preserve our neighbor-hoods to the best character that we can.” Smitherman said that there is already another gas station two blocks away, so the new one across from Elmwood will only complicate traffic, forcing customers to use neighborhood streets to avoid turning left off MLK Boulevard.

Councilor Bert Miller, who in the past has vehemently objected to the easy accessibility to alcohol in communities, was more diplomatic: “We live in a land of opportunity. This young businessman [Reginald Bryant, owner of On the Way Spirits] saw an opportunity to put a business here.” Miller asked Bryant if he’d consider placing “a sporting goods store or tutoring center” for neighborhood children in the space instead of a liquor store. Bryant said that he hoped to do something like that later, adding, “I wanna build houses, low income houses, apartment buildings . . . but I’ve got to start somewhere, and this is where I chose to start.”

Before the Council finally voted in favor of granting the liquor license, however, Smitherman, an attorney and former municipal and circuit court judge, expressed shock that City Attorney Tamara Johnson had advised the city council on what criteria can be used to deny a liquor license. According to Johnson, the three reasons for denial are: if the business creates a nuisance, if it’s detrimental to adjacent neighborhoods, or if it’s a violation of zoning rules and regulations. “This is the first time I have heard the city attorney comment on discussions by the council. I’m surprised by that,” said Smitherman. Johnson, who has advised the council on several occasions during meetings, replied in no uncertain terms, “My job is to follow the law and to advise you on the law. You, of course, as the client, can choose to do whatever you wish. But in my opinion, I don’t think you have enough to rise to the level of denying this application. I just wanted to make myself very clear on this.”

All Aboard!

All Aboard!

Little engines that could are rolling into the Bessemer Civic Center.

October 07, 2004

For those who never grew up, the Model Train Show at the Bessemer Civic Center on October 16 and 17 offers a fantasy journey to the strange, Lilliputian land of trains. Weaving through diverse landscapes dominated by miniature downtown buildings, tiny trees, diminutive but cascading mountain ranges, and minuscule hobos hovering around fires, toy trains will whistle and chug to the amusement of both the curious and the enthusiast.

“I got my first set when I was 8 years old,” says Whit Fancher, chairman of The Wrecking Crew, a local model train club. “And like most people, you’re super-involved until you get a car. And then with girls and everything else going on, you kinda get out of the hobby, but the seed has been planted. Once it gets in your blood, it’s there.” The Wrecking Crew, a branch of the Steel City Division, which is a smaller division of the National Model Railroad Association, keeps a model train layout set up in West Lake Mall, where the trains run every Saturday. At both the Bessemer Civic Center and West Lake Mall, 10 model tracks will be available for public viewing the weekend of the show. Clinics for constructing landscapes from scratch (including how to make such native foliage as crape myrtles, oak leaf hydrangeas, and nandinas) will be conducted. “You can make your own trees for a penny, and they look better than any commercial tree you can purchase,” says Fancher.

The Model Train Show pulls into the Bessemer Civic Center on October 16 and 17.

Several sizes of model trains will be on display, including the quarter-inch-high Z scale (“$300 for a locomotive that you can’t see,” laughs Fancher), the popular HO scale [the most familiar], N scale [one inch high], and the mammoth garden railway scale [locomotives up to three feet long that are operated outside]. “Some people just like to run the stuff, some like to build, some like to collect,” explains Fancher, who regards himself as more of a collector and a builder. “I’m not that much of an operator. I can run it around the track a few times, and I start to get bored.”

Fancher admits that model trains can be amazingly elaborate. “You’ll see some hobbyists that construct a building board by board—a little building that may be six inches tall with the same number of pieces of wood as the actual-size structure. They’ll cut the wood themselves and build them from scratch. Some people do that with the cars and locomotives; spend thousands of hours on something that you can buy for $13. It’s really bizarre, people going to that extreme.”

The Model Train Show will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 16, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 17. For more information, call 746-0007.

City Council — City Council Pontification Blasted by Mayor


October 07, 2004

When business owners come before the Birmingham City Council with liquor license applications, it’s routine for the councilors to indulge in self-righteous pontification. This time it’s the Best Convenience Store on Pearson Avenue near West End High School that’s prompting the Council’s grandstanding. Store owner Ashal Saeed bought the business a month ago after moving to Birmingham from California. Community residents and school officials have been distressed that the store’s reportedly long-standing practice of selling single cigarettes and beer to teens is allegedly being continued by Saeed, though no one submits proof during the council meeting that the store owner is guilty. Although Councilor Carole Smitherman said she had seen groups of school children in uniforms leaving the store during the middle of the day while smoking, she said she assumed that they purchased the cigarettes at the Best Convenience Store.

Neighborhood activist Nell Allen has complained about the store for some time. “When you walk into the store you see barrels of cold beer and wine; cold and ready for them [presumably students] to purchase!” complained Allen, who was concerned about the beer signs on the premises as well. Students have also reportedly been pouring beer into soda containers so they can drink in class, though again, no one could prove that the alcohol was purchased at the Best Convenience Store. Arguing that teachers are at a disadvantage when instructing because students are “drugged and drunk” in class, Allen also complained that “you can smell dope in the air” when in the store’s vicinity, a claim which Councilor Bert Miller confirmed in a shocking manner: “I got high [in the store's vicinity] standing on the corner, almost, last week!” He added that the store was “filled with litter and loud music.”


“We don’t need this in our neighborhoods, especially in our black neighborhoods,” Miller said, invoking a racial conspiracy theory. “I think some of these owners are preying on these black people in our neighborhoods!” The councilor often condemns the sale of alcohol in black neighborhoods— when he’s not complaining about the lack of minority contractors employed on city projects. Apparently, he fails to see the discrimination aspect of denying alcohol to black residents more frequently than white ones.

Mayor Bernard Kincaid has grown weary of the Birmingham City Council’s foot-in-mouth reactions when denying applications to sell alcohol. “The council actually uses the issue to pontificate and to express their distress for licenses going into certain communities. That is not what the law says. If it proves to be a nuisance, if it proves to be a detriment to the community, and it’s turned down on that basis, then [applicants] find solace by going across the [Linn] park to circuit court to get the council’s decision overturned,” Kincaid said during a press conference after the September 28 council meeting. In addition to the two reasons for denial mentioned by the Mayor, the third reason for denial as spelled out by state law is violation of zoning ordinances. The law does not allow refusal of an application simply based on proximity to churches or schools.

“It seems to me that what was described with respect to West End High School, and the property that they described over the last two to four weeks, clearly is a nuisance. It clearly is a detriment to the community,” added the Mayor. “And I think if the Council were to just stick with what the law says there would be no problems whatsoever. . . . The council adds too much extraneous conversation to [alcohol license application discussions] because what they say on the dais becomes part of the record,” continued Kincaid, adding that when a City Council denial recommendation is overturned by the circuit court, the city has to pay the attorney fees of the alcohol license applicant who has sued the city. The Mayor added that he sent police to the store in question when he heard about the cigarette and alcohol sales to minors.

Councilor Carol Reynolds emphasized that all neighborhoods need protection from alcohol sales. Using rhetoric fit for a tent revival preacher, she offered a condemnation of beer and cigarettes: “I’ve been standing up fighting for these people in these neighborhoods who do not want this filth, this venom, in their neighborhoods since day one!” said Reynolds. “Liquor stores around the city, I’m watching you! I will get your license revoked if I have to stand in front of your store and take tag numbers myself!” she warned. Later, Reynolds told other councilors on the dais, “If we have to, we’ll go out there together, a united front, and we’ll talk to these children, we’ll council these children. I’m a smoker, but it’s different when you are a developing child, and it’s against the law to buy ‘em!” What cigarettes have to do with alcohol sales is not explained by Reynolds, who added, “I’ll be glad to be a mother to this city. These children are my business.” &

The Set List — Winter Jam w/Newsong/Audio Adrenaline/Relient K



Winter Jam w/Newsong/Audio Adrenaline/Relient K

Mel Gibson stole their act! Actually, this lineup of Christian rockers—who seem to visit Birmingham as often as the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Unit—swiped their act from many others. Newsong has a mighty backbeat worthy of Up With People!, and provide an alternative for Justin Timberlake fans who think he’s gotten too surly. Worldwide is a major breakthough for Audio Adrenaline, though, as half the tracks embrace a frantic sound worthy of the Foo Fighters. That beats how they use to be the quirky Pearl Jam. Relient K is also on a roll with Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right . . . But Three Do. It’s Blink-182, of course, but nobody said thou shalt not be derivative of really fun acts. (Thursday, February 26, at Boutwell Auditorium.) —J.R. Taylor Sweet Honey in the Rock
You can tell they’re legends because they’re playing a venue bigger than the Hoover Library. Bernie Johnson Reagon still leads her earthy version of the New Christy Minstrels after 30 years, and Women Come Together is a typically fine a capella display. The political message is pretty laughable, though. “Give the People Their Right to Vote” laments the plight of the Washington, D.C., populace. Sorry, D.C., but you’ll have to come back after Reagon can explain Marion Barry. The title track also bemoans violence without suggesting that women come together at a gun show and learn how to use a firearm. They have a fashion sense worthy of Dean Martin’s Golddiggers, though. (Friday, February 27, Jemison Concert Hall, Alys Stephens Center, 8 p.m. $22-$42.)—J.R.T.

Robert Moore (click for larger version)

Robert Moore
Local trumpeter/vocalist Robert Moore projects a working-class persona as part of his unpretentious allure as a jazz stylist. Moore’s reputation as a charismatic jazz crooner has been built on his boundary-crossing tastes. It’s not uncommon to hear Moore perform jazz interpretations of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.” He’ll be performing with keyboardist Anthony Williams at Vestavia’s Moonlight Music Café, where, says Moore, “It’s so quiet ‘you can hear a rat pissin’ on cotton,’ to quote Ella Fitzgerald.’” He readily admits that working with only one other player is among the more rewarding approaches to milking a song for all it’s worth. “It’s much more intimate as a duo,” says Moore. “There’s much more space for interplay between myself and the accompanist. There’s more focus on the intimacy of the song.” (Saturday, February 28, Moonlight Music Café, $8.) —Ed Reynolds


Jonny Lang (click for larger version)

Jonny Lang
Well, he’ll always be younger than Jennifer Love Hewitt. This former teen idol of the rockin’ blues crowd is now an industry veteran, and Long Time Coming is the inevitable big sell-out album. All the songs are tempered with glossy studio touches that rely on R&B roots. But you know, the same could be said of John Hiatt’s Warming Up to the Ice Age, and that was Hiatt’s last great album. Of course, Hiatt knew better than to cover Stevie Wonder. Long Time Coming still sounds a lot more like a beginning than an ending. Jonny’s also smart enough to cover his ass with the stripped-down title track. If this one bombs, he’ll just go acoustic. (Saturday, February 28, at the Alabama Theatre, 8 p.m. $38.50, R.S.)—J.R.T.

It’s not just boy bands who thrive on street teams. Guster has slowly become a best-selling act by cultivating their dedicated fans. Of course, they’re stuck playing smaller venues outside of major cities, but that’ll just make the street teams envious that you get an intimate setting for their sincere and tuneful folk-rock. In fact, they’re so sincere and tuneful that Keep It Together is completely forgettable. It’s perfect for the fans, though, including the song “Amsterdam.” They probably flipped a coin over whether or not to go with “Prague” instead. (Wednesday, March 3, at WorkPlay, 8 p.m. $15; sold out.)—J.R.T.

Don McLean
It was a stellar 2003 for Don McLean, with American Pie reissued in slim packaging that suited the album’s true status as a double A-side single (“Vincent,” remember?). George Michael also covered Pie‘s “The Grave” as a protest against the Iraq invasion. If he’d been anti-Saddam, of course, the song would have to be retitled “The Graves.” Anyway, McLean has earned his reputation as one of the most unpleasant people in the recording industry. He’s also turned his three-hit wonderdom (“Crying,” remember?) into a bizarre one-man show that’s truly epic and entertaining. He’ll also remind you that Tapestry was a pretty good album. (No, not Carole King’s Tapestry. His Tapestry, remember?) (Saturday, March 6, at The Ritz, Talledega, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. $24.)—J.R.T.

Larry Gatlin (center) and the Gatlin Brothers


Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
In the battle for ’70s suckiness, the two major contenders were Dave and Sugar and Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers (“All the Gold in California”). In fact, the Gatlins are very important to our country music heritage because they give alt-country fans a factual basis for bitching about how Nashville sucks. The Gatlins certainly respect country music more than your average fan of The Eagles or Dixie Chicks, but there’s no denying that they recorded many of the worst songs of the genre. The punch line is that Gatlin and his brothers actually began as a pop alternative to the Countrypolitan sound. They still know their gospel harmonizing, though. Also, they all know Frank Gifford. (Saturday, March 6, at the BJCC Concert Hall, 8 p.m. $30-$65.)—J.R.T.



Southern Culture on the Skids (click for larger version)

Southern Culture on the Skids
It’s taken two decades, but SCOTS have finally returned to the sound that once made them the Southern-fried Cramps. Mojo Box still has vocals, but the trio is comfortably finished with their major-label aspirations. They’re not bidding for the festival circuit, either. Instead, SCOTS is catching up on a wide range of influences that they neglected during the ’90s. The subject matter is still straight from the journals of a Chapel Hill freshman who just discovered life outside the suburbs. The mix of surf, soul, and rockabilly, however, sounds like a veteran band that’s mastered the art of keeping things tight and trashy. (Tuesday, March 9, at Zydeco, 9 p.m. $10-$12. 18+)—J.R.T. &