Winner of 16 national titles, the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide football has helped put the college town of Tuscaloosa on the national map. But this sports powerhouse also boasts an artsy side. Tuscaloosa nurtures a thriving scene that includes concerts by national and local bands and musical acts, poetry readings and independent film, as well as a major folk arts festival.
Indie Film, Theater and Music
Founded in 1938 with funding from the Works Progress administration, The Bama Theatre stands out in its downtown location with its glowing marquee spelling out its name in giant block letters. The Bama fills its seats some 300 nights a year with a slate of independent and international films, plays and music. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a surprise performance by local favorite — and now nationally known — the Alabama Shakes.
A-List Musical Acts
National touring bands and artists since 2011 have made stops at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, which sits along the Black Warrior River and offers spectacular views from any seat, as well as a state-of-the-art sound system. Tickets are priced for a college audience, making it affordable to see well-known acts like the Avett Brothers, John Legend and Darius Rucker.
The amphitheater concert season usually kicks off in April and runs through early June with the odd summer show. You can easily grab a bite before a show at a downtown restaurant and walk down the hill to your performance.
Folk Art Celebration
Over 270 folk, outsider and fine artists descend on Tuscaloosa every third weekend in October for the Kentuck Arts Festival. Buses to the sprawling festival are available at the Kentuck Arts Center in downtown Northport, less than 10-minutes’ drive from Tuscaloosa. The event celebrates a range of visual and performing arts, from live demonstrations of screen printing and black-smithing to a full slate of spoken word and musical performances. A court lined with food trucks provides plenty of sustenance.
Not in town for the festival? The Kentuck Arts Center is open year-round with a gallery, events and artists’ space.
In 2012, Bo Hicks, the unofficial mayor of Tuscaloosa, opened its first local brewery, Druid City Brewing, with a partner, Elliott Roberts. You can sip a Lamplighter IPA and take in a set by an indie rock band, take part in a Mario Kart tournament, absorb a reading from a visiting writer or catch a story or two from Bo, if he’s behind the bar.
While you’re there, make sure to check out the rotating chalk art behind the bar that usually pays homage to pop culture and Alabama football in ways that have gotten shout outs from ESPN and beyond.
The courtyard at Tea Town Alabama has become a favorite gathering spot for local poets, writers and musicians. This tea and coffee shop hosts readings from graduate student artists and writers and acoustic musicians around town, and even featured a pop-up Korean restaurant recently. Check Facebook for event listings and on-the-fly shows.