Last year when I heard my hometown was introducing a fine arts festival, I thought, “Okay, I’ll get on board.” And by get on board, I mean I planned to immerse my family in the inaugural River Clay Fine Arts Festival for the entire weekend. That meant hauling a newly two-year old downtown on both Saturday and Sunday. I even paid the $50 per person AND sprung for the babysitter so that I could drag my husband to the Rendezvous party – the art patron preview the night before the art festival opens to the public, which carries a more family-friendly $5 price tag.
Once Sunday night came around, no one needed to be hauled or dragged anywhere…except home. We had so much fun, I had to force my family to leave!
I honestly think River Clay might be my new favorite weekend of the year in Decatur. So much so, that I started bugging festival planners for details as early as October of last year (yes, the month after the festival – I have no shame). And there’s absolutely no way, I would even think of missing it for year two…even with a potty-training 3-year old and nursing newborn this time around. Now, that’s saying something.
Held during the fourth weekend of September every year in Decatur, here’s the scoop on all things River Clay in the River City and what is shaping up to be one of the most fun Fall weekends in North Alabama.
September Spotlight: River Clay, Bear Bryant, and Columbus’s Ships
River Clay Rendezvous – An Arts Patron Preview Party
Friday, September 23rd
5pm to 9pm
Decatur City Hall Campus / Alabama Center for the Arts
Tickets: $50 per person (includes Rendezvous party and weekend festival pass)
Beginning at 5pm, be the first to meet and greet the 70 artists set up on the greenspace of the Decatur City Hall campus. Rendezvous patrons will have the first opportunity to view and buy from this talented group selected from almost 200 applicants hailing from 10 states across the country. There’s art for everyone – from photography to paintings to sculpture – at price points to suit any budget.
[sws_pullquote_right]I honestly think River Clay might be my new favorite weekend of the year in Decatur. [/sws_pullquote_right] While you’re browsing the artists’ booths, enjoy complimentary light hors d’oeuvres, wine and beer from Decatur’s finest eateries and caterers – Albany Bistro, Cheesecakes & More by Juanita, Curry’s on Johnston Street, Decatur Country Club, Ingalls Entertainment, Keep Your Fork Café, Simp McGhee’s, Tennessee Valley Pecan Company, The Railyard, and Valley Budweiser. Emily Davis, a classical guitarist, will be performing for your delight.
At 7pm, Rendezvous ticket holders will walk across the street for a Social at the Alabama Center for the Arts. Enjoy heavy hors d’oeuvres and drinks with live music performed by the Sophisticated Swingers while you walk through the ACA 3rd Faculty and Alumni Art Exhibit. Trust me when I say, you won’t feel like you’re in the River City. The atmosphere will make you feel as though you were transplanted to a boutique art show in SoHo, New York or an exclusive party during Art Basel in Miami. But don’t worry, you won’t have to dress the part to attend the Rendezvous Party – dress is casual.
Be sure to plan for Rendezvous early as tickets are limited.
River Clay Fine Arts Festival
Saturday and Sunday, September 24th and 25th
9am to 5pm (Saturday) and 10am to 4pm (Sunday)
Decatur City Hall Campus
Tickets: $5 per person for a weekend pass
Children 12 and under, FREE
Earlier this year over 200 applicants from 11 states applied to a jury of art enthusiasts for a chance to display at River Clay. Only 70 were selected and I expect we’re all in for a real treat! Artists will be available to visit with festival guests as they browse each exhibit and many will be hosting live demonstrations throughout the day. The featured demonstrator is Hot Glass Academy who will be blowing glass on site. Green Pea Press from Lowe Mill will be helping festival-goers create their own wearable art by screen printing shirts on site.
Aside from the 70 white artists’ tents lining the shaded and tree-lined City Hall campus green, there will be food trucks and a grove-type eatery. Live musical performances complimentary to the art exhibits will be ongoing during the weekend. The festival is even dog-friendly, so bring your four-legged fur-friends to enjoy a weekend of art too! The new Cook Museum of Natural Science and the group Leave No Trace will also have a presence at the festival.
Remember that preschooler and infant I told you I will be immersing in the art scene? There’s plenty of fun activities for kids, don’t you worry! Children of all ages can enjoy hands on art activities that they can take home with them. Art created by students from Decatur City Schools, Decatur Heritage Christian Academy, Hartselle City Schools and Morgan County Schools, grades K-12 will be featured in an exhibit near the children’s activities. And the Alabama Center for the Arts will host an exhibit featuring student art for sale.
Now that I’ve convinced you to cross the bridge for River Clay (I had you at the Rendezvous, didn’t I?), where should you stay, eat, and shop in the River City while you’re here? The River Clay website has a list of hotels offering discounted rates for the weekend and the Decatur Convention and Visitor’s Bureau will be on site to help visitors find local places to eat and shop. And don’t forget to follow River Clay on social media using the links from the website for up-to-date information on all things artsy on the fourth weekend in September.
River Clay is shaping up to be a busy weekend in the River City. Not only is it the Homecoming football game for Decatur High School at historic Ogle Stadium and the 20th Class Reunion for the Class of 1996, but the Bank Street Players are performing a show that every Alabama Crimson Tide fan needs to see at the renowned Princess Theatre.
Called: A Biographical Reverie of Paul Bear Bryant
Thursday – Saturday, September 22nd – 24th
7pm showings daily with a 2pm matinee on Saturday
Princess Theatre, 112 2nd Avenue NE, Decatur
Tickets: $10 All Seats, General Admission
Written by Chuck Puckett, directed by the talented Lauren Salerno, and performed by the Bank Street Players, this biography of the life of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant is told through a series of lookbacks as he sits in hunting lodge in South Alabama in 1983. Prepare to see important people from the famous coach’s past as they make special appearances in his memories. A can’t miss, must see for any Alabama football fan!
Now that you’ve taken a dive into the art scene, it’s time to sail away…on one of Christopher Columbus’s ships! That’s right, the Nina and the Pinta will be docking in Decatur!
Discover Columbus’s Ships
Friday – Tuesday, September 23rd – 27th
9am to 6pm daily
Decatur Harbor by Hard Dock Restaurant, 3755 US 31 North, Decatur
Tickets: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors citizens, $6 for ages 5-16, age 4 and under are FREE!
Group/School Tours: $5 per person, 15 person minimum
Climb aboard replicas of the Nina and Pinta – the ships on which Columbus sailed across the Atlantic on his three voyages to discover the New World beginning in 1492. The ships are a floating museum and truly a maritime work of art. If you think the Nina replica will impress you with it’s 1,919 square feet of historical accuracy, the Pinta will truly knock your knickers off with over 3,800 square feet of sea worth amazement. Your family will have a unique opportunity to connect history books to hands-on enjoyment as your tour these beautiful ships.
I hope to see you all in the River City soon and I’m looking forward to the fall weather in October, when the Junior League of Morgan County will tempt your taste buds with their 3rd Annual Bacon and Brew, plus many other fun family happenings around town in the River City, including “Petition,” a very entertaining way to kick off Carnegie Carnival!
Andi Stewart is a Decatur-native, who spent over a decade living in Miami. She finally returned home, married a boy she’s known since childhood, and loves raising her family in the hometown she adores. She has two children, a son and a daughter. She’s a professional Environmental Engineer who balances a full-time career with motherhood. She’s run more marathons than she can count (mostly because she really enjoys eating) and she loves her daily barre class and traveling. She is passionate about her River City community and when she’s not volunteering, she’s enjoying all her city has to offer.