Story By: Molly Vines & Karah Rhodes.
Where Highway 280 snakes through much of Georgia and Alabama, noted for interlocking some of the South’s most congested routes together to form a swift route to seemingly anywhere, one place you’ll find Highway 280 doesn’t lead to is the quaint, 150-person town of Waverly, Alabama.
For Waverly residents, this routed bypass of 280 is worth celebrating – boogie style.
What began as a street party back in 2011 evolved into the “Old 280 Boogie” only to grow into an annual celebration that has out-of-towners and locals alike turning off of Highway 280 into Waverly, Alabama, to join the southern, small town celebration today known as the “Fall Boogie.”
The GPS says the destination is approaching on right. Roll down the windows, and you’ll find the Fall Boogie begins about two miles out.
Vehicles line the road parked alongside one another bumper to bumper squeezing into every last available spot while others form parking spots of their own. A colorful array of car tags creates a
mural of bread crumbs marking the way for those on foot.
Just a little ways down the road, you’ll spot the heart of the town of Waverly beginning with “Waverly Town Hall” spelled out in block lettering sitting next to the post office painted a shade of blue resembling that of a robin’s egg. Directly beside the post office waves an American flag bending gently in the early autumn breeze toward a neighboring chestnut brick building housing both the town bank and “Waverly Trading Company.”
Upon entering, a hum of activity merges with a mellowed calm to form an atmosphere of only positive, hometown vibes – a picturesque scene unique to that of a small town USA.
Children climb nearby trees while young people sprawl out on quilted blankets next to adults with bare feet propped atop coolers to create what first time attender, Peter Tereszkiewicz, deems a “family reunion.”
From Sunday best to frayed, whitewashed and distressed – one glance around and you’ll find a recurring trend of denim overalls, jeans and overshirts paired with multicolored cloth wristbands reading “The One & Only FALL BOOGIE No. 6 Waverly, AL” dotting the southern charmed grounds.
A woman’s raspy, soulful voice fills the air, sound waves flooding ears and flowing out into a steady, full bodied rhythm of hands clapping with one foot tapping, people’s heads seen nodding along in a continual beat.
Moreover, where no celebration is complete without a broad selection of food, tent booths outline the parameters of the grounds featuring local favorites and visiting vendors to ensure that boogie-goers’ taste buds are met.
With a bottled water tucked under one arm, more hands mean more checkered red and white paper food baskets holding everything from the tried and true hotdog to the more adventurous “PBT” (pimento cheese, bacon and tomato) sandwich.
For the family owned restaurant based out of downtown Montgomery right down from the state capitol, Chris’ Famous Hot Dogs, the tried and true classic has proved to bring people back for the past 100 years. What began in 1917 right before World War I as a newspaper stand selling hot dogs became soon gained fame, seeing notable customers over the years that have ranged from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to President Truman.
“My grandfather was [founding owner] Chris Katechis. Hank Williams was one of our normal customers. It was at the restaurant that a pretty woman walked in, ‘Hey, good lookin’, what’cha got cookin’?’ that he wrote that song [Hey Good Lookin’] sittin’ at the counter.”
Adding to the list influential persons such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King as regular customers, the secret to these hot dogs lies in the chili sauce.
“It’s a family recipe. Very little’s changed. My restaurant’s a little hole in the wall – shotgun style building… it’s neat!”
Amongst the food vendors and trucks sit local businesses selling a variety of specialty items where families and individuals can be seen milling about, admiring displays of eclectic pottery, sifting through hand-designed jewelry and purchasing one-of-a-kind paintings.
Sitting underneath a collection of shade trees, a small circle of children gather around a man adorned in jewelry intricately twisting bendable power wires.
With works displayed in the Smithsonian museum, United Nations, White House garden and over 5,000 pieces represented in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, for five years now, Lonnie Holley has continued to return to the Fall Boogie to perform and share his artistic talents of sculpting power wires into masterpieces. A natural storyteller, he describes the sculpture in his hands as resemblant of light and denotes the inspirational message he wants to convey to onlookers, saying, “In order for a light to shine exteriorly, we gotta put a bulb in that thing and hook it up to a power wire… we have the power to make a light shine.”
Around three o’clock, an afternoon draped in late summer heat and laced in overcast merges into falling sheets of rain.
Pops of color from umbrellas opening, towels used as picnic blankets repurposed on top of heads, where one can follow the old saying and choose to wait for the storm to pass or dance in the rain, the people of Waverly choose to boogie.
Using this time to browse nearby tent booths, one tent kept catching my eye as brief flashes of light were initially mistaken for bolts of lightning.
A young mother holds her bright-eyed daughter while sitting on a stool facing an old-fashioned camera.
Based out of Mississippi, Michael Foster Tintype Photography features the same process form of photography used during the Civil War.
Walking me through the photography process, owner Michael Foster began by picking up a hand-sized “tintype,” or glass plate and spraying it with an alcohol based solution before exposing the plate in the camera to develop. As the name would suggest, the “wet plate” is time sensitive – the process must be complete before the chemicals dry out. Directly afterward, he leads me around to a dark covered tent where the picture develops. Ten minutes later of soaking the glass in water, a hauntingly captivating photograph of the woman and her daughter emerges. Foster, nodding his head in approval of the developed photograph, said,
“The process is basically 100 years old… it’s a whole different aesthetic than you’d get from a digital picture – and not just that, each picture is like a painting. It’s one of – it’s original. They can’t be duplicated.”
Having run its course, sheets of rain come to an abrupt halt to make way for the sun’s return. With one hand placed lightly against my forehead, I am able to see again the blue banner that has been draped high, serving as that of Waverly’s flag throughout the Fall Boogie: Alabama, The State of Surprises!”
For newcomers like Auburn student Rosie Latham who felt as though she’d discovered a “hidden gem” in the Waverly Fall Boogie, her hope is that other students and the surrounding community soon discover the treasure for themselves.
Some surprises, it turns out, are routed along the road less traveled, tucked away in a pushpin
town bypassed by Highway 280.