Hidden Tuscaloosa

Photo provided by WellThatsCool.com

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.— They could have fled.

They could have loaded up their cars and headed for the Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, Ga. They could have escaped to New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.

But they didn’t.

They stayed in Tuscaloosa and devoted themselves to giving the people of the city more than just Saturday football and $20 cover at Gallettes.

They created Well That’s Cool, a community group dedicated to improving Tuscaloosa. The group finds and creates new entertainment in Tuscaloosa for residents who have outgrown the college lifestyle.

The undertaking came to fruition four years ago when four post-college age residents decided the entertainment life was inadequate and redundant.

The problem is students tend to graduate from the University of Alabama – and flee.

The entertainment scene often resembles the directions on the back of a shampoo bottle. Drink mediocre beer. Listen to mediocre bands. Repeat.

Something was needed, someone; a crusade against the pedestrian lifestyle too often attributed to Tuscaloosa.

This is where Well That’s Cool comes in. They promote awesome affairs in Tuscaloosa and directly sponsor a multitude of local events, ranging from a Southern beer fest to a chili cook-off.

Bo Hicks, dubbed the loquacious one of the group, was familiar with Tuscaloosa after he moved to the area for school.

“People here need something to do after college,” Hicks said.

And Well That’s Cool has given the people of Tuscaloosa plenty.

Their most recent triumph was the Tuscaloosa Get Up! tornado benefit concert, an event that fundraised for Habitat for Humanity in lieu of the April 27, 2011 tornados. Get Up showcased The Alabama Shakes, Tuscaloosa’s own The Dexateens, and Lee Baines III and the Glory Fires.

The event raised $20,000 and helped a local family piece their disaster-stricken lives back together.

“Get Up was our crowning achievement,” Hicks said.

They held their 3rd annual Brews Cruise in August 2011. Bands play aboard the top deck of the Bama Belle River Boat as patrons float down the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa. Local breweries provide craft beer “good enough to bring a tear to a glass eye,” according to WellThatsCool.com.

The wildly popular Suds of the South Beerfest is another event the group hosts to attract craft beer aficionados by featuring Southern breweries. The event’s purpose is to show beer consumers that a good cold one can indeed come from the South, not just breweries on the West Coast. Only one non-Southern brewery is allowed and is deemed the “sympathizer”. Think wine tasting gone right.

Eric St. Clair, founding member, said the goal of Well That’s Cool is not to get bigger, but better.

“Our influences are the voids of town,” St. Clair said.

Their vision was something akin to Wayne’s World, a 1992 comedy about two guys and their local-access cable TV show.

But unlike a scripted show, the group met problems that couldn’t be rewritten.

Well That’s Cool met much “toiling and obscurity” in its dawning ages. Shortly after founding member Nick Rymer moved to New York, St. Clair doubted the longevity of the group.

“To be honest, I thought we would fold. Bo [Hicks] definitely stepped up. He kept it going.”

Photo provided by WellThatsCool.com

Hicks, aging out of bands he played in, found Well That’s Cool as a way to stay connected to Tuscaloosa. He said the group learns with every event they do.

Similarly to the aforementioned Wayne’s World, Well That’s Cool films a podcast laced with humor in front of a live studio audience each Friday night, which is then posted to their website and Facebook page. The podcast announces the week’s upcoming events in Tuscaloosa.

The local music scene was a shrouded abyss of cover bands but, like a drink of cold water, Well That’s Cool appeared to quench the residents’ thirst; to give them a taste of the originality they’d been craving.

Well That’s Cool showcases indigenous and original music at their events.

The group befriended The Alabama Shakes, a Southern soul band from Athens, Ala., before the band’s debut on the music scene.

“Tuscaloosa is like a second home to them,” Hicks said.

The Alabama Shakes have appeared at numerous events put on by Well That’s Cool and never fail to attract quite the crowd.

Hicks said the scene of cover bands bogs down Tuscaloosa and Well That’s Cool is their way to endorse original music.

“If I hear Brown-Eyed Girl one more time, you can kick me in the taint,” Hicks said.

Music isn’t the only thing Well That’s Cool likes to keep local. The group has strictly local sponsors as well.

The most prevalent are Manna Grocery and Deli, three bars –Wilhagans, Alcove, Green Bar, the Pink Box Burlesque, and The Left Hand, a handmade herbal soaps company.

Team member Erin Phillips said national sponsors have approached the group before, only to leave disappointed.

The Well That’s Cooligans and their friends gather in a small room above the Oak City barbershop in downtown Tuscaloosa. A couch that has seen better days is the focal point of the room. It’s surrounded by mismatched chairs that circle around a worn coffee table littered with ashtrays and an issue of BeerAdvocate.

A stuffed cat nicknamed “Moxie” is the finishing touch on a room that signifies the true collaboration of teamwork and camaraderie.

As far as progress goes, “We plan on doing this until we get lame,” St.Clair said.

“We have mortgages. We aren’t going anywhere.”

Tuscaloosa may not have New York’s Times Square, or Los Angeles’ lush palm trees, or even a Chicago-size skyline worth bragging about, but the city does have true, homegrown character.

All it needed to come out of hiding was a little coaxing and a team willing to fill the void.

And well, that’s pretty cool.

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