Take a cultural getaway

From long-running, highly regarded festivals to temporary museum exhibits that may be off the radar to most Atlantans, notable events in Alabama this year are worthy of an arts-inspired road trip to Montgomery, Birmingham or Huntsville.

“The Music Lives On: Folk Song Traditions Told by Alabama Artists,” Birmingham, April 15-Aug. 26

Vulcan, the world’s largest cast iron statue, overlooks Birmingham from on top of Red Mountain and is the centerpiece of Vulcan Park and Museum (www.visitvulcan.com) where “The Music Lives On: Folk Song Traditions Told by Alabama Artists” exhibit will be on display this spring and summer. The exhibit is part of The Year of Alabama Music celebration honoring the state’s deep musical roots and features works inspired by the South’s great musical traditions created by the state’s most celebrated folk artists. The works are the creations of self-taught visual artists such as Lonnie Holley, Joe Minter, Charlie Lucas and Thornton Dial. Through their visual representations, visitors will encounter a parallel artistic universe — the world of blues, jazz, bluegrass, country and other popular forms of music in the region. Your admission to the museum also includes a ride up the elevator to the statue’s observation platform, where you can take in an open-air panoramic view of Birmingham and the surrounding area.

If you go:

Stay: The Hotel Highland. Boutique hotel in the heart of the lively 5 Points district in Southside, at the foot of Red Mountain near Vulcan Park. Rates start at $98. 1023 20th St. South, Birmingham. 205-933-9555, www.thehotelhighland.com.

Eat: Bottega. Fine dining restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine in Southside; a less pricey Italian cafe known for its gourmet pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven is located in the same building. Entrees start at $10 in the cafe and $18 in the dining room. 2240 Highland Ave., Birmingham. 205-939-1000, bottegarestaurant.com.

Visitor info: Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau. 800-458-8085, www.birminghamal.org.

Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Montgomery, year round

One of the largest Shakespeare festivals in the world, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (www.asf.net) is a 2.5-hour drive from Atlanta. What began in the early 1970s as a summer-stock theater program in a high school auditorium has grown into a full-blown, year-round professional repertory company in a large performing arts complex on 250 acres of scenic park land. The company now draws visitors from around the globe for its 14 high-caliber productions each year, which include other stage classics beyond Shakespeare. Along with its main productions, the ASF also conducts a children’s theater program and offers a free adult humanities program featuring lectures, author talks, and actor discussions designed to help audiences learn more about the theater. Productions scheduled for the 2011 season include “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Julius Caesar.” Blount Cultural Park, where the ASF is located, is also home to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts with its impressive collection of regional works and decorative arts.

If you go:

Stay: Periodic lodging specials and packages at area hotels are offered through the ASF; call or check the website for the latest deals. Red Bluff Cottage is a bed-and-breakfast in the Cottage Hill district on a bluff next to Alabama River in downtown Montgomery. Rates start at $110. 551 Clay St., Montgomery. 334-264-0056, www.redbluffcottage.com

Eat: La Jolla. New American fusion cuisine in a fine-dining, white-tablecloth atmosphere; located near Blount Cultural Park. Dinner entrees start at $16. 6854 E. Chase Parkway, Montgomery. 334-356-2600, www.lajollamontgomery. com.

Visitor info: Montgomery Visitor Center. 300 Water St., Montgomery, 334-262-0013. Alabama Tourism Department. 800-252-2262, www.800alabama.com.

Panoply Arts Festival, Huntsville, April 29-May 1

Huntsville was originally settled next to a big spring that, appropriately enough, was named Big Spring. The spring is still active and now sits in the middle of Big Spring Park downtown, site of the Panoply Arts Festival (www.artshuntsville.org). The park’s big lagoon is lined with Yoshino Cherry trees, providing a nice backdrop to this family-friendly arts event. The panoply of art on display at the fest includes more than paintings, with music, dance and theater performances taking place on different stages throughout the festival grounds, including one stage devoted to children’s entertainment. At the Art Marketplace you can browse and buy art work from artisans working in a variety of mediums including sculpture, photography and jewelry. For 2011, tickets are $5 per day or $10 for the weekend. The Huntsville Museum of Art is also located in Big Spring Park with a permanent collection that places an emphasis on Southern art. During Panoply the museum will have “The Woman’s Point of View” exhibit on display, with paintings and drawings by American Impressionist Helen Turner.

If you go:

Stay: There are plenty of chain properties near Big Spring Park. If chains don’t suit you, Dogwood Manor is a bed-and-breakfast located on 3.5 acres of land a few miles from downtown. Rates start at $99. 707 Chase Road, Huntsville. 256-859-3946, www.dogwoodmanorbandb.com.

Eat: 801 Franklin. Fine dining near downtown with a seasonal menu featuring local foods and an extensive wine menu. Small plates start at $12, large plates at $25. 801 Franklin St., Huntsville. 256-519-8019, www.801franklin.net.

Visitor info: Huntsville/Madison County Visitor Center. 500 Church St., Huntsville. 256-533-5723, www.huntsville.org.