America is a country of immigrants; people from all over the world came to our shores in search of a better life, although some were brought here against their will.
But no matter where they came from or how they arrived, the new Americans brought with them their song and dance, their food and drink, their language and traditions, and infused them into their new communities.
Today, this international flair remains in destinations around the country, and meeting planners can take advantage of that distinctive character to add color to their events.
In the mid-1800s, German immigrants flocked to central Texas, and their beer, food, language and culture endure in Fredericksburg today, said Laurie Hartz, senior sales manager for the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Right in the center of Main Street is Fredericksburg’s most iconic structure: Vereins Kirche. The white, octagonal building houses a small museum and anchors the town square, called Marktplatz. The square includes three pavilions, gardens and open space that is available for weddings, corporate picnics or larger events, like a private Oktoberfest.
Vereins Kirche is also part of the Pioneer Museum, a five-acre complex just down Main Street from Marketplatz that includes nine historic buildings. Groups can tour the grounds and buildings or rent several spaces, such as the Social Hall or Wagon Yard.
Downtown, visitors will also find the Fredericksburg Brewing Co. restaurant and indoor “biergarten” “with beautiful German flags and Bavarian murals” that can fit about 150 people, Hartz said. The restaurant also serves locally made sausage from Opa’s Smoked Meats; “opa” means “grandpa” in German. Walking tours of the historic downtown, self-guided or led by a local historian, are also available, Hartz said.
About 10 miles southeast of Fredericksburg is Luckenbach, a tiny, historic town that’s little more than a dance hall and old post office. The weathered-wood dance hall has a stage and is perfect for barbecue-and-band events for up to 250 people, Hartz said. Luckenbach also has an outdoor stage, horseshoe pits, a nearby creek and picnic tables under 200-year-old oak trees.
“A lot of people are surprised that you can take over the whole town,” Hartz said, adding, “It’s a really cool option; there’s a real charm there.”
Beaufort, South Carolina
The Gullah culture, also known as Geechee, is 100 percent American, but its roots are deeply planted in the West and Central African heritage of the slaves who were brought to the rice plantations along the coastal low-country regions between North Carolina and northern Florida. After the Civil War, the isolation of the Sea Islands helped preserve the Gullah people’s culture and language.
One of the best ways to experience Gullah culture is to taste it, said Robb Wells, tourism division executive for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. Gullah cooking is entirely seasonal and regional, he said.
“Basically, whatever the earth and sea are producing, that’s what’s in the food,” he said.
Gullah cooking is heavy on seafood, seasonal produce, and rice and grits, and is usually stewed, roasted or grilled. Local chefs such as Bill Green, who owns Gullah Grub Restaurant and Catering, prepare authentic, traditional Gullah dishes for meetings and events, Wells said.
Visitors can also take in Gullah music and dance performances, which are heavy on West African sounds and influences. Anita Singleton-Prather is an actress and singer who transforms into her character, Aunt Pearlie Sue, a Gullah storyteller, and performs with the Gullah Kinfolk singers.
Groups can tour and reserve meeting space at the Penn Center, which is “hallowed ground,” Wells said. The center on St. Helena Island is the site of Penn School, founded in 1862 as one of the nation’s first schools for freed slaves. The 50-acre campus is home to 19 buildings, including Gantt Cottage, where Martin Luther King Jr. stayed when he and other civil rights leaders met.