We recently attended a conference called the Travel Bloggers Exchange, or TBEX for short. The host city was Huntsville. We chose to be a sponsor so that we could let the travel bloggers of the world know about our new platform, Travel Stars. When I first called to get hotel reservations, most were filled. Even our own vacation rentals were not available near to the conference center. My first impression, a wrong one, is that Huntsville was too small to have enough hotels. Another reason for the off-putting impression was that we booked to fly into Birmingham and had to rent a car to drive to Huntsville. The stage was set for us to imagine Huntsville might not be all that impressive.
Somehow, before we really interacted with the city, we got the idea that Huntsville enjoyed a laid-back atmosphere as we rolled into town. Things move slower in the south, they say, which described our hotel check in quite well. We took it in stride, however, and took the one and only naps we were going to get during our four-day conference. We arrived a day early to attend the opening night party for TBEX with conference sponsors and speakers. That is where the first clue arrived that Huntsville might have something more to it than we expected.
The event organizers chose Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment as our first-night party venue. In 1901, Lowe Mill opened and operated as a cotton mill. Throughout its 100 plus year history, it subsequently housed a variety of industries. The final change came in 2004 when the first artists’ studios opened inside the mill. The areas within the Lowe Mill, over 170,000 square feet of them, quickly filled with more and more studios. The facility then evolved into the largest privately-owned arts facility in the United States. Into that environment we walked on opening night of the conference.
When a place fills with art, a lot of art, it gains a certain quality that is hard to name. You might know what we mean if you have ever been to one of the great art museums of world. After you roam such a place for a while, you feel a little bit like you might be floating. While Lowe Mill wasn’t the Lourve in Paris or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, it still managed to capture some of that rare air. If you had ever dreamed using one of your artistic talents to greater heights, Lowe Mill would surely reawaken those dreams.
The venue had wide walkways between the artist studios, with many artists still at work, despite the party taking place after closing hours. The TBEX attendees arrived on buses or cars and the halls began to fill. Well, sort of; Lowe Mill was huge. The party goers drifted from one food buffet to another to congregate again into new groups, walking long halls or using the old-style elevators. The floors of the mill were varnished but they were the originals, complete with scars, scratches, and painted lines used long ago. The ceilings hung high overhead, also harking back a century to bustling factory days long gone by.
Lowe Mill showed off the first of several elements of Huntsville we had not seen coming. After that night, we learned to appreciate the city more each day, with the help of the first night kicked off at the giant art studio warehouse. The following days and nights were outstanding too, so be sure to come back to read about them too!