Tribe Honored By New Times' Awards
Peter B. Gallagher
FORT LAUDERDALE - The 1999 New Times special edition "Best of Broward and Palm Beach" has honored the Seminole Tribe of Florida in two categories. Tribal enterprises Billie Swamp Safari and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum were chosen "Best Day Trip" and the Tribe's annual Fire On The Swamp Festival garnered the "Best Country Music Festival" award in the issue released March 11.
The alternative newspaper annually publishes a lengthy and eclectic list of the area's "best" in several category groups, including Recreation, Food and Restaurants, Goods and Services, People and Places and Arts and Entertainment.
Under "Recreation," New Times had this to say about Billie Swamp Safari and Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum: "Proving they have more to offer than bingo and tobacco, those savvy Seminoles lure tourists to their Big Cypress reservation with the promise of panthers and snakes, swamp buggies and airboats, chickees and crafts. Signs lead the way from Alligator Alley to Exit 14, then north on State Road 833 to West Boundary Road and into Billie Swamp Safari.
"Careen through shallow waters and hardwood hammock on a glorified jeep-bus, stopping at the Oasis to schmooze the predatory, territorial Donald Trump - the alligator, that is - then return to the kitschy Seminole village and eat his less-fortunate brethren for lunch. The Swamp Water Cafe waitress aptly describes alligator tail as "a cross between chicken and fish," but on a weekend afternoon, this delicacy may be upstaged by another local attraction: charismatic Tribal chairman and aspiring country musician James Billie. Though tour guides decline to discuss the chief, approach him during a break in his tableside jam session, and he'll regale you with off-color folktales about the swamp's namesake Kissimee Billie.
"Up the street the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki ('to know, to remember') Museum gives a more conservative history lesson, with Chief Billie making his big screen appearance in full CEO regalia. Dioramas re-create native activities: Cypress canoes cross the translucent Everglades, mannequins do the green corn dance. Parents might wish to point out printed anecdotes about traditional disciplinary practices such as the scratching of naughty youth; the power of suggestion should be enough to keep children well-behaved on the ride home."
Under "Arts and Entertainment," New Times editors describe Fire On The Swamp:
"One is tempted to name KISS Radio's annual chili cook-off for the mere fact crowds actually booed Garth Brooks one year, but Fire On The Swamp (going on its fifth year) is truly the best country music event happening in the region. Not so much for its varied lineups featuring everything from local bluegrass pickers to superstars like Travis Tritt, but for its unique location.
"Situated smack dab in the middle of Florida's coasts (and a mere hour's drive outside New Times' urban circulation area) on the Seminole Tribe's Big Cypress reservation deep in the Everglades, this festival has real cowboys and real Indians! You'll see more pickups here than anywhere south of the Georgia line, and, unlike the shiny SUVs of Davie's cowboy wannabes, those beat-up trucks represent people who actually ride the ranges of Central Florida. The highlight of last year's event was a rare Florida appearance of Texas institution Asleep At The Wheel. Yee haw!"
For information about Billie Swamp Safari, call 800-949-6101. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, call 941-902-1113. No date has yet been yet for the 1999 Fire On The Swamp festival. Also check outwww.seminoletribe.com.