Keeping Secrets

Milo Dances by Lyndsey Cunningham

Alright, I know we’ve really been hammering the Secret Stages peg over here at Birmingham Weekly, but it’s only because in addition to being media sponsors of the festival, three of us are founding organizers of the thing. For the last six months, we’ve all been working two jobs, sleeping a little and hoping a lot that when and if we finally crossed the finish line it was going to be with a successful event under our belts. Last weekend, as I stood with aching feet on the street-corner watching people happily meander from venue to venue, I realized we had done it. More than any self-congratulatory feelings I was having, more than the relief that the festival had made money, more than giddy delight as a I followed the positive feedback coming in live over  Twitter, I felt an overwhelming pride in Birmingham. You looked beautiful downtown this weekend, people of the Ham! When we first conceived of this event as a discovery festival, people warned us that it was nearly impossible to get a good crowd out in this town for music they weren’t already familiar with. Well, you proved them wrong, and downtown never felt more alive.

It was as if I had stepped 10 years into the future of Birmingham, into a city center full of folks, happening bars and interesting shops. It should be this way every day, I thought. If we accomplished anything last weekend other than providing people with a good time, I think it was that we showed people a glimpse of the city they could have if more people were willing to come down and support it.

We also showed that city off to the many people and bands that came from all over the country to be here. I overheard one conversation between festival artists in which they bemoaned the state of their current living situations and talked about how awesome it would be to move to Birmingham, where the rent was cheap and the people were friendly and supported the arts. In a post-tornado environment, these are the kinds of conversations we need people to be having. Nothing would be better for the rebuilding effort than if hordes of artists and intellectuals came here to revitalize our damaged regions with a cultural resurgence.

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some folks who really stepped up to help smooth Secret Stages through. In addition to all of our sponsors, volunteers, artists, vendors and attendees, we would also like to thank Waldrep, Stewart and Kendrick, Jonathan Austin’s office, the City of Birmingham Public Works, Police and EMS, International Wines, Tony and Liesa at Omni Studios, Laney and the crew at Rojo, Irondale Café, Nabeel’s, Coca-Cola, the Downtown Business Association and Neighborhood Association, Craneworks, Jimmy John’s, Sol’s Deli and all of the individual family members and friends who donated their time at the last second to help out. Without generous donations from these folks, I’m not sure we would have pulled Secret Stages off.

Now, we did pull it off, but the festival was far from perfect. We made rookie mistakes, we didn’t think through all eventualities and we started way too late in our planning process. There are many, many areas to improve upon, and we are in the process now of gathering feedback from all of the participants and combing through the public feedback on our local news sites. We’re going to take what worked, change what didn’t and come this time next year, I hope those of you who missed Secret Stages this go round will join us for what I promise will be a weekend filled with good music and good people, in a city I’m proud to be a part of.

For more Secret Stages photos, visit

Sam George is the managing editor of Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to

Orig­i­nally printed in Birm­ing­ham Weekly on May 19, 2011.

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