Secret’s OutThe skinny on Birmingham's newest music festival

If you haven’t heard, the state tourism board has dubbed 2011 the “Year of Alabama Music”, and it certainly seems as if their timing was right. The pall that fell around the music scene in Birmingham after the messy demise of City Stages has apparently lifted. There is a flood of music-related events happening or being planned in Alabama right now, many of which are in their first or second years. The Hangout Music Festival, a beach festival which premiered spectacularly amid much hardship during the oil crisis last summer, has announced a star-studded line-up that’s got everyone all aflutter. The BAAM Festival is slated for its second round at the end of this upcoming summer, and if it can rally the community around local music the way it did last year, it is sure to be a memorable event. The Oxford American folks released an Alabama music issue and are holding concerts to celebrate it.Into this mix, Birmingham Weekly is proud to add Secret Stages, a new walking music festival to be held on May 13-14 in downtown Birmingham. For those two days, our city will play host to over 60 regional and local bands as well as national acts. All of them will be excellent, and you may not have heard of any of them. You see, Secret Stages is a “discovery” festival. We’ve scoured the nation for some of the best up-and-coming bands, bands that next year, you can say you saw first. These bands were selected because they have a certain “buzz” about them, and because, regardless of their genre, they definitely got us excited. You know that feeling you get when you stumble on a new song that you can’t stop listening to, like you found the next track in the soundtrack of your life? At Secret Stages, hopefully you’ll feel like that most of the time.

Secret Stages isn’t just about you finding your next musical obsession, either. It’s also about allowing these great bands, and the many fans, journalists and music-industry professionals who will come to see them, to discover Birmingham. Those of us who live here know that Birmingham is a haven for great music, as well as a pretty swell place to live, and it’s time for the rest of the country to get a taste of what we have to offer. To that end, Secret Stages will be held in one of downtown Birmingham’s thriving districts, First and Second Avenue North, between 22nd and 24th Street. Many excellent venues, such as Rogue Tavern, Pale Eddie’s Pour House, The Wine Loft, Metro Bar & Music, M-Lounge and others, will all host stages for this walking festival that will allow attendees to hop from show to show with ease.

So, in the name of discovery, here is a preview of the first ten bands we announced last week:

Dawes Los Angeles, CA

Dawes claim as their influences Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, all part of the “Laurel Canyon” sound, which featured gorgeous harmonies and quiet acoustic music. In fact, to capture that sound, Dawes recorded their newest album in Laurel Canyon on analog tape.

Empress Hotel New Orleans, LA

This six-piece centers around the songwriting of Micah McKee and Ryan Rogers, and combines the rhythmic intricacy and playful structure of Vampire Weekend, but with greater sonic range and more mirth.

Thomas FunctionHuntsville, AL

Thomas Function has a successful European tour and critical success from shows at festivals like SXSW under their belt, probably because they write bouncy rocks songs that sound like they’re having a lot of fun.

G-SideHuntsville, AL

The latest hot thing to come out of the Huntsville rap scene, G-Side has received a lot of attention from respected sources like and The Village Voice. They have been described as “Outkast on steroids.”

John Paul Keith & The One Four FivesMemphis, TN

The country-rock legend that never was, John Paul Keith has survived an early stardom and a decade of confrontation with everyone around him, and after giving up the ghost and relocating to Memphis, he’s producing some of the best work of his life.

Jack OblivianMemphis, TN

One of the key figures of the Memphis-based garage-punk scene, Jack “Oblivian” Yarber wraps gritty vocals around a booze-soaked electric guitar and then sets it all on fire. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

The BoozeAtlanta, GA

The Booze sound like “Beggar’s Banquet”-era Rolling Stones with enough convincing swagger that you sometimes forget they aren’t, and they spin out short, tight numbers that get stuck on the brain easily. They’re dropping a new disc, At Maximum Volume in a matter of days, and what I’ve heard of it is their best yet.

Oryx and CrakeAtlanta, GA

The nine, count ‘em, nine members of Oryx and Crake create driving, lyrical compositions that have been compared to Sparklehorse, Portishead and Wilco. The over-abundance of musicians never seems like a hindrance.

Young Buffalo Oxford, MS

Three part harmony and pounding percussion, that’s the Young Buffalo M.O. It’s energetic and glorious, music to triumph to, with great dynamic changes sprinkled throughout.

Johnny Bertram & the Golden BicyclesJackson, MS

Rustic folk with a pop edge, Johnny Bertram & the Golden Bicycles plays music that speaks of sunshine in the countryside but hides lyrics with a darker take on things.

In addition, we are taking this opportunity to announce the next ten bands you’ll be able to discover at Secret Stages:

The Green Seed – Birmingham, AL

William Tyler – Nashville, TN

The Deloreans – Louisville, KY

Delicate Cutters – Birmingham, AL

Kovacs and the Polar Bears – Asheville, NC

Futurebirds – Athens, GA

Model Citizen – Birmingham, AL

URI – Tuscaloosa, AL

The Sunshine Factory – Mobile, AL

The Bohannons – Chattanooga TN

To find more about all of these bands, including streaming music and video, visit

Tickets for Secret Stages will be available next week. For early birds, a weekend pass is $15 and a V.I.P. pass is $35. Stay tuned to for further announcements about bands and ticket availability.

Secret Stages is sponsored by Alabama Power, Regions Bank, Supreme Beverage, CBS 42, B-Metro Magazine, Birmingham Mountain Radio, Ticket Biscuit, The Wilbanks Agency and Birmingham Weekly.

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

Orig­i­nally printed in Birm­ing­ham Weekly on February 17, 2010.

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