Downtown Birmingham Alabama is facing the one thing in thirty years it never thought it would see — renovation. The city happens to pack the largest population of any in the state. Through hilly regions, country sprawl and more collegiate joy than a frat party in nearby Tuscaloosa, Birmingham enjoys its status as both a crest of modernism and a hastily fastened 1960s time warp.
Churches adorn many a city block, both garish in design and some medieval. The local blues station plays the kind of beer-joint-blues where cheating on your spouse is the base template for all subject matter. Even the strip clubs, perhaps the holy mecca of both hedonism and self-restraint, are next to lots where a sign that asks for your salvation and time sticks out like a sore thumb.
Given that context and backdrop, Birmingham, Alabama is an absolutely perfect destination for a music festival geared around artist discovery, and that’s exactly what last weekend’s Secret Stages offers.
Secret Stages is one of the few festivals that have stuck to the now antiquated South By Southwest model of throwing a ton of shows in a centralized location and keeping the commercialization factor down to zero. There was only one food truck placed in the middle the Loft District downtown, Secret Stages’ proverbial ground zero, and it’s only in the South that I’ll get an oyster and shrimp po boy and ask myself, “How seasoned is this?” before devouring it in less than ten bites.
Starting from the centrally-placed Doubletree and walking downtown, I made my way down to the trio of buildings housing every Secret Stage performer. Hearing Austin’s Adam Torres wail with a haunting, yet relaxing voice was a definite mood shifter, and before long, I found myself close my eyes and picturing how his music could’ve easily soundtracked Birmingham, from the daily grind of city workers attempting to maintain its look, to the various citizens who are unsure of what change and the Civil Rights movement would present.