Secret Stages is Birmingham’s music discovery festival, and it’s bringing a weekend of live acts from near and far downtown on August 4-5. It’s 60 artists spanning a wide and colorful range of genres, all happening in a two-block radius. America’s diverse music scenes will be brought together in Birmingham, all in walking distance.
Expect plenty of rock. Expect hip-hop courtesy of Birmingham’s Lobotomix. Expect some things you haven’t seen here yet, like a full brass band (Atlanta’s Wolfpack will perform at Rogue Tavern Friday night).
“I think it’s safe to say that the quality of musical acts gets better each year and that this year is our strongest lineup yet,” says festival organizer Travis Morgan. “We have acts coming from 30+ cities in the U.S.”
In just a few years, Secret Stages has established itself as Birmingham’s prime opportunity to see rising acts right at the boiling point of their careers. It’s a musical buffet spread across the Loft District, showcasing musicians that you may not have heard yet, but will certainly hear a lot about tomorrow.
That’s what distinguishes Secret Stages from other music festivals. Rather than pull in a big name with a big price tag, the festival offers for a bit of everything. The acts featured at Secret Stages are touring, writing, performing professionals that are just waiting for you to hear them. You can swing by Pale Eddie’s for some socially constructive hip-hop, step outside to hear new wave reverberating downtown on an open-air stage, then dip into Rogue Tavern for genuine Tulsa sound.
Morgan and company keep a trained ear out for uncommon talent, both around the U.S. and right here in Birmingham. In previous years, the festival has hosted phenomenal local treasures like St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Wray, The Green Seed, and The Burning Peppermints. This year, Magic City’s talent is proudly on display through acts like Richard Daniel and Early James and the Latest.
This time around, the venues will be more densely concentrated around 1st and 2nd Avenues with new open-air spaces. “The festival is more free-flowing this year,” says Morgan. “Once you’re in the 2nd Avenue North area, you can enter the back sides of Rogue Tavern and Pale Eddies and access both of our outdoor stages. Everything is really close and you can catch a lot of music.”
Pale Eddie’s will look a bit different this year. The music will be held upstairs, lending extra space and new sight lines. You can walk straight through the ground floor to the outdoor stage as well.
There will be a new venue participating on 1st Avenue. Jazzy’s will host its own Secret Stage, and Joyride will provide shuttle service between the venue and the rest of the action on 2nd Avenue.
The VIP lounge has been relocated to 2nd Avenue, with multiple DJs at the turntables throughout the two nights. The VIP room also includes complementary food and drinks. Outside, artists will be creating graffiti art on-the-spot.
For the first time in the festival’s history, Secret Stages will feature a genuine listening room at Urban Standard. The 2nd Avenue coffee shop has always been on the very outskirts of the festival boundaries, but will be joining this year to add an entirely new dimension to the music discovery experience. “We’re trying that out to see how it goes,” says Morgan. “I’m excited about having a much quieter space for people to sit and pay attention.”
Be on the lookout for merch tables at each show. Many of the artists will bring their albums and other memorabilia, so you can take their music home with you.
For a complete schedule, map, and tickets, visit the Secret Stages website.
The festival kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday with Della Ray performing at Urban Standard. The Secret Stages music festival covers 1st and 2nd Ave between 22nd and 24th Street, Birmingham, AL 35203.
Photos by Cody Smith.