Birmingham’s industrial past was present when walking around Secret Stages, a two-day music discovery festival, with a slight outline of the Sloss Furnaces in the distance. The festival took over almost an entire block utilizing the parking lots behind all the venues for two outdoor stages, food trucks, and graffiti art. The centralized layout made it easy to bounce between the 6 venues where over 60 acts performed. It was quite amazing the variety Secret Stages had to offer, from avant-garde jazz rock group Dumb Waiter to Atlanta rapper Cuz Lightyear to singer songwriter Adam Torres to lo-fi bedroom pop project Snail Mail.
Friday we first caught Dylan Earl and the Reasons Why on the main outdoor stage, a country group from Arkansas whose western twang is the antithesis of modern country. With the look of a rhinestone cowboy Earl performed “One More Time” as the sun set over Birmingham, the first night of Secret Stages was just beginning. Over at Jazzy’s on First we caught Mississippi post-punk group Nossiens, giving us a glimpse into the Hattiesburg DIY punk scene. Then we caught The Young Step just off their Charleston, SC show the previous Tuesday and Los Angeles rapper ASAD III. Back at the main stage the sun was gone and Columbus, OH freak folk group Swarming Branch brought a soulful and imaginative performance. For a change of pace we headed down the block to the Urban Standard, to catch singer songwriter Adam Torres just back from an Australian tour with Julien Baker and a much-needed cup of coffee. We caught Nashville’s Tristen who has found their place in pop music similar to the space artists such as Jenny Lewis occupy. To close out Friday night, we made our way up a dark staircase around midnight into Pale Eddie’s Pour House to catch Atlanta’s Omni. Coming off their new fun surf-rockesque single “Equestrian,” their live performance didn’t have the vitality their single exemplified and was needed after a long evening of shows.
We started the final day of Secret Stages catching Molly Parden, who has come a long way since we found her in a parking lot during Homemade Genius Festival in 2010 for an acoustic session. Next we caught Savannah, GA music maker Jeff Zagers, whose music is layered by various textures from his synth, drum machine, and guitar. We popped in to catch South Carolina band Little Strangers on our way to see Tampa, FL indie-rock band DieAlps! who were playing at the same time. At Rogue Tavern female fronted bands were well represented, Connie Calcaterra of DieAlps! who took the stage before Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan. We have been obsessed Snail Mail since they release Habit last summer. The suburban malaise felt in their record was in the air during their performance, with front-woman Lindsey Jordan’s eyes that conveyed a disinterested hope. Making our way back up to Pale Eddie’s we heard the jangle of Western Medication while making our way up the stairs. The Nashville post-punk group gave a performance of a 80’s rock band in their prime even with marbleized painted guitars a modern take on The Stone Roses iconic paint splattered guitars. We then caught shows from a variety of genres something unique to Secret Stages: Richmond avant-garde jazz rock group Dumb Waiter, Baltimore western rock band Snakes, and Charlottesville folk singer Devon Sproule.
Later that evening, DeM AtlaS took over the main stage. The Minneapolis rapper is one of the younger artists on Rhymesayers label that boasts artists like Blueprint. He gave a spirited performance moving from mid-air splits to sitting down on the edge of the stage speaking directly to the crowd. We then caught Cuz Lightyear who Killer Mike has asserted as the “the now and future of ATL.” Lightyear performed on a dark stage with only blue light, telling the light-board operator his favorite color is blue, which would account for his blue Stussy baseball cap and blue accented Air Jordans. To closeout Secret Stages we caught noise-punk Dasher who just released their new album Sodium in July on Jagjaguwar.
Secret Stages is a unique festival giving an intimate environment to discover new bands from across a broad range of genres. The layout of the festival was ideal for catching nearly every act performing, with each stage just a short walk away. If you’re looking for an affordable Southeastern festival to enjoy a city and catch some up-and-coming bands look no further than Secret Stages.