Month: May 2014

Happenin Fest 2014 lights up Good People

Wray

This past Saturday, Happenin’ Fest rocked Good People Brewery with Holly Waxwing, Raidy and the Erasers, Vacation Club, Natural Child, Jeff the Brotherhood, Holy YouthPlains, Drew Price, Music Band, Jacuzzi Boys and Wray (pictured above). Bands played on the inside and outside stages, great food vendors were around, and good beer was flowing. It was my first time at Good People Brewery and I hope to see more shows there in the future.

Chris McCauley of Holy Youth who put it all together gave us a little background, first saying Happenin’ Records has been around since 2005, while the fest started in 2012. After a break for grad school, Chris decided to “re-energize the label” and in 2011 released the Nightmare Boyzzz “Nuclear Summer” 7″ .

Though McCauley has a soft spot for Huntsville staples Lowe Mill and Vertical House, he moved Happenin Fest back to Birmingham to be closer to his home base in Montevallo. He also told us they were initially going to scale this year’s Fest down, maybe hosting a few bands on a hotel rooftop. Soon after though, Good People reached out and expressed interest in hosting the event. McCauley stated that he and Stefano, a Good People employee, met and the rest fell into place.

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The Southside Nitty Gritty DIY fest takes over houses and ears of Glen Iris

Happenin’ Fest Saturday was rad as expected, but last Friday night a lesser known all ages fest in Southside known as the “Nitty Gritty” featured local and touring bands, spread across four houses in the Glen Iris area. Trevor Dane of Hawaii and the Freaky Deakys did a great job of organizing the Nitty Gritty, and all of the host houses, bands, and audience made it complete.
hawaii nitty gritty
(Hawaii live in basement on 1612, photo courtesy Christina Daley)
The first house “1612” started the full evening of music with Them Natives. Despite it being an acoustic set outside, it seemed like the crowd was still feeling it and most people outside at the time actually listened. They are one of my favorite currently active Birmingham bands so of course I was into it, but it was great to see them capture the crowd before sunset. Next at 1612, Hawaii did an improv set in the basement. I love how Hawaii’s shows are never the same set twice. They have a couple songs they play from the demo, but it’s really about putting on a live show. They get a rowdy at certain points and you never know when it’s coming. I feel that energy really engages the crowd, and people who didn’t know them before will remember Hawaii. The last act at 1612 was D. Bramble from Huntsville, who played outside. Local virtuoso Walker Yancey of Hawaii assisted Patrick Bakula during his set by playing the chain and saw percussion. After they closed out 1612, the crowd migrated to Eerie, Indiana for the next two bands.

The first band to play at the second house was Ray Creature, all the way from Bloomington, Indiana. They were a tight two piece which reminded me a little of the Bauhaus feel, and a friend of mine referenced Depeche Mode. Their set was differnent than a lot of what Birmingham locals are used to, encompassing synth keyboard and an electronic drum set. Along those lines, I really dug their set and the music was sexy. I actually told them that later, to which they replied “That’s the point.”

Next was Bad Psychic, also hailing from Bloomington, Indiana. Her solo act looped synth parts as she played bass guitar and sang. I really liked it, especially as someone who is currently working on my own solo material. Some of her sound reminded me of Fever Ray, which in my book is always an awesome comparison. Though the next door neighbor got a little cranky about the noise, Bad Psychic finished her set strong then the crowd made the walk down the street to the next house venue, The Alabama Hotel.

The Alabama Hotel had biscuits and other snacks for sale, showing a little Southern hospitality. The Freaky Deakys (featuring members of the aforementioned Hawaii and Electric Sheep) got the crowd moving with frontman Trevor Dane. It had been years since I’d seen that band active. The last time being in Tuscaloos and even with a different lineup, it was still just as energetic and fun live. Dead Balloons were tight as always, and as much as they practice in that basement it was cool to finally see them play to an audience in their own house.

Down the street, The Southside Lounge closed out the night with the sets of The Steel Sisters, Andy Dale Petty, and local touring legend Dan SartainThe Steel Sisters’ and Andy Dale Petty’s sets were very intimate. The red carpet on the stage and the lighting of the stage gave it this golden glow, which showcased the intimate setting of the basement. Dan Sartain’s set was great. It was a really classic kind of rock show.  There was also a bar already built into one of the side rooms in the basement, which Rolfe of Electric Sheep, aka Tremolo Bill, described as being like the Old West. Across the same room was a corner with two couches and a table — complete with people playing cards — enhancing the Old West saloon feel (even if the alcohol is not flowing from the bar). Last but not least, people sat naked in the jacuzzi together in the bathroom connected to the show room.

Nitty Gritty Friday fun night was closed out with an impromptu set around 3am by The Steel City Jug Slammers. 

House resident David Maclay stated that the vision for The Southside Lounge is for “an emerging scene of local artists to be supported and appreciated by other locals.” He also added that they do not host exclusively acoustic shows. “We just strive for events with a more intimate setting. We support music of all styles.” Tremolo Bill is booking the upcoming Step Showcase there, so stay tuned for future shows at The Southside Lounge.

THE BHAMFM.COM MIXTAPE :: MAY 2K14

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So, it’s pretty much summer now and it’s time for another sick mixtape from your good pals here at BhamFM.com. On this month’s mix we’ve got some new ones, some old ones, and you can bet they are our favorite ones.

Culture Czar contributed the first 5 songs in the mix with some throwback Sun Ra jazz action and a 34 minute track from that Swans record everyone is talking about (Yes, it is a half hour long but he can do that, he’s the Czar).

Yours truly added the next five. I threw in a track from Blood Orange off that Palo Alto Soundtrack (Sup, Franco) and a super sleazy jammer from Connan Mockasin’s latest record Caramel, just to name a few. You can always count on me for the weird stuff!

Lastly, but certainly not at all “leastly”, our Editor, Whit, included her 5 songs and dropped a super tight track

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from Chromeo’s fantastic new record White Women, and even a Dolly Parton track (DO WHAT NOW??).

Please be sure to subscribe to our Mixtape if you are a Spotify user or just lurk around on the internet and find these amazing songs we’ve chosen this month and download them immediately. Next on deck: the BHAMFM.COM SUMMER MIXTAPE with all of our favorite songs for you to blast out of your boat stereo while you sip Keystone Light and cruise around Lake Martin with your friends. Stay with us.

 

Album Review: Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires – Dereconstructed

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Nowadays, it seems pretty easy to reduce Southern culture to a few reality TV stars with beards and a duck call business. Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires are here to remind the world about the complexity and vitality of this

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On their previous album, There Is a Bomb In Gilead, the band cautiously belted out a fine mix of country, southern rock, and soul music. Dereconstructed is their first album for the venerable Sub Pop label,and builds on the successes of their first record while backing them up with increased confidence and volume.

Lead off single and album opener, “The Company Man” serves as a statement of intent and an introduction to the current, road-tested lineup of The Glory Fires. The ragged opening riff propels the song forward into an onslaught of guitars pushed into the red by Bains and new addition, Eric Wallace. It’s a classic Southern Rock anthem that’s built to be catchy, but offers surprising

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lyrical depth. Lee has a knack for examining social issue particular to the South. The title track turns the fire and brimstone of a Southern Baptist preacher on its head and begins to spell out a new way of thinking for a generation of Southerners that are smart, tolerant, and equal.

The thematically related, “The Kudzu and The Concrete” and “The Weeds Downtown” take a

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look at living in the a post white flight Birmingham. Both songs touch on the realities of growing up at the foot of a bustling Southern city, but also identifying with your country roots. “The Weeds Downtown” in particular is an anthem for the revitalization and rebranding of downtown Birmingham. Where our parents generation saw danger, Bains and the rest of us see opportunity.

The second side of the record sees the band continuing in the politically minded vein of the first side with the one-two punch of “We Dare Defend Our Rights!”, and “Flags”. In previous generations, Alabama’s state motto was used as a symbol for defending the racist status quo, but Baines takes a look at the motto and turns it around by making it a rallying cry for a new generation of proud, progressive citizens.

To finish up the record, Bains delivers what I think is the best song of the album. “Dirt Track”, like all great southern food and art, works on several levels. The song relates Alabama’s history in stock car racing to DIY punk rock; the dirt track of the music business. The song’s late break and triumphant finish offers a capstone for the record, bringing everything full circle.

Bains and Co. offer the next logical step beyond the storytelling of bands like the Drive By Truckers, by getting down into the nitty gritty of living in a rapidly evolving South. There’s a sense of wrestling and reckoning with our shared past, but an unending faith and hope in our shared future. Dereconstructed offers an alternative to the duck call Disney World South that’s presented on TV and gives an authentic look into being an intelligent, proud southerner.

Sun Ra’s 100th Birthday

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I went to bed on May 21st with no intentions of going to visit Sun Ra’s grave in Elmwood Cemetery the next morning, but shortly after waking, I felt myself compelled to seek out the final resting place of Birmingham’s greatest contribution to jazz on his hundredth birthday. I’d only ever visited two other famous people’s graves: Bear Bryant and Hank Williams, two other titans of Alabama culture. I drove out to Elmwood seeking Block 25, where I could do whatever it was I’d come to do. I didn’t really know what I had it mind, but it seemed like the thing to do. Finding his humble, flat grave marker (there is no elevated headstone) would’ve been nearly impossible to find on my own and I considered stopping to ask for directions from the cemetery office, though I doubt that actually would’ve been very much help either given the enormity of the cemetery and the low key headstone. I found good directions and a few photo indicators of where to go on findagrave.com. Perhaps not the most tasteful of URLs, but it’s one that certainly gets the point across and helps do what it advertises quite well.

It was early, around 9:00 a.m. or so when I made it out there and there was no one else around like the times I visited the graves of Bear Bryant and Hank Williams. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare for a music legend on such a momentous anniversary: a fake flower was inserted into the ground and various trinkets were left on the headstone as a thank you or acknowledgement of visitors’ presence: a ring, a few coins, and the most peculiar item…a severely faded CD of the Grateful Dead’s Wake of the Flood. I stood there for a few minutes looking around and enjoying the peculiar, but peaceful quietness and serenity of the cemetery on what was a gorgeous morning. I fished around in my pocket for a coin and placed it on the headstone with the others. I did it as much for those that might come after me to know that others still cherish this legend as much as I did it for Sun Ra himself. Funerals, as they say, are for the living and I suppose in this day and age, leaving a trinket or coin is for the living as much as it is for the dead. After placing the coin down I stood around a few moments longer and just kind of said a thank you to him and then snapped a picture of the headstone. I thought about his music and all of the musicians I love that he’s inspired and realized that my musical world (and my life for that matter) would’ve been very different had he not made such a great impression on so many brilliant minds along the way.

You may not be a Sun Ra fan or even a jazz fan, but there’s a good chance the ripples from the boulder he dropped in the pond made their way to some musician you love no matter the genre. George Clinton has constantly cited his influence, Kid Congo (The Cramps, The Gun Club, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) is a fan, Ty Segall Band and Thee Oh Sees made the pilgrimage to his grave the last time they played here, and countless others like John Medeski and Trey Anastasio are fans as well. Sun Ra was a gift to the world, and I hope Birminghamians are proud he was from here.

 

Burning at Liberty House

Today, if you lived or worked near Birmingham you saw the smoke clouds. There was a fire. It was a loft in downtown

Photo by @gtice4
Photo by @gtice4

Birmingham called Liberty House. Fortunately, no one was hurt but there was a close call. It looked like the fire was on the roof. On the deck, if I had to guess. A deck I used to haul kegs of beer up to. A deck I had some good times in the early part of this century on.

You can read about the fire and the causes and the important stuff on Birmingham’s Digtial Hub for Information and Photo Galleries. As I looked at my friend Greg’s tweets of the fire, I thought about Radiohead.

When my friend lived there, he was one of the first people I knew who had a CD burner. I remember playing Dreamcast in his apartment as he burned a copy of OK Computer behind us. It was a 1X speed burner, so you’re talking a good 40 minutes of time to create an exact copy of a CD. But it was worth it. So worth it. This wasn’t a filthy tape that you only could play in your car. This was an exact replica of an album! Until I bought the vinyl of OK Computer last year, I had never actually owned a copy. I got a burned CD from Liberty House lofts. I ripped that into Real Jukebox. I imported the .mp3s from Real Jukebox when it died into iTunes. Those same files sit on this hard drive now. Can you feel nostalgia for an .mp3? A 96k bitrate reminder of a bygone era? It was a time when that 40 minutes of real time burning, fraught with the peril of a bad disk or error in the burning process was amazing.

Now I have so many ways to access new music that I barely do it. Bands appear and disappear at alarming rate to me. Is this a product of getting old? Probably. But as I prepare to exit my 30’s I’m beginning to realize that the last 10 years or so of gorging on music has made me not care as much about music as I used to. It’s made me force myself to grab an album tight and not let go until I’ve wrung something personal and interesting out of it. It’s made me want to slow down.

40 minutes for 40 minutes of music. Then that CD sits in my car stereo for months, eventually replaced with a collection of Pixies b-sides. When I hear Paranoid Android kick in, I can’t help but smile because I’ve heard it so, so many times. We added Talk Show Host to the end of it so that song will be forever part of OK Computer to me. As soon as Fitter Happier starts I hit the skip button. This stuff is burned into me. No errors.

It’s a terrible thing, but when I heard Liberty House was on fire, this is what I thought of. Glad everyone is alright and I can write about dumb stuff.

Summer Music Series: KING CARNIVORE “Endless Summer”

The guys in King Carnivore have long been my favs. Carson Mitchell (Dirty Lungs), Scotty Lee (//GT), keen engineer Michael Shackelford and the incomparable Ra Jaan Parmely (every band) have decided to record their live sessions and share them as much as possible this summer.

“It will be an ongoing thing”, Carson says, “where we write, record and film a song in one session and put it up that night.”

What a perfect way to kick off my summer music series than to show some love to their first live session, entitled “Endless Summer”. Watch their video below and follow them on Facebook for more sessions like these. I’ve also posted some of their songs from a while back, so if you’ve been on the hunt for something different to listen to… I got you. Makes me very happy music like this is coming out of Birmingham!