Wade on Birmingham

The Magic Citation


Birmingham is known by many names. The Magic City. Pittsburgh of the South. Football Capital of the South. Bombingham. The ’Ham.

While the hand-wringing continues over the city’s image, we welcome thousands of “American Idol” hopefuls to a place they’ve heard about since Ruben Studdard put three defining digits on the map: 2-0-5.

So why can’t we get “Birmingham” out there in our other most visible institutions?


Take City Stages, a generic name for a truly Birmingham institution. Since 1989, residents have proudly shown off their Stages pins, tickets and memories to any music fans who will listen.

But it’s a terrible festival name, because no one outside of the state will know where (or what) it is. Compare it to New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (commonly known as New Orleans JazzFest), Music Midtown (R.I.P., though you had to know Midtown referred to Atlanta), Beale Street Music Festival (people can figure out it’s in Memphis), even the Newport Music Festival.

Don’t be too hard on City Stages, or as it’s more commonly known, the Waldrep, Stewart & Kendrick City Stages Presented by Lanny Vines & Associates.

Compare that mouthful to the similarly named in-state music events CityFest (Tuscaloosa) (R.I.P.) or Jubilee CityFest (Montgomery).

Too bad it wasn’t Birmingham City Stages or simply Birmingham Stages.

Another offender in the civic pride category is Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Like City Stages, it has received recognition nationally for being a top-notch festival since its launch in 1999.

But in terms of promoting Birmingham, it is equally unhelpful. Sundance is probably the best known of the festivals, and well, it’s in Sundance, Utah. Many city-based film festivals have the name of the city in the title. It’s not that big a deal.

Maybe the Birmingham Film Festival isn’t as snazzy, but at least people wouldn’t scratch their heads when trying to figure out where to book the plane tickets.

The most recent big event to return is Stokin’ the Fire BBQ Festival. In its second year, the competition brings the region’s best barbecue cooks to Sloss Furnaces Friday and Saturday in a Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event. (Guess where that society is based …)

Again, kudos for making another year, but jeers for leaving the “Birmingham” out. The competition is so new, people around here won’t know Stokin’ the Fire means Birmingham. The whole furnace analogy is too clever for its own good. Compare that to Memphis in May, which (spoiler alert!) gives away the city and the month.

Birmingham just doesn’t make the cut, whether it’s festivals such as the Southern Heritage Festival or publications such as Black and White or Fun and Stuff (R.I.P.). At least Child Times eventually became Birmingham Parent (R.I.P.).

And it is offhandedly referenced in its other regional draws, such as the Magic City Art Connection, the Magic City Classic or Alabama Adventure (formerly Visionland).

(Be glad you’re not reading Wade on City, or Wade on Midsize Metropolis.)

The push for civic pride is a noble one. Birmingham could always use a boost or three. But in our greatest attractions, it has become the land that dare not speak its name.

7 Yips for “The Magic Citation”

  1. Dre
    Monday, August 21, 2006, 9:34 pm

    Interesting comments. It would be great to hear the name Birmingham in more events around town. One problem in recent years is that as one mentions The Magic City, some try to say it’s Orlando (which I’m not totally buying anyway). You would hope that the events that you named became identified with Birmingham, and some of them have been. It also helps that our biggest tourist attractions have the city’s name in them: The Birmingham Zoo, the Birmingham Museum of Art. Of course there are some things that don’t have the name associated, but it is a start. Maybe they’re carrying the torch enough for us right now… until one of the other events changes their name. And that would be a great thing to see.

  2. Ginny
    Tuesday, August 22, 2006, 1:49 am

    My favorite is Huntsville’s musical festival, the Big Spring Jam, which is held in… autumn.

  3. Dre
    Tuesday, August 22, 2006, 8:05 am

    I forgot the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. I have a feeling that if I forgot that, Marie Sutton would have a great reason to get on me the next time she saw me 🙂

  4. Dystopos
    Tuesday, August 22, 2006, 10:11 am

    Though it has only been officially known as “The Waldrep, Stewart & Kendrick City Stages Presented by Lanny Vines & Associates” for a year, now, it has ALWAYS had the tag-line “Birmingham’s World-Class Music Festival”.

    I for one, won’t be crying if the “Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex” gets re-named as “The RSA Dome” or “Regions Center”.

  5. Dre’s Ramblings
    Tuesday, August 22, 2006, 2:18 pm

    […] The Magic Citation – by Wade on Birmingham […]

  6. Wade
    Tuesday, August 22, 2006, 9:41 pm

    Dre: The zoo tends to draw in-state visitors, but the museum will draw out-of-towners, depending on the exhibit. The civil rights institute is also becoming a big draw for out-of-state tourists.

    Ginny: Big Spring Jam is named, not for the season, but for … Big Spring Park, the location.

    Dystopos: Probably you and I are the only ones who remember that tagline. And no one comes to the BJCC for the building, just the events, so the name isn’t quite as important.

  7. Ginny
    Wednesday, August 23, 2006, 7:49 pm

    I know, but that’s not as funny. It took me almost the whole weekend to figure it out when I went.

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