Wade on Birmingham

The Future of Birmingham: An unwritten verse

St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Photo: Lee Burchfield (CC)

St. Paul and the Broken Bones is just one of the many
Birmingham bands of late to attract a national following.

Get the full version of this essay in our free ebook.
Details at the end.

By Kenn McCracken

The future is constantly changing, fluid and shifting with no guarantees.

The Future of BirminghamPerspective changes your view of the future; your place and standing in the macrocosm, your priorities and interests and experiences — those will draw your focus of where we’re headed. As someone who has worn many hats over my four-plus decades, my perspective incorporates culture in Birmingham, both as creator and audience.

Had you asked me 5 or 10 years ago about the future of Birmingham’s music scene, I would have given you a different answer than I would today. Then, the city was less known for Verbena, Remy Zero or Azure Ray (all enjoying varying levels of success on the national scene) than for Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks. Local bands of all genres might draw audiences, but couldn’t draw the same level of support as cover bands like the Velcro Pygmies or the Cheesebrokers.

Even with venues like Five Points Music Hall and the Nick (not to mention the pre-corporate Oak Mountain Amphitheatre or Sloss Furnaces), seeing a rising national act required a trip to Nashville or Atlanta. The general consensus among my friends — both fans and musicians — was that Birmingham was a musical dead end.

Fast-forward to 2015, and the outlook as a city that supports music is much brighter. Venues like Iron City, Tin Roof and Saturn bring in many acts that I never would have imagined we’d see in Birmingham, and crowds come out to support those shows. (RIP Bottletree Cafe.) Birmingham Mountain Radio, which started as an Internet-only station in 2010, has expanded to the FM airwaves not only locally but also in Tuscaloosa.

I’ve lost count of local bands gone national, including Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, Azure Ray, Duquette Johnson and A.A. Bondy (both previously in Verbena), the Great Book of John and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. This year saw the first SlossFest and the third Cask and Drum festival. And, speaking purely from someone who favors rock, Birmingham’s other genres — country, jazz and blues — all continue to thrive.

The entire time, we’ve had musicians who stayed in Birmingham despite better opportunities elsewhere. We’ve had venue managers who continued to support local music, and entrepreneurs who started venues and radio stations to provide sustenance to hungry listeners. Most importantly, we’ve had a shift in the audience, not just in tastes but also in willingness to support those bands and businesses.

All of them chose to stay, determined to change the future to suit themselves. And their efforts paid off: In the short span of 10 years, the future of Birmingham inverted itself in the musical sense.

As with so many songs, the future of Birmingham is unwritten. We the lifelong residents, we the childhood transplants, we the adult immigrants … we are the authors. If your inner musician is determined enough, positive enough and willing to smile in the face of failure, the future of Birmingham is yours to write, and to tell, and to play.

• • •

Kenn McCrackenKenn McCracken is the co-host and curator of the weekly show “(The Show With No Name)” on Birmingham Mountain Radio, bassist for the Exhibit(s) and master of his own liver.

• • •

The Future of BirminghamThe full version of this essay and many more are available in the free ebook, “The Future of Birmingham.”

All you need to do is fill out this simple form. We’ll email you a link to download the book. (And, at no extra charge, we’ll add you to the mailing list for the free Y’all Connect newsletter.)


• • •

Read more essays in our special 10th anniversary series, The Future of Birmingham.

Leave a Yip

Subscribe without commenting