Birmingham, Alabama jumped right into the indie festival stratosphere this year with a strong 2 day lineup for it’s inaugural Sloss Music & Arts Festival on the grounds of the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Sloss Furnaces produced iron for nearly 90 years, which was a huge part of the growth of the city of Birmingham and offers a glimpse into the industrial past.
This isn’t the first go round for Sloss hosting festivals and concerts. In the shed at Sloss (deemed the Shed stage) they’ve been holding concerts for years under the covered area that holds around 2,400 people. Add in 2 more larger outdoor stages on the grounds surrounded by the beautiful industrial landscapes, art, live iron pouring brought by the Metal Arts Program, a lineup that looks like a mix of the last two years of our beloved Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta (including SK veterans Young the Giant, Cage the Elephant, Lord Huron, Modest Mouse, Manchester Orchestra, and The Avett Brothers), throw in a few Birmingham acts making national waves (Lee Bains & the Glory Fires and St. Paul & the Broken Bones), and we had what was primed to be one heck of an inaugural festival.
And by all accounts, the festival was a smashing success. Sure it was waaaayyyy too hot. It’s Alabama in July, so maybe there is a better month outside of football season for this fest? But a few storms passing through served to make the heat bearable. The Shed was covered so it wasn’t horrible in there until the packed out dance parties that happened later each day (see Robert DeLong, Purity Ring, & Tyler, the Creator but these sets were so good it was easy to forget the heat). There were some trees to take cover, an long entrance way under a bridge that helped, and VIP tents with the air pumped to the max for sweet relief.
The only real complaints we had/heard about this festival were the lines for food at night and the lack of enough water refill stations (it was hot as hades out there, we need cold H20 for survival). But they seemed to remedy that by adding more refill stations the second day and took out the hoses to splash the crowds from the stages on Sunday. And don’t forget a couple of misting stations that were a godsend at times.
But in reality the biggest problem with this festival wasn’t exactly the festival itself’s fault. Birmingham can we please talk about the absence of Uber and Lift type services? WTF. Coming from Atlanta, you are used to the ease (and cheap costs) of using Uber, it’s amazing. You know who is coming to get you in what car, how long till they arrive, and where they are picking you up. If you’ve never used one of these services you are missing out (I personally can’t remember the last person I’ve met from Atlanta that’s never used Uber). Besides the ease of use and cost, it’s also providing plenty of people ways to make extra money. Seems like a win win in our book and for the life of me, we just can’t understand how they haven’t allowed Uber into Birmingham. So B’Ham folks, do yourself a favor and raise hell with your local government. It’s an injustice not to have it.
Not allowing Uber into Birmingham is only half the problem though, after multiple experiences in that city trying to use the local taxis services, it’s clear that the city doesn’t have enough taxis to handle having a festival like this or other big events that brings in tourism. It seems they would rather you just drive drunk (which makes late night driving around the city very scary). Not thinking about the horrible taxi situation we got dropped off Saturday for Day 1 planning on grabbing a taxi back to our weekend home. Not only was it a complete cluster f*ck, but it got to the point of being in what seemed to be a nightmare with no way to get home. Not only could we only find one taxi company that would even answer they phone, they were extremely rude and very unhelpful and wouldn’t send anyone to pick us up (at the festival or when we somehow made it to The Purple Onion for late night food). Let’s just say leaving the Onion that it was an hour and half fight with others to find a taxi that had us on the side of the road hoping/praying we could just find a hotel at that point that we could walk to. Luckily we finally scored one after jumping into the road and making sure the taxi stopped for us. So Birmingham, get your shit together, if you ever want this to be the type of festival that people from all around the south flock too, the infrastructure to handle such things will have to be updated. After Saturday’s experience, Sloss Fest didn’t get our money on Sunday from refreshing beers and instead we stuck to water and drove (much easier).
Now that that rants over, back to the good. Having been to Sloss for a show years ago, it was the festival grounds and the outstanding lineup that drew us to this fest. The Sloss grounds ended up being overall a great and beautiful setting for a festival (minus an industrial sized cut on the ankle from some loose rusty metal, but hey I survived!). Being the first year, most things were well run giving us a good overall experience and will have this festival on our radar for future years. On to the music….
Day 1 Best Sets:
– Late Saturday night at The Shed, indie electro pop sensation Robert DeLong from Echo Park in LA brought the heat up another level (and did we mention it was already hot?). With the shed packed in tightly, DeLong came on stage armed with a few toys (synths and electronic drum set among them) and just his voice. And well that was enough to get the crowd dancing late into the night. The Birmingham people that took in this set were treated to one of the most fun sets of the festival, hands in the air getting down to DeLong’s hits like “Long Way Down” and “Don’t Wait Up”, songs that have started to get him radio airplay around the country (a feat in itself these days). But the crowd didn’t have to already know his songs in order to love what he was throwing down providing jams for those late summer nights.
Cage The Elephant
– Some bands are just ready made for a festival setting, making them irresistible to the crowd. Cage The Elephant is that band. With hits playing every five minutes on alternative radio stations all around including “Cigarettes Daydreams” and “Come a Little Closer”, a huge portion of the crowd has an idea about these guys and are ready to sing along. But the band itself always puts on a hell of a performance no matter where they play. When mentioning that performance, you are always going to have to mention frontman Matt Shultz who will never miss an opportunity to jump in and involve the crowd, belting out the hits from on top of the crowd itself, despite security’s reservations (sorry Sloss, CtE won this one!). In a live setting such as this, Cage The Elephant is impossible to resist.
Young the Giant
– Another ready made festival darling, Young the Giant like CtE is another band that has kept building upon radio hit upon radio hit. These guys always seem to know how to get the girls dancing, and you know when they are all dancing, the rest of us will be sucked right in with them. In a festival setting, when the whole crowd is coerced into waving their hands in unison, the crowd becomes one and can’t help but have fun. Young the Giant are performers, and they sure are great at what they do.
First Aid Kit
– This is a change from the more radio friendly indie rock that has made our list so far. But when the Söderberg sisters from Sweden start singing in harmony it’s absolutely encapsulating. Truthfully it’s unreal just how great these girls are, in a perfect sync together. These ladies are the type that stops that typical festival goer that is there only to party, not for the music (you know exactly who we are talking about) in their tracks, wondering where those angelic voices are coming from. This time it’s not from those little pills that hippie on the corner gave you, but coming from these two lovely ladies and their band on stage. The only disappointment here came during the set closer “Emmylou”, when Young the Giant started playing early across the lawn (or perhaps First Aid Kit played over) and started to drown out those perfect sounds coming from First Aid Kit. We want those five minutes of what should have been bliss back, and uninterrupted.
– Modest Mouse sure has seemed to have hit it’s stride settling in as a festival headliner. While there are still way too many people that only seem to know “Float On”, and maybe have heard a little “Ocean Breathes Salty”, even those that only know those hits seem to be able to appreciate the raw energy that Isaac and the band bring to every show. Playing a mix of those hits and other fan favorites from their six studio albums, mixed in with plenty from this year’s excellent new album Strangers to Ourselves (their first album in 8 years), Modest Mouse laid down a 19 song setlist that had even the most casual fan loving every minute. And the new songs like “Lampshades On Fire” and “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box” proved perfect additions to their festival set lists around the long time fan favorites like set close “The Good Times Are Killing Me”.
Band of Horses
– It’s been a few years since we’ve been gifted a new Band of Horses album, but with 4 studio albums to choose from, Band of Horses are always one of our favorite bands to see live, and they sure didn’t disappoint at Sloss Fest. Band of Horses are one of those bands that can just suck in a crowd and bring them into their own world. And that’s exactly what Ben Bridwell and the band did in Birmingham. Able to play ballads, a little alt country, or indie rock, the mix of songs from their albums keeps the crowd engaged and only left wanting more by the time they end.
– Let’s get one thing straight, we’d take Lord Huron in an enclosed venue setting every time over a festival setting. But that’s really just our opinion of how such an amazing band such as Lord Huron should be heard live. They have such amazing musicianship with lush, full sounds coming at you from different angles that a venue with great acoustics is the way to go for a band such as this. That doesn’t mean that they can’t translate on the big festival stage, they still will always be high up on our list to catch no matter where they are. In fact, with the release of 2015’s Strange Trails, and hits like “Fool For Love”, “The World Ender” and “Dead Man’s Hand” among others, they are more equipped for sing alongs and getting down at a festival. But it’s hard to deny hits from 2012’s amazing Lonesome Dreams like the title track, “She Lit A Fire” and “Time To Run” are just that much better with great acoustics and an attentive non festival crowd. But heck, Lord Huron still puts on one hell of show wherever they play, and Sloss Fest was no different.
Poised For The Big Leagues:
– Knowing nothing about LANY going into the festival, we decided why not head on over to The Shed and discover something new. What we found was a band playing their first festival ever with a great danceable synth pop sound with strong R&B grooves. Throw in a look that had all the young girls going wild, you’ve got the makings of a band that is about to take off. Digging deeper LANY lists themselves to be from just up the road in Nashville, but a LA/NYC combo band (see what they did with the name?) now living in LA and only and EP and a few singles currently out for your ears. Combine all of this, and we know this is a band we all will be hearing much more about in the future!
– Kaleo was another new discovery at Sloss Fest. But their set went off with a few hitches. Clearly they were having internal sound issues, talking to the sound guys during songs, after songs, clearly getting frustrated. Then once they seemed to be getting a little happier with what was happening during their set, they belted out a soulful, soft ballad, only to be interrupted by a train going by during the softest of moments, a moment that had the band just laughing at their own frustration that they couldn’t get away from. Luckily for this Icelandic band, their frustrations didn’t carry into the crowd. Instead, the crowd got a bluesy indie rock band with an exceptional voice from frontman Jökull Júlíusson, who just so happens to look like a movie star. Despite their own frustrations, it’s clear with the sound and in all honesty, the look, this band is primed for the big time.
More Sloss Fest Day 1 Photos: