By Sarah Cook
Photos by Andi Rice and courtesy of Red Mountain Entertainment
Thirty-one acts are slated to heat up multiple stages beneath Birmingham's historic blast furnace for the second annual Sloss Music & Arts Festival, July 16 and 17. With notable headliners like Death Cab for Cutie and Ryan Adams — along with a long list of worthy up-and-comers — this two-day party is lighting a fire under Alabama's evolving music and arts scene. Mark your calendar (and buy your ticket) now.
Ryan Adams and the Shining:
Chances are, you've belted Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up" at the bar at one time or another. His harmonica-based hits are unmistakable and have the ability to make any smoky setting feel just right. Paving the way with a prolific solo career, Adams has solidified his relevance in several music genres. Last year, he released his 15th studio album, "1989"—a cover of Taylor Swift's album of the same name. Stacked with songs like "Welcome to New York" and "This Love," his sound has evolved—but it still contains the hauntingly smooth melodies he's become synonymous with in the songs we all adore. In many respects, Adams can be called a poet just as much as a singer.
The Song You'll Know: Wonderwall
The Song You Should Know: Dance All Night
Death Cab for Cutie:
Dubbed by many as an iconic indie-rock band, Death Cab for Cutie has made its mark on several generations. Known for their unorthodox instrumental infusions, Death Cab brings a melodic blend of sounds that often juxtapose each other—melancholy and uplifting, romantic and jaded, smart and confused. Lead singer Ben Gibbard pioneered the band in 1997 from Bellingham, Wash. Their debut 1998 album "Something About Airplanes" instantly established the band as something to be reckoned with. Named from the song "Death Cab for Cutie," performed by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Death Cab's current lineup consists of Gibbard leading the way with vocals and guitar, Nick Harmer on piano and bass, and Jason McGerr on drums.
The Song You'll Know: I'll Follow You into the Dark
The Song You Should Know: Lilly (or Gibbard's cover of the Postal Service's Brand New Colony)
Best known for his raspy baritone voice, Ray Lamontagne definitely has a knack for a smooth serenade. His hits such as "Trouble," "Jolene," and "Hold You in My Arms" portray hopeless love that recalls rhythms similar to Otis Redding, The Band, and Van Morrison. He credits his unique sound to his ability to sing through his gut rather than his nose. Lamontagne began his career as a singer-songwriter after waking up one morning to his alarm clock playing Stephen Stills' "Treetop Flyer." Since then, he's been touting his unique vocal style to countless fans.
The Song You'll Know: Trouble
The Song You Should Know: All the Wild Horses
The Flaming Lips:
This multi-layered psychedelic rock band formed in 1983, drawing on the previous decade's counterculture. Wayne Coyne—who has been the band's frontman since day one—is known for his trippy sound, which often alludes to themes of science fiction and space. Highly acclaimed for their colorful live performances (they've brought balloons, puppets, and pretty much everything else under the sun on stage), the Lips have cemented themselves in the psychedelic rock genre and garnered a dedicated fan base. Their songs often kick off with riotous solos, but then slowly meander into intergalactic instrumental jams. This is the act, above all others, to break out the hula hoop, let down your hair, and dance.
The Song You'll Know: Do You Realize??
The Song You Should Know: Sun Arise
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals:
Ben Harper saw reggae superstar Bob Marley perform in 1978, and the rest is pretty much history. Harper blends an eclectic mix of music genres—blues, folk, soul, reggae, and rock—to produce his unique sound. Known for his slick guitar riffs and smooth vocals, this California kid has become a national hit. Songs like "Steal My Kisses" and "Diamonds on the Inside" have become generational favorites, and they capture an easy-going ambiance perfect for a leisurely summertime festival.
The Song you'll know: Steal My Kisses
The Song You Should Know: Waiting on an Angel
The Up & Comers
Shovels & Rope:
This modern-day Johnny and June, in some respects, has Birmingham to thank for their musical genesis as a pair. They first crossed paths while working the bar scene in Charleston, but it wasn't until they found themselves on a three-hour drive from Nashville to Birmingham that Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst decided to leave their solo careers behind and form Shovels & Rope. With howling harmonies that recall a 1960's toe-tapping rhythm, Shovels & Rope will get you on your feet—and that's exactly their intent. This folk husband-and-wife duo that fell in love in the Lowcountry is gaining a fierce momentum with their rock-meets-bluegrass sound and definitely shouldn't be missed.
Songs to look up: The Devil is All Around, O' Be Joyful, Birmingham
Judging by his haunting lyrics, you would think Dylan LeBlanc is wiser than his actual 26 years. This Shreveport, La. native has been performing since he was 15. He first gained his inspiration, like so many iconic musicians, in North Alabama's historic music hub: Muscle Shoals. While observing his father's country music career, the budding musician began to curate his own unique sound. Backed by a polished rhythm section and ghostly guitar riffs, LeBlanc's music is anything but ordinary. He's not afraid to lay his demons out there. LeBlanc has toured with the likes of Alabama Shakes, Bruce Springsteen, and Drive-By Truckers—catapulting himself to something of a young Neil Young overnight.
Songs to look up: Headstones to Me, The Easy Way Out, Cautionary Tale
What do you get when you blend a Baptist church choir with progressive rhythm and blues? You get Anderson East—an Alabama boy who is gaining esteem for his undeniably soulful sound (and patching up pop country singer Miranda Lambert's heart). Hailing from Athens, Ala., East was born and bred into the church of music (and the music of church) early on. His grandfather was a Baptist preacher, his father sang in the choir and his mom played piano for filled-up pews. His first major record release in July 2015—"Delilah"—has hit radio waves hard. With thick layers of soul sandwiched between brassy melodies and piano riffs, this up-and-comer is proving his place in the Southern blues/pop genre and beyond.
Songs to look up: Devil in Me, Satisfy Me, Only You
This six-man band has an uncanny ability for delivering a catchy cachet of melodies. They hail from West Grove, Penn., and most of the band has been writing original music since middle school. Toby Leaman, Zach Miller, Eric Slick, Frank McElroy, Scott McMicken, and Dimitri Manos make up the scrappy rock band known for their gritty songs rooted in an unpolished, live sound. Early on, Dr. Dog showed a commitment to cultivating a stripped-down sound that is somewhat jittery—and they haven't swayed one bit from that dedication over the course of eight albums. If the Beach Boys reincarnated themselves into a modern-day indie rock band, there's a good chance they would come to fruition in the form of this bare-bones band.
Songs to look up: From, Shadow People, Heart it Races
Fitz and the Tantrums:
It all began with an electric organ. Michael Fitzpatrick, lead singer of Fitz and the Tantrums, sat down at a newly purchased organ just a handful of years ago and penned "Breakin' the Chains of Love"—a song strangely reminiscent of the '70's jazz-infused disco sound, which is appropriate, considering Fitzpatrick's uncanny resemblance to David Bowie. Fitz and the Tantrums is comprised of Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs (co-lead vocals and percussion), James King (saxophone, flute, keyboard, percussion, and guitar), Joseph Karnes (bass guitar), Jeremy Ruzumna (keyboards), and John Wicks (drums and percussion). Their sound is best described as soul-influenced indie pop, but they're not out to replicate any specific music genre. Known for delivering well in the summer festival circuit, don't miss out on this up-and-coming band and their penchant for an eclectic mash-up of sounds and slick suits.
Songs to listen for: MoneyGrabber, Breakin' the Chains of Love, Out of My League
No need to wonder how you'll get to this year's festival. Birmingham has you covered.
Download the Uber app on your phone (it's free), and hitch a ride with a local driver.
They're (mostly) yellow. You can't miss them. Plug these numbers in your phone now.
Silver Cab Company
Birmingham Yellow Cab
You'll look even more stellar in your cutoff jean shorts if you get in a quick workout on the way to the festival. Ride your bike, and park your wheels at Redemptive Cycle's complimentary bike valet located at the festival's main entrance.
Want to drive yourself? Totally cool. A staffed parking lot will be available within walking distance of the festival site with Intelligent Parking providing shuttles to and from Sloss Fest. Check out slossfest.com for a detailed parking map.
Where to Stay
Rest easy knowing Birmingham has a long list of great places to crash after a full day of dancing and soaking up the city's best cultural highlights.
The Westin Birmingham
2221 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N. | 205.307.3600
Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Birmingham
808 20th St. S. | 205.933.9000
The Redmont Hotel Birmingham
2102 Fifth Ave. N. | 205.957.6828
Residence Inn UAB
821 20th St. S. | 205.731.9595
2024 Fourth Ave. N. | 205.322.8600
From Furnace to Festival
It was only about two years ago that the Alabama Shakes were selling back-to-back sold out shows at the Sloss Shed. The folks behind Red Mountain Entertainment—the company managing the shows—walked the Sloss Furnaces site sometime after that and decided they were standing at ground zero for what would become Birmingham's premier music and arts festival location.
Considering Birmingham's rich history, it makes sense to blend the city's budding cultural scene with its past. And with the positive national attention Birmingham has been getting, the timing was perfect. "The city is ready for a world-class music and lifestyle event, so we went for it," says Betsy Kiser of Red Mountain Entertainment.
Kicking off the inaugural festival in 2015, Sloss Fest attracted more than 25,000 people who came to catch 33 bands perform on three stages. Named the "South's Most Iconic Music Festival" by Southern Living, there's no doubt that Birmingham's growing festival scene has been noticed. "Birmingham is a city in transition," Kiser says. "Gone are the days of being viewed as the redheaded stepchild of Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, or Memphis. We feel like this city is now a destination."
Two full days of music outside in the July heat means you'll need an arsenal of concert essentials. Here's what we recommend bringing to the festival, and what's best left at home.
- Sunscreen (we are in Alabama, after all
- An empty, refillable, plastic or aluminum water bottle or Camelback (water refill stations will be provided)
- Camera (point and shoot digital cameras are allowed. Detachable lenses prohibited)
- Hula hoop (this will instantly give you cool-concert-kid status)
- Cell phone (you'll want to snap everything)
- Phone charger (for when you've drained your battery from snapping everything. Alabama Power is graciously providing charging stations)
- Illegal substances
- Selfie sticks
- Pets (service dogs allowed)
Visit slossfest.com/faq for a full list.
If there's one thing the South does well, it's good cookin' (and mixing up a strong cocktail). This year's festival will feature some of the city's best local and regional flavor (look for Hattie B's hot chicken and Steel City Pops there), along with some out-of-towner fare. From signature regional dishes to Magic City favorites, Sloss Fest is serving up some of the best—and definitely Instagram-worthy—food this festival season with plenty of cold brews to boot.
Star Hill Brewery:
This beer was made for live music. The Star Hill All Access area, which will be located next to the beer garden, will showcase some of the best brews from the east coast. Mark Thompson, the man behind Star Hill, found his passion for brewing in Portland—ground zero for the craft beer phenomenon. A self-proclaimed beer nerd, Thompson's brews will pair perfectly with all that toe-tapping music wafting through the Alabama air.
Piggly Wiggly Craftly Beer Garden:
Their tagline says it all—"local since forever." This year, the Pig will be featuring a wide variety of the finest craft brews from the great state of Alabama and throughout the Southeast. Malts, hops—they'll have 'em all. You already get your groceries at the Pig, why not a cold one, too?
*must be 21 to enter all areas where alcohol is served
Depending on how swanky you want to get, this year's Sloss Fest is offering three ticket levels. They all come with their own set of amenities—but good music, arts, and fun are provided across the board. Tickets can be purchased at slossfest.com.
General Admission Two-Day Pass:
Allows access to festival site both days.
Level One: $125 (sold out)
Level Two: $135
Day-of event: $150
Iron Two-Day Pass:
For those who want a little bit of an upgrade from General Admission but aren't quite ready to spring for VIP, the Iron Two-Day Pass is the way to go.
Level One: $195 (sold out)
Level Two: $210
Day-of event: $225
- This is a different ticket option from VIP. The "Iron" Pass grants access to tents located separately from the VIP Area
- Access to exclusive tents on site with air conditioning and private bars in a relaxing atmosphere
- Special entrance lanes into the festival
- A chance to win an upgrade to VIP passes
VIP Two-Day Pass:
This includes an official Sloss Music & Arts Festival commemorative wristband and is valid for both days of the festival.
Cost is $325 and includes:
- Access to two air conditioned VIP lounges in exclusive hang areas near the Blast and Steam stages with private cash bars and air conditioned restrooms
- Special viewing areas at the Blast and Steam stages
- Private food trucks for VIP patrons with delicious foodavailable for purchase
- Special entrance lanes into the festival
- 2016 Limited edition Sloss Music & Arts Festival commemorative poster
- 2016 souvenir laminate
- VIP's are also admitted access to the Iron Pass Tents
Single Day Passes:
A limited number of single day passes were released at a cost of $75 per day. Once that allotment sells out, single-day general admission tickets will be available for $85 through midnight on Friday, July 15th and for $95 per day at the festival gate.