Secret Stages returns to Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood August 2 & 3. The music discovery festival has happened annually since 2011, and plenty has been discovered in the previous eight years. It was at Secret Stages that Birmingham’s own St. Paul and the Broken Bones had their first major performance. Dawes performed at the festival before they were a household name. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, Ona, Jake Xerxes Fussell, Hiss Golden Messenger, White Reaper, Sertaones, Adia Victoria, Pujol, Robert Ellis and Lydia Loveless all count themselves among alumni of Secret Stages.
This year’s edition will feature several Birmingham acts, many of whom are making returns to the festival: Taylor Hollingsworth, Preston Lovinggood, K.L.U.B. Monsta and Holiday Gunfire. It’ll also feature some local first timers like Skinny Dippers, Unwed Sailor and The Bouquets. The 2019 lineup also includes several already emerging names across the Southeast. Here are the five acts that I’m most looking forward to seeing this year.
1. Lilly Hiatt. August 2. 9-10 p.m. Avondale Brewing Company Outdoor Stage. Yes, that Hiatt. The daughter of John Hiatt has spent the past several years in Nashville carving out an impressive career of her own. Lilly has an amazing way of simultaneously singing with a twang and personifying punk rock. Her third full length album, Trinity Lane, was distributed by New West and produced by Michael Trent of Shovels & Rope; his wife and musical partner, Cary Ann Hearst, appeared on the track “Everything I Had.” Hiatt is working on her third now, and per her Twitter, it will feature the likes of Amanda Shires among others. She’s toured with Drive-By Truckers, Aaron Lee Tasjan, John Prine, John Moreland and Margo Price.
Secret Stages doesn’t tout “headliners,” but if it did, Hiatt would surely be one of the three or four names capable of wearing that crown.
2. Dylan LeBlanc & the Pollies. August 3. 9:30-10:30 p.m. Avondale Brewing Company Outdoor Stage. LeBlanc would be another capable of carrying a “headliner” title. The singer-songwriter calls the Florence and Muscle Shoals area home, though he split much of his youth between the Alabama music enclave and Shreveport, Louisiana. He took a huge leap forward with his Single Lock Records debut, Cautionary Tale, in 2016. Shortly after the album’s release, he teamed up with – or reunited, depending on who is telling the story – The Pollies. The Muscle Shoals band backed LeBlanc for most of the touring behind Cautionary Tale, giving an edge to the material that wasn’t really found in the studio. That’s all been settled for the powerful 2019 followup, Renegade, a fantastic rock-and-roll record that will creep into many year-end lists.
3. Faye Webster. August 3. 9:30-10:15 p.m. Saturn. One of the weekend’s biggest timing conflicts happens on Saturday night, when Faye Webster will be onstage at the same time as Dylan LeBlanc and the Pollies. It’s a great “problem” for the festival to have. Webster was in town in April opening for Lord Huron at Iron City in April, and since, she has released Atlanta Millionaires Club, another of the year’s best works. It’s her second full-length. Webster’s style is what can most easily be described as hip-hop influenced Americana. Her hometown, Atlanta, isn’t exactly a hotbed for Americana, and she draws on what it is known for influence.
4. Janet Simpson. August 2. 10:30-11:15 p.m. Avondale Brewing Company Upstairs. Janet Simpson is a Birmingham legend. She spent years with the Delicate Cutters and her most recent project is a collaboration with Will Stewart; the duo released the debut Timber record in 2018. This time, Simpson will be playing solo. While she’ll surely draw on some of that material she’s written with other projects, I’m eager to see her new solo stuff.
5. Rose of the West. August 3. 11-midnight. Avondale Brewing Company Upstairs. One of the acts traveling the greatest distance to Secret Stages is Wisconsin’s Rose of the West. It’s the work of Milwaukee artist Gina Barrington, and represents a lifetime spent collecting lyrics, melodies and musical ideas, waiting for the right people to help bring her vision to life. Those people include Birmingham ties, as Remy Zero bassist Cedric LeMoyne is part of her band; and their debut was released by Jeffrey Cain’s Communicating Vessels. Barrington and LeMoyne are joined by Thomas Gilbert (formerly of GGOOLLDD), Erin Wolf (Hello Death) and Dave Power (The Staves). They’ve opened for Warpaint and The Church, which Cain has been performing with for the past few years.
Want to hear more? Check out my Spotify playlist featuring acts from this year’s festival. Tickets are still currently available at the Rumor Tier, which is $35 for a day pass, $55 for a weekend pass and $100 for a VIP pass. They will rise again on the day of the event; save a few bucks and get them now.