Secret Stages celebrates 10 years as the ultimate Birmingham festival

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City Electric played at Secret Stages in 2018. The festival highlights up-and-coming artists. Photo via Tyler Woods for Secret Stages

Secret Stages is celebrating its 10th anniversary in Birmingham this year. The music discovery festival spotlights the Magic City’s thriving arts scene. Keep reading to learn more about the unique event’s legacy and future. Tickets are on sale now.

What is Secret Stages?

Secret Stages digital projection
Secret Stages brings people together. Photo via Jay Dexter for Secret Stages

Secret Stages is an annual music discovery festival held in the Avondale entertainment district. It highlights promising artists with at least 20% of its yearly lineup showcasing local talent.

The event is particularly popular amongst dedicated Magic City music fans. 

Diverse genres of music are all present at one music discovery festival: Secret Stages. Photo by Tyler Woods for Secret Stages
Diverse genres of music are all present at one music discovery festival: Secret Stages. Photo via Tyler Woods for Secret Stages

“The quintessential essence of what we want to provide is something that only music lovers love. It’s to walk into a small, intimate venue, see a band they’ve never heard before, just have their ears pinned back and become a lifelong fan of a new band.”

Jon Poor, Co-Founder, Secret Stages

Music discovery is at the heart of Secret Stages’ magic. Buy your tickets here.

The festival’s founding

Sunshine Factory performs at the first Secret Stages in 2011. Photo via Lyndsey Cunningham Photography
Sunshine Factory performs at the first Secret Stages in 2011. Photo via Lyndsey Cunningham Photography

Secret Stages was founded by a group of dedicated Alabama music fans. The influential festival came from humble roots. 

“It was kind of that cliche story of people at a bar talking about music and saying ‘You know what? We should do a festival.’”

Jon Poor
Secret Stages drew enthusiastic crowds even in its first year. Photo by Jeremy Allen for Secret Stages
Secret Stages drew enthusiastic crowds even in its first year. Photo via Jeremy Allen for Secret Stages

The founders of the festival had an idealistic mission. In 2010, they realized it was almost impossible to discover up-and-coming artists on commercial TV and radio stations. So, they set out to provide an alternative.

The first Secret Stages festival

From the beginning, Secret Stages had a unique and electrifying energy. Photo by Tyler Sanford for Secret Stages
From the beginning, Secret Stages had a unique and electrifying energy. Photo via Tyler Sanford for Secret Stages

Secret Stages held its first festival in 2011 between Morris and 2nd Avenue in downtown Birmingham. They’ve since moved to 41st Street in Avondale. That first event was a sprawling event with 13 stages at 13 venues. Though the original festival was disorganized at times, it showcased the potential of a music discovery festival in Birmingham. 

“The first year was very much by the seat of our pants. We were figuring it out as we went along. We were lucky that there was a lot of goodwill in our community to make a new festival happen.”

Sam George, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Secret Stages

Secret Stages’ ten-year legacy

Snail Mail performed at Secret Stages in 2017, before the release of her EP "Lush." Photo by Secret Playground Photography for Secret Stages
Snail Mail performed at Secret Stages in 2017, a year before the release of her EP “Lush.” Photo via Secret Playground Photography for Secret Stages

During the festival’s second year, St. Paul and the Broken Bones played their first ever show on Second Avenue. Since then, they’ve become an iconic Birmingham band that has toured internationally.

Over time, Secret Stages gained a dedicated following. Word spread about the standout festival, which served as a stepping stone for artists like Shovels and Rope, Earthgang and Snail Mail. The event’s fanbase also grew more diverse through its 10 years. 

Dem Atlas performs to a crowd of entranced fans. Photo by Tyler Woods for Secret Stages
Dem Atlas performs to a crowd of entranced fans. Photo via Tyler Woods for Secret Stages

“I try to book artists from as wide a range of genres as possible, and artists from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible. Ultimately, I want people from every part of our community to come to our festival and feel represented.”

Rashid Qandil, Booker, Secret Stages
Local band Lady Legs performed at Secret Stages in 2017, just before the release of their album "Holy Heatwave." Photo by Jay Dexter for Secret Stages
Local band Lady Legs performed at Secret Stages in 2017, just before the release of their album “Holy Heatwave.” Photo via Jay Dexter for Secret Stages

Secret Stages makes sure at least 20% of its lineup is local artists. This rule has made the festival a major way for local bands to gain visibility.

“What we want is for bands to look at us and say, that’s the benchmark for my growth and development here in Birmingham. We hope we’ve given local bands something they can claim as their own.”

Jon Poor

Who will you discover at Secret Stages this year? Buy your tickets now and earn lifelong bragging rights. 

This year’s festival

Landlady performs at Secret Stages, which provides festivalgoers with an intimate experience. Photo by Ginnard Archibald for Secret Stages
Landlady performs at Secret Stages, which provides festivalgoers with an intimate experience. Photo via Ginnard Archibald for Secret Stages

The lineup for Secret Stages this year is killer. Top-notch artists from diverse genres will be performing in Birmingham, August 6-7. 

The festival looks a bit different this year but continues to keep its core mission of music discovery. The event’s hitting the streets this year with two outdoor stages to promote social distancing. Eat in the Streets is partnering with Secret Stages, too, to feature Avondale favorites like Post Office Pies and Saw’s Soul Kitchen.

The future of music discovery

The founders of Secret Stages are optimistic about its future. 

“As far as growth is concerned, I would love to see Secret Stages go all the way down 41st Street to the park. You know, really increase our footprint and our presence, bringing in more regional travel to the city for the festival.”

Sam George

I’m sure this year’s Secret Stages will continue its decade-long legacy of music discovery in The Magic City. I can’t wait to witness the festival’s growth and positive impact on Birmingham. Can you?

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Libby Foster
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