One of the many things that make Birmingham the next awesome travel destination in this part of the country is the number and variety of festivals that spring up once summer gets underway. Not that we don’t have great winter events, but, let’s face it, everything down south blooms in the summer, and festivals are no exception. Down here, a good food or music festival grows like untended kudzu. Let’s have look at some of the more noteworthy ones.
Sloss Music & Arts Festival: An Industrial Dose of Awesome
July 15 – 16, 2017
Despite being set at the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark – an iron and steel mill that dates back to 1881, and the only 20th-century blast furnace currently being preserved in the United States – the music and artwork at Sloss Fest is anything but old school. With a lineup headed by the Alabama Shakes and Widespread Panic, Sloss Fest ’17, which features 40 bands and 4 stages, is the real deal – two days of solid live music, craft beer, creative cocktails, arts & crafts, and live iron pouring demonstrations, (which – if you’ve never seen done – is worth the visit).
While We’re on the Subject of Music…
Birmingham has one of the finest emerging music scenes in the country. The talent and energy here has every bit of the intensity of, say, an Athens, Georgia or Austin, Texas. It’s that kind of energy that makes our music festivals hop. In the Lakeview District, for example, the 6th Annual SliceFest once again will have us kicking up our heels in the streets of this trendy neighborhood, dotted with cool restaurants and bars. With a lineup chock full of fresh new bands, you can bet your your your your your boogie shoes it’s going to be a blast.
And located in Lakeview, there are plenty of options for food and drink, ranging from meatballs at the hip little restaurant Cashio’s to barbecue at Moe’s burgers and fries at Jack Brown’s Beer & Burger Joint, tapas at Babalu, Nashville hot chicken at Hattie B’s, and upscale bar fare at Sky Castle. SliceFest, by the way, is sponsored by the folks who own Slice, an excellent pizza restaurant in front of which the festival takes place. Conceived as a way of giving back to the community, Slice donates proceeds from what has become a full-blown music festival to local non-profits. So, you’ll want to check this one out and feel really, really good about boogying on the block. SliceFest 2017 will be held on June 3rd.
If jazz makes you want to rattle your bones, there’s the Steel City Jazz Festival hosted in beautiful Linn Park, June 1 – 3. The 2017 lineup, which features The O’Jays, David Sanborn, Boney James, looks strong. This festival delivers smooth jazz, local soul food, and good times to anyone who had the good fortune to be there.
Between acts, make sure to check out the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail. If the history of our civil rights struggle is your passion, then you probably know about Juneteenth. The celebration of Juneteenth dates all the way back to June 19th, 1865, when Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were then free. (For a very interesting discussion of the history of Juneteenth, click here.) Birmingham has celebrated Juneteenth in some form or fashion since 1995. Sponsored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and held in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, Juneteenth features all sorts of activities, good food, and fellowship.
Let’s say, just for grins, that jazz and country don’t float your boat. You crave new and emerging music. One of the coolest new music festivals anywhere, Secret Stages, will be held in Birmingham August 4th and 5th, this year. Since 2011, this festival – traditionally held on the first weekend in August – has been the place to be for seeing new talent. For two days, some 60 different bands will descend on a two-block area in the popular Loft District playing stages on the street and in the cool little pubs and eateries along 2nd Avenue. While the lineup is still under construction as of this writing, you can be assured you’ll be seeing music in June of ‘17 that the rest of the world will be talking about in June of ’18. If emerging artists are your jam, you won’t want to miss this one.
Birmingham Restaurant Week: Enough with What’s Brewed, Check Out the Food!
August 11 – 20
This is Birmingham, y’all, and it’s eats city! Birmingham is one of the hottest restaurant scenes in the country. You can’t throw a biscuit in this city without hitting a James Beard Award nominee. Which is why it’s no wonder that Birmingham is number one on Zagat’s list of Next Hot Food Cities in the Country. So, you’ll find that those of us who’ve experienced Birmingham Restaurant Week fast for two weeks a year – once in August and once in January – so we can ham out during this bi-annual event. During these 10-day festivals, participating restaurants offer food and drink specials including two- and/or three-course prix-fixe lunch and/or dinner menus for $10, $15, $20, $30 or $40 per-person. You may have missed January’s Restaurant Week this year, but August is coming up. What better way to check out one of the most talked about foodie cities in the country?
Sidewalk Film Festival: What’s Dinner without the Movie?
August 22 – 27
Moviemaker Magazine has named Sidewalk Film Festival one of the coolest 25 film festivals on the planet. Filmmaker Magazine called Sidewalk a “Southern Cinephile’s Paradise.” Widely regarded as one of the best independent film festivals anywhere, Sidewalk features 11 different venues in Birmingham’s historic Theatre District, ranging from intimate settings to the Alabama Theatre and newly restored Lyric Theatre, an exquisite theatre space that dates back to the days of vaudeville. In its 19th year, Sidewalk has matured into a highly desirable launch pad for budding filmmakers and a destination for a diverse crowd from all over the country. If you love a good movie, pack your popcorn bucket and head to Birmingham. This is one not to miss.
Birmingham Artwalk: A Family-Friendly Festival
September 8 – 9
Each year, more than 100 visual artists, live
musicians, street performers, food and drink vendors, and children’s activities converge on the downtown Birmingham Loft District for Birmingham Artwalk. Free to the public, this event showcases established and up and coming regional artists – as well as a thriving Birmingham neighborhood. Businesses open their doors to visitors, and local restaurants and food trucks offer up some of the best grub our city has to offer. Check out Saw’s Street Kitchen, Carrigan’s Public House, Yo’ Mama’s and Urban Standard – just to name a few.