Secret Stages: A Little TOO Secret?

I have no aptitude for maps, directions and logistics. Ask me to sort out a complex storyline or convoluted economic theory and I’m fine, but tell me to “head west,” and I’m suddenly a total mess. This leads to a bit of a problem with me and city festivals like this weekend’s Secret Stages; while I like the idea of them, I sort of hate them in practice. The maze of timetables, the confusing maps that I don’t understand, and the general lack of information just stresses me out. I’ve thought about going to Secret Stages before, but let’s just say it stayed a little too secret for me — I couldn’t figure out who was playing where or which bands I’d want to see. (Since the whole point of this festival is to discover new talent, a lot of the bands are currently pretty unknown.)


This year, though, I’ve been really impressed with the way Secret Stages is set up. I might be particularly bad at figuring out logistics (I am particularly bad at it), but a lot of people either can’t or don’t want to take a lot of time deciphering confusing information when they’re attending a festival (especially when that festival happens in Alabama in the summer and the heat makes all of us about 30% stupider). If we can’t get excited about what’s happening while we’re checking out the festival website at home (in the air conditioning in front of the TV), we’re unlikely to head downtown to check it out in person.


But Secret Stages has done a lot of things right this year, and it makes this weekend’s shows look exciting instead of confusing:


All the shows are in downtown Birmingham and in a two-block radius.

They’re mostly near Urban Standard on Second Avenue North, which is one of the two streets in downtown Birmingham that even the most suburban Hoover resident is familiar with (the other being 20th Street, where Trattoria and Brick & Tin and Paramount live). I’m pretty sure the Secret Stages footprint is the same or similar to what it was in years past, but it’s still nice to know that you won’t have to walk far and there’s very little opportunity to get lost (although I could probably still do it).


The Secret Stages map is easy to understand.

The festival map is cute and includes not only venues, Will Call and merch tents, but also where in the area to go to find food, cocktails and bathrooms — this is a great idea and should help festival patrons both support local businesses and avoid being annoying to businesses that don’t have what they’re looking for. (There’s also a designated graffiti area on the map — no idea what that’s about.)


You can listen to the music from the Secret Stages website.

This is maybe the best reason to check out the Secret Stages website — you can listen to music of a particular band you’re interested in, or you can download the Secret Stages playlist or find the bands on Spotify. This is a great tool for deciding which bands to see, and it forwards the festival’s mission of discovery.


The website FAQ answers good questions.

This seems pretty basic, but it’s often hard to find the information you’re actually looking for on a festival site, even if your question is pretty common. The Secret Stages website tells you if you can take pictures (yes), bring your dog (no), or attend a show if you’re under 21 (yes, sometimes).


Girls Rock campers are perfoming.

Girls Rock campers are performing at Secret Stages on the Parthenon stage from 2:30 to 4. This actually has nothing to do with logistics, but I think it’s pretty neat. The young girls who’ve been studying rock music at Saturn all week with Girls Rock Birmingham have written songs that they’ll actually be performing on stage. I know it doesn’t have to do with logistics at all, but it ups the adorable level quite a bit, and it means not only will Secret Stages introduce us to the stars of tomorrow, but it’s also cueing up the stars of tomorrow’s tomorrow. (Read more about Girls Rock in this Weld article.)


I’ve been lazy about figuring out Secret Stages in the past, but I’ve been really impressed with their organization this year. Making attendance easy will hopefully encourage more people to come, and that’s good for Birmingham, good for the bands, and good for all of us who appreciate culture and art. You can visit the Secret Stages website here and click here to buy tickets.


Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream, creator of 30 Days of Local Praise and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.

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