Three years ago, Gary Weinberger, president of Red Mountain Entertainment, and his staff began working on a music and arts event that would fill the festival void in Birmingham left by previous city festivals that have come and gone.
Red Mountain Entertainment is not new to the festival scene. Its ongoing festivals include Tennessee’s Memphis in May, Bayfest in Mobile, Riverfest in Little Rock, Ark., and Top of the Hops Beer Festivals.
The company has collaborated with Knoxville’s AC Entertainment, the brains behind the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, and Venue Management, Inc. to design and create the Sloss Music and Arts Festival July 18 and 19.
With hard work, some prudent partnerships and a love of Birmingham, Red Mountain Entertainment has created a music and arts festival dedicated to honoring the lifestyle of those who call “The Ham” home.
“Having grown up here, (Birmingham) is in this transformational phase right now, it seems,” said Jay Wilson, Red Mountain Entertainment partner and promoter.
Wilson said that the revitilization can be seen through the emergence of multiple craft breweries, the addition of Regions Field and the transformation of Railroad Park.
“For us to be able to do a festival with this caliber of acts, it feels like it’s time in this city,” Wilson said. “That’s what I’m excited to see, and the city deserves something this big.”
The star power at the festival includes well-known alternative bands such as The Avett Brothers, Modest Mouse and Band of Horses as well as indie acts like Purity Ring, Judah and the Lion, and Cathedrals.
The festival will also feature a few acts with connections to Birmingham and Alabama. Local band Leigh Bains III and the Glory Fires will perform as will the increasingly acclaimed St. Paul and the Broken Bones, a favorite of Larry King.
One of the festival’s three stages will feature Hoover High School student Kenny Lofton.
After the initial lineup was announced, Lofton and his friends began a social media campaign to get the young musician a slot.
“Out of the 30 bands performing, we probably looked at 200 bands,” Weinberger said. “Some were in Europe, some were in California, some were recording. We ended up with this combination that were willing to say yes based on a number of factors.”
Organizers said they’re happy with the result: a lineup of 30 alternative bands varying in sub-genres.
“We very consciously wanted the festival to reflect the lifestyle of Birmingham and Alabama,” Weinberger said.
Because Birmingham is a city in transition, Weinberger said the approach to the festival has been to incorporate more refined elements to suit the “foodie culture” that has emerged in the last 10 years.
“The people that like this music have expectations,” Weinberger said. “People that like Modest Mouse, The Avett Brothers and St. Paul — all of the bands we have — have expectations within their lifestyle. Part of our mission was trying to figure out how we were going to marry the lifestyle part of this festival with music.”
That mission led to collaborations with local businesses to create a unique food and art experience that will play alongside the musical performances.
“We’re working with Trim Tab. It’s kind of the showcase local brewery,” Wilson said.
Trim Tab has collaborated with Star Hill Brewery in Virginia to create a signature craft beer specifically for the festival.
“They are literally making a beer from scratch just for us,” Wilson said. “They aren’t just duplicating a recipe.”
Upscale concessions options will be available to all festival guests.
“Unlike other events that have been here, we have contracted with a national concessionaire who specializes in upscale festival food,” Weinberger said. “They source from local farmers.”
“The food offerings will be more imaginative than just something you see at a state fair,” Weinberger said.
Guests can visit booths featuring art, handmade jewelry, posters and prints. There will also be hands-on iron pouring demonstrations by members of the Sloss Metal Arts Program.
“We have got the most beautiful backdrop in the world in Sloss Furnaces, which is a historic national landmark,” Weinberger said. “Lighting it properly at night gives us the magic we are looking for along with some other bells and whistles.”
Wilson said organizers will let Sloss Furnaces stand on its own.
“A lot of festival sites just go into a field, and they’ve got to bring in a decor team to make it fancy,” said Wilson. “Well, this place is already fancy.”
The festival’s model was built to last. While planning the festival, Wilson said, organizers kept in mind future opportunities that may be affected by their decisions.
“I would say 75 percent of our decisions were made looking into the future,” he said.
“We put an awful lot of time into piecing this festival together, and we hope that the Birmingham community comes out and experiences it,” Weinberger said. “It will be a fun weekend to have in downtown Birmingham, which was one of the first things that we said we wanted to do. We wanted to produce a festival in downtown Birmingham.”
Tickets range from single-day general admission to VIP weekend passes and pricing begins at $85.
For more information and a full lineup of musical performances, visit www.slossfest.com.