By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
Vestavia Hills native Bradley Metrock has a dream to bring a music festival back to Birmingham for Father’s Day weekend.
After more than a year without consistent live music performances during the pandemic, Metrock is heading up the production of Euphonious, a three-day concert series to take place June 18-20 at the Birmingham Zoo. The word euphonious, meaning “pleasing to the ear.”
The event is inspired by fond memories of the three-day music festival City Stages, which dominated the holiday weekend each June from 1989 until 2009 – save one year when it took place in May.
A 1999 graduate of Vestavia Hills High School, Metrock left the city to attend college at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He remained in the Music City for about two decades and is CEO of the Nashville-based company Project Voice, which works with voice tech and conversational artificial intelligence companies, well known examples being Amazon Alexa and Samsung’s Bixby.
Last summer, Metrock and his family made the move to Liberty Park to be closer to his parents and escape the growth of Nashville.
“I always said, if and when I moved back to Birmingham, I want to do something music-related,” Metrock said. “I want to specifically do something that, if it goes right, could end up filling the City Stages-sized void in the city.”
This year’s event is all about starting small in a space that hasn’t before been associated with a festival.
“People have asked me, why the zoo?” He said. “Before coming back from Nashville, I had to come through Birmingham all of the time because my parents are here.
“Even when we moved back, I still didn’t know that in 2017 the Birmingham Zoo had multiple millions of dollars spent on renovations. As part of that, they built this Henley Park Lawn, and they did it specifically with concerts in mind.”
The outdoor event space was just starting to hit its stride before the pandemic hit and shut down all major gatherings.
“So, the zoo was a perfect fit in many ways,” Metrock said.
Metrock describes the theme for the musical lineup in three words: fantastic live acts.
That means the team organizing the event wanted to make sure that the people they booked on stage had performing live as one of their core strengths.
“If you are a studio act, there is nothing wrong with that, you’re just not going to be a good fit for what we’re doing,” he said.
Main acts will play a variety of genres, with headliners including Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Blues Traveler and Moon Taxi.
At its core, Euphonious will be about community and, in that vein, many of the acts that take the stage have a connection to the Birmingham area and Vestavia Hills in particular.
On the Friday night of the event, the new musical duo LaBoix will open the event.
“It’s going to be their first time to perform live, ever,” Metrock said.
The pop-electronic duo is made up of Nashville-based folk and country recording artist Hugh Mitchell and the Berlin-based DJ Jeremy Black. Mitchell also is a 1997 VHHS graduate.
“Over the pandemic, these two started to collaborate and create some music that I would best describe as within the same realm as The Chainsmokers,” Metrock said.
The Brooklyn-based hip-hop, funk, fusion band Soul Inscribed will be Saturday’s opener. Metrock noted that the group’s ringleader and saxophone player, Sean Nowell, is a VHHS graduate.
On Sunday, the first act, Hawthorne Street, is well-known in Vestavia Hills.
The band is made up of four Birminghamians who recently graduated from area high schools: Noah Williams, Will Sutton and VHHS graduates Cy Powell and Gabe Baldone.
Two founding members of the Sunday night headliners Moon Taxi are Trevor Terndrup and Tommy Putnam, both 2002 graduates of VHHS. The band also brought on drummer and fellow VHHS alum Tyler Ritter in 2006.
Health and Safety
“Live music needs to come back,” Metrock said, and he is confident that Euphonious will bring live music back to Birmingham in the safest way possible.
The event lawn will be broken up into 10-foot by 10-foot squares that can each accommodate eight people. These can be purchased for $500 total, and attendees can bring lawn chairs and blankets to place in their square.
It’s a system that has been used in Texas, where outdoor concerts featuring socially distant squares have been hosted throughout the pandemic.
In addition, there will be a number of standing-room-only passes, which will include designated socially distant areas around the periphery of the lawn.
Each square and standing room will be first-come-first-served, so guests will get to choose their square in the order they arrive to lineup for entry.
Though June may seem far away, the team organizing Euphonious is certain that neither the pandemic nor its lingering psychological effects will soon disappear.
“Personal space is something we can all agree on,” Metrock said. “That’s the beautiful thing about how this is set up.”
Masks also will be required when guests are outside of their designated squares, standing in lines and the like. There also will be temperature checks at the gates.
For Metrock, this is all just the beginning of a larger goal to make a positive mark on Birmingham.
Though the event is a for-profit festival, a portion of the proceeds and proceeds from an officially sanctioned Euphonious afterparty will benefit United Ability, a local nonprofit dedicated to connecting people with disabilities to the Greater Birmingham community.
According to Metrock, the organization was at one time a beneficiary of City Stages.
While the music is the main event for Euphonious, Metrock has made a connection with the work of Project Voice to highlight voice technology’s role in the way people listen to music.
The company will be hosting voice and AI briefings in the days leading up to the concert series with local and regional executives. In addition, there will be space for big tech companies to present demos of their work.
“Our ability to bring companies to Birmingham that are working in that realm – companies that don’t make it down here that often (or smaller companies) that are making waves – that’s a powerful addition,” Metrock said. “That’s going to be something that you see more out of this as well.”
Whether you focus on the return of live music, the impending end to a pandemic or the bright future of tech in Birmingham, the Euphonious message should be pleasing to the ear.
“This year one is all about planting seeds and seeing if we can do this half-way competently,” Metrock said. “If we can, then we’ll keep doing it.”
For more information, visit euphonious.ai.