by John Seay, Atlanta Entertainment Lawyer: The Seay Firm LLC (@TheSeayFirmLLC)
Last weekend I travelled to my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, to provide a free legal clinic to bands performing at the Secret Stages music festival. I’ve been a supporter of Secret Stages since its inception in 2011, but this year I was especially excited to participate professionally as an entertainment attorney. Secret Stages bills itself as a “music discovery” festival, which as an attendee means you’ll probably be exposed to some good bands you might not have otherwise heard of. For the purposes of the free legal clinic though, it meant that I spent a lot of time going over the basics of artist compensation.
Sure, some of the bands I met with had specific questions about, for example, fair use and mechanical licensing, but mostly I spent my time explaining Band 101 concepts like performance royalty organizations, publishing companies, band agreements, and copyright registration. Hopefully the bands left with a better understanding of how to limit issues down the road, while capturing as much revenue as possible in the meantime.
The legal clinic was an unqualified success, but once the clinics were over, I took off my lawyer pants and hit the festival. The Secret Stages curators are so good at what they do that it would have been just as enjoyable to camp out at any venue and watch whichever bands were performing. But, because I had some clients and friends performing and moreover wanted to check out some of the bands who attended the legal clinic, I wound up crisscrossing my way across the festival to catch bands at various of the six festival venues.
The below is the complete list of the bands I saw. As you’ll notice, some of the time slots overlap. That means I usually caught half of one band’s set before jogging down the road to catch the second half of the other band’s set. I made some notes here and there for bands I saw whose performances generated specific thoughts, although I enjoyed the performances of every single band listed below. I also tried to include some links to music and biographical information where possible. The Secret Stages website has an audio player where you can listen to songs from a lot of the bands listed below. I highly recommend that you check out these bands and the festival in general next year.
6:30pm Fly Golden Eagle (Nashville, TN)
7:30pm Gringo Star (Atlanta, GA)
As a resident of Atlanta, I’ve heard about these guys for a while. Was glad to have a chance to finally see them in person.
8:00pm Colossal Gospel (Leeds, AL)
8:30pm Holy Youth (Montevallo, AL)
This band gets the award for band-I’d-never-heard-of-before-Secret-Stages-but-which-I’m-now-a-giant-fan-of. These guys flat-out rocked, playing really catchy and quirky punk-pop songs. I’m looking forward to seeing these guys again.
9:00pm T. Hardy Morris (Athens, GA)
This was one of the “secret shows,” i.e., shows that were announced about half an hour before the show was to take place, thus throwing off my meticulously structured itinerary. Nevertheless, I rushed over to watch. Hardy’s previous band, Dead Confederate, was a mainstay during my time in Athens. I’m a big fan of Diamond Rugs, the band that Hardy is also in and which also features members of the Black Lips and Deer Tick.
9:30pm Amasa Hines (Little Rock, AK)
Hot damn. Just follow the above link and listen to the song on the website. Great voice, great musicianship, and great production on the track. This band converted a lot of festival attendees into fans thanks to their high-energy performances.
10:00pm Adron (Atlanta, GA)
I only caught the first little bit of this band’s performance, but plan on seeing them perform in Atlanta as soon as I can.
10:30pm The Dirty Lungs (Birmingham AL)
11:00pm Bit Brigade (Athens, GA)
This band is the latest iteration of basically the same or similar band that was playing a lot in Athens when I was in law school there. The band has a guy who plays a video game while the band plays the music to the game live. Gimmicky, but so well pulled off. And the group gives a full-on metal interpretation to the songs. One of the largest crowds I saw at Secret Stages was to see this band.
12:30am Banditos (Nashville, TN)
These guys are amazing. Every year at Secret Stages, there’s a band or two that goes on to reach a much wider audience (Dawes in 2011, for example). Banditos just might be that band this year. There was a lot of buzz about this performance, and it was packed out. Maybe the most crowded show of the festival. Seriously, take note of these guys.
2:00pm Looksy (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Looksy is a young band, but is on to something. I look forward to watching them develop over the next several years.
4:00pm The Pyles (Muscle Shoals, AL)
5:00pm Maria Taylor (Birmingham, AL)
Another secret show, this one featuring some dear friends of mine. I’ve known the Taylor family for a long time, and even spent some time on the road with Maria.
7:30pm ADAM ADAM (Adam Guthrie)
This was one of the most interesting performances of the festival. Adam Guthrie is a talented musician who plays a variety of instruments, including some strange ones he brought along for this performance. At one point he played some self-made instrument featuring an empty Guinness can and a string. Seriously.
7:30pm Belle Adair (Muscle Shoals, AL)
First of all, what’s going on up in Muscle Shoals? There are a ton of great bands hailing from those parts, few of which are better than this one. Belle Adair and Banditos were my two favorite performances of Secret Stages this year. Live, Belle Adair sounds like Rolling Thunder Revue-era Dylan. They also reminded me a little bit of Dawes, but with a softer, more introspective side to them too (as the song in the above link illustrates). There’s a good chance you’ll be hearing about these guys in the coming years as well.
Bands I wish I’d seen, but couldn’t for a variety of unfortunate reasons often related either to the inability to clone myself, or a sick family causing me to leave early on Saturday:
12:00am The Grenadines (Birmingham, AL)
The Grenadines are one of my favorite bands in the world right now. I saw them a few months ago in Atlanta, or I would have absolutely made this show a major priority.
8:30pm New Madrid (Athens, GA)
9:30pm Tedo Stone (Athens, GA)
Majorly bummed I missed this guy. His debut album, out now on This Is American Music, is fantastic. I saw him play a year ago or so and was impressed. I have a sneaking suspicion that this might have been one of my favorite shows of the festival, too.
9:30pm W. Stewart (Nashville, TN)
Really dig the song in the above webpage.
11:30pm Lazer/Wulf (Athens, GA)
I hate that I missed these guys. Incredible musicianship. This would have been the loudest show of the festival, and probably one of my favorites, too.
12:30am Vulture Whale (Birmingham, AL)
Great friends of mine, and one of my favorite bands from Birmingham or anywhere else for that matter.