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The Furnace Is Lit

Sloss Music and Arts Festival
July 16–17, 2016

By Christy Milliken

As with many gentrified cities throughout the South, the city of Birmingham, Alabama, is experiencing a boom in the growth of its music and arts scene. While the creative growth in this historic Southern city is on the rise, the continuous evolution of innovation has always been a part of what makes Birmingham special. As the Iron City seems to catch up with the modern age, reinventing the Birmingham vibe also means preserving the original, and historical landmark preservation takes a priority in the community. One of the most recognizable landmarks in the city is Sloss Furnaces. The ground breaking for this massive, now-defunct iron mill began during the post–Civil War industrial movement of the 1880s.

During its first year in operation, Sloss Furnaces sold twenty-four thousand tons of iron and went on to produce metal for nearly ninety more years. By 1981, the building received a National Historic Landmark designation, and by September of 1983 it opened as a museum of the City of Birmingham. Sloss is currently the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the United States that has been preserved and interpreted as a historic landmark. It serves as an important reminder of the hopes and struggles of the people of Birmingham.

two girls performing at Sloss Music Fest 2015
Photo by Ginnard Archibald.

The smokestacks are also among the most known architectural features in the city’s landscape, highlighting its industrial past, which includes honoring Colonel James Withers Sloss, who became involved in railroads in the 1850s. Fifteen years later, he was named president of the Nashville & Decatur Rail Road. During this postwar period, Sloss not only promoted the development of Southern rail, but he also became one of the chief proponents of Alabama’s postwar industrial development. In 1871, he struck a deal with the Louisville & Nashville Rail Road Company to complete a sixty-seven-mile gap of the South & North Alabama Railroad between Birmingham and Decatur, Alabama. Ultimately reaching all the way from its namesake cities of Louisville and Nashville to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, the L&N invested more than $30 million in furnaces, mines, wharves, steamship lines, and other Alabama operations. By 1888 it was hauling annual tonnage of iron, coal, and other mineral products that outweighed the nation’s entire cotton crop.

Today, in addition to its status as a museum and national historic site, Sloss Furnaces is also the unique venue for special events such as the second annual Sloss Music and Arts Festival, which will take place on July 16 and 17, 2016.

The festival was birthed in 2015 by Red Mountain Entertainment, a Birmingham concert and event promotions company whose team brings over 160 combined years of experience in concert/festival promotions and venue management throughout the country. Over the years, the principals of the company have promoted concerts for world-famous acts including the Rolling Stones, U2, Pink Floyd, Kenny Chesney, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket, Jimmy Buffett, and more. They partnered in the launch of Sloss Fest with AC Entertainment out of Knoxville, Tennessee (the founders of Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which takes place on the Farm in Manchester, Tennessee, each June).

Dummer jamming at Sloss Music Fest
Photo by Josh Weichman.

A new supporter of Sloss Fest for the 2016 season includes the 30A.com community based out of Northwest Florida. Seeing a connection between the demographic of people who attend Sloss Fest and those who visit the sixteen coastal communities along the twenty-six-mile stretch of Scenic Highway 30-A, 30A Company founder Mike Ragsdale, who has Birmingham roots, welcomed the collaboration. The population along Highway 30-A, is a community of people—both locals and visitors—who honor and celebrate music, arts, culture, and the beach lifestyle to the fullest extent.

“Alabama is home to a lot of 30A fans,” says Cory Davis of 30A Radio. “The Sloss Fest music lineup is quite similar to what we play on 30A Radio every day, so our 30A Radio road trip is a fun opportunity to bring a little bit of beach up to Birmingham.”

Whether you’re visiting the festival or visiting the coast this year, the two things you will not want to forget are your sunscreen and that famous blue 30A sticker that can now be seen all over the world!

Stage at Sloss Fest 2015
Photo by Andi Rice

The musical talent lined up for Sloss Fest 2016 is spread over three stages and will certainly be a highlight of Birmingham’s cultural events calendar this summer. Headliners include Ryan Adams, Death Cab for Cutie, Ray LaMontagne, the Flaming Lips, and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. The list also includes a variety of well-known and up-and-coming artists such as the Arcs, Grouplove, Fitz and the Tantrums, Logic, Glass Animals, Dr. Dog, Shovels and Rope, Anderson East, Sylvan Esso, Ghostland Observatory, Washed Out, Danny Brown, JR JR, the Joy Formidable, Betty Who, White Denim, Hudson Mohawke, Banners, Escondido, Steve Gunn, Seratones, Dylan LeBlanc, the Bright Light Social Hour, Los Colognes, Boom Forest, and the Burning Peppermints.

Art at Sloss Music Fest 2015
Photo by Andi Rice
Sloss fest tents
Photo by Michelle Stancil

Fans at Sloss Music Fest 2015
Photo by Andi Rice

“As we saw last year, Sloss Furnaces is a stellar venue to showcase some of the best names in indie rock and alternative music,” says Jay Wilson of Red Mountain Entertainment. “The bands and patrons loved the unique historical feel of the festival site, which made for a unique experience in the culture of music and arts in downtown Birmingham.”

Sloss Music and Arts Festival offers something for everyone, including some of the country’s finest artisans and craft makers on-site with their work. Another unique element of the festival that celebrates the historical nature of the venue is the hands-on iron-pouring demonstrations held by the Sloss Metal Arts program. This is definitely one of the hottest attractions at the event!

The festival is a family-friendly event accommodating children of all ages, and children under six will be admitted for free with an accompanying adult.

— V —

To get your tickets or learn more about Sloss Music and Arts Festival, visit www.slossfest.com.

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