I wonder if Mary Colurso goes to Mexican restaurants and complains that there is no ketchup on the table. Does she attend backyard barbecues and spend hours in search of the fine cutlery and linen napkins?
After reading her blog posts at al.com about last weekend’s BAAM Festival, I feel I’ve got legitimate reason to wonder. Her first installment, “First impression: Friday night at BAAM, the Birmingham Arts and Music Festival” should have been called “Local Music Fest Boasts Only Local Music.” It began:
Regular club-goers are familiar with lots of these names—Heath Green, Erin Mitchell, Deadstring Brothers, Jesse Payne, Teen Getaway and Cleve Eaton among them—and have heard such acts play on the scene many times before. As a result, Friday night at BAAM seemed, in essence, like any other night of club hopping. Options might be greater and sets might be shorter, but that sense of a special event—a big deal, an extraordinary occasion—was missing.
So let me get this straight. A festival that promoted itself as celebrating and showcasing primarily local talent and local venues booked a weekend of local acts in local clubs?
It’s nice that she named a total of six acts here. The festival boasted over 120 bands. I have no doubt that Ms. Colurso is a veteran club-goer and local music enthusiast. Still, I would have thought that maybe among the 40 bands that she had to choose from on Friday night she would have seen one act that was new to her. Apparently she is so familiar with our scene that there was not one local musician about whom she could write, even if only to pan.
Mary must be at the clubs from dusk ‘til dawn every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. She must see 30 bands every weekend. She must have found a way to visit 10 bars that charge $5 each and still spend only $15. She must be a magician. That’s the only way I can see how last weekend resembled every other weekend of bar hopping for her.
Let me be clear: BAAM Fest had some flaws. Is it any surprise that an inaugural festival with a tiny budget, a festival the likes of which has never been held in this city before, did not come off without a few glitches?
A few more note-worthy acts would have helped drive more festival goers to the larger destination-style venues. Ticketing was a little clunky. Transportation could have run more smoothly. Maps are a must for next year. I hope our esteemed al.com blogger will take the time to process that last sentence. It mentions something her beloved City Stages no longer has to worry about. NEXT YEAR!
Do you know why? Because BAAM finished in the black. This festival knew what it could accomplish, executed that plan and, despite Colurso’s three-day cyber assault, succeeded in pleasing dozens of club owners and bartenders, hundreds of local musicians and countless members of the local populace.
Colurso points out that this loose organization of bars and local musicians is not going to replace City Stages. I appreciate her pointing out one more thing for which I need to thank Almighty God. Maybe she would prefer a festival with exorbitant ticket prices that excludes the people who actually live, work and play in Birmingham proper. It seems Colurso is telling us that what Birmingham has to offer is not worth driving over the mountain to experience. Maybe she needs a map of the many transportation arteries that could take her away from this city that she so clearly loathes.
I take Highway 31 South into downtown Birmingham almost every day. I pass empty buildings, broken windows, boarded storefronts and a variety of other signs of urban struggle. I love it. I love it because I see potential. That potential exists because of the people who are willing to act on it. I saw this type of person everywhere I went last weekend. The festival organizers, the venue owners, the musicians and the fans all showed themselves to be people who aren’t looking to be Atlanta. They’re not looking toward some entertainment conglomerate in Memphis with their hats in hand begging them to plop a Planet Hollywood near the BJCC and thereby save the city. They’re not whining and crying about what Birmingham isn’t. They’re making it what they want it to be.
I imagine Colurso walking out into her garden and being shocked and dismayed that she has no tomato plants. She wonders, “Did an animal get them because I didn’t put up a fence?” She thinks some more, “Did the heat get them because I don’t remember watering them?” She ponders further and realizes, “Wait a minute, I didn’t plant any tomatoes this year.” However, she remains astonished and indignant that her zero effort has yielded zero fruit. BAAM is a seed. It’s the beginning. It’s what happens when people with almost no resources make something out of nothing by putting some sweat and ingenuity together. More importantly, nothing worthwhile and lasting comes without a small deliberate beginning. Nothing defines a city more than the people who love it enough to work for it and to celebrate it.