Birmingham Arts and Music (BAAM) Festival Returns This Weekend

Can lightning strike twice in the same place? Forces of nature are hard to contain, especially when it comes to the power of music.

At last year’s inaugural launch of the BAAM Festival, co-founder Sharrif Simmons and his band played “Beautiful Day,” where the superb bass player lays down this hard-thumpin,’ blood-pumpin,’ signature funk rhythm that makes you wanna jump, jump, up and down. And so the crowd at Stillwater Pub went wild. As much as I wanted to do the same, I couldn’t because I was holding my little video camera.

Ah, a moment lost, I thought. Believe me, the footage I shot does the moment no justice at all (as you can see in this clip). You just had to be there to know what I’m talking about.

So, at the end of the festival, Simmons and company – flowing in the creative energy and sheer joy of pulling off this event — spontaneously reprise that same song with that beat. By this time, though, my video camera is out of tape. I was really not upset this time because, finally, I got to take part in the dancing mayhem and all around good-feelings of the moment. It was glorious.

Lightning, can indeed, strike twice, I said to myself.

That was almost a year ago. And now, that creative musical storm that is the Birmingham Arts and Music Festival will descend on Birmingham this weekend for a second year.

The BAAM Fest offers samplings of popular home-grown music for everyone, from rock and the hip-hop thang, to gospel, jazz and blues and country twang. You can see and hear some of the band performances I shot during three days of BAAM 2010 at Birmingham View’s Youtube or Vimeo sites.

Though I am not as involved in the BAAM Fest as I would like to be this year, I definitely plan to be there. I hope you will make it too.

I hope so for several reasons.

First, the vision that Simmons and co-founder Dafina Cooper Ward created for BAAM is based on a desire to see Birmingham step up to its potential as a music city by showcasing the breadth and width of its talented local musicians and artists. If nothing else, Birmingham should be known as a breeding ground where great musicians are nurtured to the point that they can be transplanted and mature elsewhere.

As we well know, this place is virtually drowning in potential.  Only progressive folks can turn potential into reality. That’s what Sharrif, Dafina and the other partners and volunteers did last year. And this is the kind of event that progressive folks  like you, I know, would love to support.

Second, this event is more than a mere music festival.  Its goals are about economic development too. Music is an art, yes, but it’s also a business, BIG business. There are plenty of ways to make money in the business other than playing an instrument or singing or rapping (although, doing these things well can mean mega big bucks). There is a whole ecosystem that supports the music industry. BAAM’s ultimate vision is to create a musical version of South By Southwest, which encourages growing talent and the business end of creativity, both for the sake of art and profits.

In support of this goal, BAAM is hosting its first workshop called The Business of Music for artists and those interested in the music industry.

In addition, BAAM itself is good for businesses, particularly the BAAM host venues. Simmons told me that some of the bars and restaurants made their best ever profits during the three-day festival. More people, especially out-of-town visitors, spending money means money circulates in the local economy.

Finally, BAAM is just too cool and too much good fun to pass up for those who love music.  Now, a noted writer last year wrote that BAAM was little more than a nice way to package local musicians whom you can hear on any given weekend.

I beg to differ. Greatly.

Yes, you can find most of these folks on most nights playing somewhere in Birmingham. But you’d be hard press to see and hear this much good music at one time – 200 acts in 21 venues during 3 days (see the full schedule here).  And the camaraderie among the musicians themselves and the audiences who came to hear them was infectiously, contagiously positive.

Without exception, every artist that I recorded thanked BAAM organizers – who were little more than very enthusiastic and committed volunteers – for pulling the event together.  And every attendee that I interviewed favorably compared BAAM to out-of-town festivals they’d visited. To them, Birmingham somehow felt more like a grown-up place, like an Austin or Nashville, even if only for a weekend.

Even Grammy-award winning drummer Yonrico Scott said he was impressed with the music he heard and the esprit de corps of the musicians and BAAM organizers during his time in Birmingham (you can see part of Scott’s BAAM performance here). If a guy from out of town can see the beauty and power of Birmingham and BAAM, certainly we can too.


P.S. — If you want to get in to BAAM for free this weekend, offer to volunteer for a few hours. BAAM coordinators are looking for a few good men and women to roll up their sleeves for the cause in exchange for a free pass and a t-shirt. Email or sign up online.

More Details

Tickets:    $40 for a weekend pass       $75 for a VIP weekend pass        $18 for a daily pass.

BAAM Fest also has other free events for the youngsters and the young in heart. Also, the workshop, sponsored by Alabama Lawyers for the Arts is also free. Click here for more details about free and paid events here.

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