Folks with fond memories of Birmingham’s City Stages festival will have another chance to hear live music here on Father’s Day weekend.
A new event, called Euphonious, is planned for June 18-20 at the Henley Park Event Lawn of the Birmingham Zoo. Organizer Bradley Metrock chose those dates in homage to City Stages, which typically was held in downtown Birmingham on Father’s Day weekend, 1989-2009.
Although Euphonious 2021 will be much smaller than the sprawling City Stages, which covered several blocks and featured multiple stages during its peak years, Metrock has big plans for his event.
He’s starting with nine acts on a single stage, playing over a three-night timeframe. But if Metrock has his way, Euphonious will grow into a major celebration of music, art and technology that becomes an annual tradition for festivalgoers in Alabama and beyond, just as City Stages was.
“All I want is to deliver something meaningful to the city,” Metrock says. “That’s what City Stages was to me. This is going to be a joyful experience. It should be something that is meaningful and joyful to everyone attending.”
Metrock, who was born and raised in Birmingham, is the CEO of Project Voice, a company that focuses on voice technology, artificial intelligence for voice apps and voice assistants (think Alexa, Siri and the like). He moved to Nashville in 1999 and spent 20 years there, then came back to his hometown to be closer to family.
“Birmingham’s a special place,” Metrock says. “I said for many, many years, ‘If I go back to Birmingham, I’m going to bring City Stages back.’ But there’s no reason to bring it back exactly. I’ll start fresh with an event that will happen once a year, and grow bigger. … We’re going to do what City Stages did in 1989: Take baby steps. They started conservatively, and we wanted to start conservatively, as well.”
In fact, Metrock says he won’t be upset if people think of the first year of Euphonious — a word that means “pleasing to the ear” — as a simple concert series.
“’Concert series’ kind of puts the expectations in the right zone,” Metrock says. “‘Music festival’ is probably a better term for where we’re going.”
The lineup for Euphonious hasn’t been announced, but Metrock says nationally known acts will take the stage at the Birmingham Zoo, along with regional and local performers. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. each day — the zoo closes at 5 p.m. — and music will start shortly afterward. According to the schedule posted on the Euphonious website, the main acts will go on at 6 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. There’s also an early slot each night that appears to be reserved for local contest winners.
The location for Euphonious might seem like a novel one — the Henley Park Event Lawn opened in September 2017 as part of a zoo renovation linked to an $18 million capital campaign — and the outdoor site isn’t known as a local concert haven.
For Metrock, that was a definite plus.
“We wanted a venue in Birmingham that wasn’t going to be immediately associated with something else,” he says. “The moment I saw it, it was perfect.”
The lawn, which can hold about 2,500 people, also allows for social distancing, which is essential to any public event that happens during the coronavirus pandemic. Metrock says the site will be divided into about 300 “socially distanced squares” that are 10 feet long by 10 feet wide. Each square will have a limit of eight people and cost $500 per night. (That’s $62.50 per person, if the square is full.)
“This is your tract of land for the evening,” Metrock says. “It’s going to be first-come, first-served for these squares. You’ll come in, in the order you are in line, and select your square for the evening.”
Face masks will be required for people waiting in the socially distanced line — Metrock says it will “sort of serpentine around the parking lot” — and once they enter the site, masks may be removed only when concertgoers are in their squares.
Seating won’t be provided in the squares, but people can bring in blankets or sit directly on the lawn, Metrock says. No outside chairs will be allowed. Food and beverages (including alcohol) will be sold on site, Metrock says, but festivalgoers can’t bring in coolers, food or drinks of their own.
The audience footprint for Euphonious is largely devoted to the squares — Metrock says he adopted the idea after seeing it used for concerts in Texas — but there’s also an area for standing room on the periphery of the lawn. Tickets for that are $99 per person, per night, and can be purchased individually.
Squares and individual tickets for Euphonious are on sale now, via Eventzilla. (The for-profit festival will donate part of its proceeds to charity, Metrock says, but a recipient hasn’t been chosen yet.)
A VIP area is part of the festival plan, but that’s reserved for corporate sponsors, band members and other stakeholders. It’ll be located in “the second story overhang of the main zoo building up front which overlooks the lawn,” Metrock says.
Temperature checks will be required at the door, Metrock says, and sanitizing stations will be available throughout the site. Plenty of security staffers will be on hand, he adds, to make sure everyone follows the COVID guidelines.
“The bottom line of it all is that we want people to have fun, but we don’t want people to get sick,” Metrock says. “I’m optimistic that everyone will comply (with the rules), but we’ll have protocols in place to deal with it if they don’t. We’re going to set the tone and we’re going to keep people safe.”
Metrock, who produces technology conferences for Project Voice, says that experience has proved helpful to him as a festival organizer. Instead of hiring a concert promoter to book the acts, for example, Metrock did that task himself, and says he’s pleased with the results.
“I program all of our industry conferences start to finish,” Metrock says. “I liken it to a head coach who calls his own plays. I did not want to delegate that.”
Euphonious has a budget of about $250,000, Metrock says, and a sizable chunk of it is earmarked for the bands. “I wanted acts that I knew were rock solid, banging live acts,” he says.
The other components of Euphonious — art, voice tech and AI — will be evident in exhibits set up on the concert site. “A number of big tech companies will have demos of games, cooking experiences, and more that involve voice and AI available at Euphonious for you to try out and enjoy,” the festival’s website says.
Metrock also predicts that you’ll be able to ask your voice assistant, “What is Euphonious?” and receive information about the festival before the dates in June.
If you’re wondering about the festival’s fancy name, Metrock says he chose it after a Google search. Euphonious (pronounced ”yoo·fow·nee·uhs”) might be a tongue-twister initially, but Metrock’s OK with that.
“It signals, right off the bat, that this is different,” he says. “It makes you sit up a little bit and take note. Birmingham is a sophisticated place. It’s a great place. I’m not shying away from a five-dollar word at all.”