Sloss Fest restores Magic City vibeBy Eric Roddy | 07/28/2015 11:28pm
Quietly looming over the outskirts of Birmingham rests Sloss Furnace. An artifact from the 1800s that was once known for its production of award winning steel is now retired. It holds a front-row seat to a more modern Birmingham. Lonely, it is the only structure of its kind for miles. Aside from a few weeks out of the year, it goes largely unnoticed, receiving only the quick glances of those driving to the airport.
Two weeks ago Sloss was given new life. Tired of being miscast as a haunted house, Sloss became a sanctuary for improved crowd weaving abilities, expanded concert experience repertoires and shattered expectations for how much a person could actually sweat. Despite consistent 90-degree temperatures, intermittent lightning bolts and sporadic rain, festivalgoers, as they typically do, wholeheartedly embraced the festival, both leaving purpose to Sloss Furnace and taking a piece of Birmingham along with them.
To this Alabama resident, it seems that particularly in the last five years there has been a revival of musical and artistic culture within our state. Not that Alabama has been lying dormant, but now it seems that when a new band tops the charts or wins a Grammy, each corner of the state proudly competes to claim a hometown origin.
We can now add a second festival to our “already pushing the 1” margins of the paper” musical resume. Yet there is something unique about Sloss – an essence not fully captured and displayed by the Hangout Festival. In the heart of the Civil Rights battleground, a crowd temporarily relieved of fixations on the perceived iniquities and shortcomings of Alabama gathered in an industrial heirloom to enjoy the heritage and history that came complimentary with each ticket purchase.
Sloss Fest highlighted all the good that comes from living in a place with character, grit and history. It showed that the Magic City can and should be on every tourist’s to-visit list. The only question is, can we handle the crowds when we bring them here?
Despite its burgeoning renaissance, Birmingham still lacks the infrastructure it needs to efficiently handle large crowds of visitors. Some city blocks, like those around Sloss Furnace, still sit vacant and create eye sores in their surrounding neighborhoods. Our public transportation systems are so lackluster they’re almost non-existent. Some concertgoers waited over an hour for taxis or designated drivers to pick them up because no hotel is within walking distance. If the city’s leadership can’t find the funds or political will to make a major investment in public transportation, it may have no choice but to invite companies like Uber to pick up the slack, even if they only serve the upper class and are difficult for the city to negotiate with.
Will there be another Sloss Fest? Seth Avett seemed to capture the sentiment of the crowd and answer the question for us, “One more? We’d love to.”
With the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s victory tour match right around the corner, we’d love Birmingham to be ready for them when they do.
Eric Roddy is a senior majoring in philosophy. His column runs biweekly.