FNS Field Trip to Secret Stages: Macon goes to B-ham (and beyond)

I got scooped by the Bitter Southerner, and I couldn’t be happier. As much as I wish I could have been the first to regale you with the tale of Floco Torres and DJ Shawty Slim at Secret Stages, they deserve the wide reach that the Bitter Southern can provide. The very fact that Macon has somehow been able to keep Floco relatively under the radar speaks volumes about a couple of the city’s biggest issues. This is what I think we’re aiming to remedy over here at Field Note Stenographers. Let’s not allow our city to get scooped again as local artists begin to move on to reach their goals. Don’t forget the only way we can change things in Macon is if, as we say at FNS, we get dirty and dig the field.

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Chuck Reece (from the Bitter Southerner) getting the scoop on Floco.

I spent the first weekend of August at Secret Stages in Birmingham, AL and got to see Macon favs Floco Torres w/ DJ Shawty Slim and Elroy Love, both of whom are making their exit from our fair city. Secret Stages takes place over two evenings in downtown Birmingham and showcases a fairly eclectic selection of roughly 60 local, regional, and national acts at five venues and one outdoor stage.  Unlike my beloved Bragg Jam, there were very few bands I was familiar with on the Secret Stages line-up.  This was the first time I spent any real time in downtown Birmingham, but there was plenty of signage and all the stages were within a couple blocks of each other. Getting around on foot was easy.  I parked my car, got my media pass (so official), found a cup of coffee and waited for Floco Torres and DJ Shawty Slim to get into town.

I want to be upfront about this; I’m very biased.  I’ve known Floco for years and collaborated or played or drank with him for almost as long.  There is little doubt that he is one of (if not the most) committed, hard-working and notable artists in Macon right now.  Floco has earned and deserves every bit of our respect and adoration, while staying remarkable true to himself and his intentions.  I consider Floco one of my close friends and am better for it.  Moving on…

The weekend before, Floco had come off his biggest and most momentous Bragg Jam set to date at the Cox Capitol Theatre. I was curious to see how he would translate that energy for Secret Stages. This time there would be no big band. In its place, he had B.o.B. tour DJ Shawty Slim (who produced The Porsche EP and Dreamboard).  Rather than the historic Capitol Theatre they would be playing Rogue Tavern, a sports bar/stage (reminiscent of, but bigger than, the now defunct Rivalry’s on Northside; at least Rogue Tavern turned off the giant TVs). Floco has played in Birmingham several times before and this wasn’t his first Secret Stages (he was recognized as soon as he got out of his Uber), but could he and Slim get and keep this growing crowd of unfamiliar faces moving?

Floco is always a high energy performer, whether it’s for 35 people or 350.  He brings the intensity he wants the audience to feel and doesn’t wait for the crowd to get him, but rather forces them to join him. The folks in Birmingham were eating it up. Floco’s raps are drawn from his world and only veiled enough to make them immediately relatable to the audience.  With Slim DJing, there was no down time and his intricate knowledge of the songs let him be the perfect back-up. The beats and hooks of Floco’s tracks are masterfully put together to create a uniquely retro sound that hits hard and stays energized. Together, they kept the crowd moving and excited and their ease with each other made the crowd that much more comfortable. The forty minute set consisted of songs from DreamBoard and the Porsche EP  mixed with “Catch Me,”  the Floco produced single “Dreamin’ Bout  London” and the recently released song “End of Summer” (Nah, nah, boo, boo, I got to hear it before you!).  Floco never disappoints and it was a great way to jumpstart my night.  As proof, I know somewhere out there someone has video of me jumping up and down insanely during “Dreamin’ Bout London.”

 

 

Watching Floco interact with his audience after the show is almost as good as the performance. It’s something he’s become very good at over the years. He’s completely comfortable with his fans and without pause or caution indulges every request whether it be autographing a t-shirt, posing for a photo, taking a shot or selling merchandise. Even well after the show, he was gracious and respectful as festival goers and other performers stopped to congratulate him or offer praise.

If witnessing this wasn’t enough, I then got to hang out with Floco and Slim as we made our way to other bands and other venues. The conversation was enlightening and sometimes discouraging, but always honest. The laughter and excitement were contagious and the camaraderie I felt was familial. Spending a night drinking beers and listening to live music with these gentlemen while discussing everything from music to Macon to scenes to the “work” to pride and to moving on will forever be a personal high point.

Floco talking about working as an indie artist is inspirational, but listening to people talking about Floco in Birmingham pulled it all together for me. In general these folks seemed excited for and proud of Floco’s success and only want more of it for him. Floco and his music are happening and people are noticing. That’s when it dawned on me. Floco doesn’t need Macon. He came to Macon and made great leaps while taking his fair share of lumps so that he could have this moment, not just in Macon or Birmingham, but everywhere he goes. We as a city need to stop overlooking our local acts, because if we’re not careful they may not choose to reference Macon as they grow and then both sides lose out.

 

 

For the second evening of Secret Stages I tagged along with the Michael Suhr, John Ewing (both formerly of Dalmatian), and Thomas Young (who played with much of Dalmatian backing him up at Bragg Jam 2015) of Elroy Love. Although starting off in Macon less than a year ago, all three members of Elroy Love are now based in Nashville. The band picked me up in John’s sweet “Bachelor Pad” conversion van for a noodle house dinner with a Birmingham friend of theirs. While I sat and ate my delicious shaking beef, I listened to how at ease these three guys were with each other and how well they all fit together. Their frank and insightful take on why Macon will always be home but couldn’t support all the talent the city has to offer mirrored much of what Floco and I had discussed the previous night. They all have a very strong (and similar) sense of what they wanted out of their music, how to go about getting it, and why it was important to them. This purposefulness spills over into their music and performances.

Photo by Luke Usry

Photo by Luke Usry

Elroy Love makes no apologies for the straight up variety of soulful rock they play. The rolling lead-like bass lines, distinct guitar counter melodies, and sincere pocket drumming make it groove with ease. Top that with not one, but two clever and talented vocalists playfully singing fragmented and sentimental lyrics that sound perfectly endearing. With all of these variables at play, Elroy Love attentively manages an incredible feeling of openness that gives them a sound that’s more relaxed and raw than most of their fellow revivalists.

They too had just played to an enthusiastic and local Bragg Jam crowd. I was looking forward to how this determined three piece would handle an unknown venue and audience.  Elroy Love was the first band of the night at M-Lounge (which as best as I could figure wasn’t usually a bar or a stage) and as they headed into their set the crowd was thin. By the third song, the infectious groove had begun to spread, not only drawing more and more folks in, but keeping them there and making them move. The end of Elroy Love’s crisp and focused set was met with a raucous round of cheers and fed seamlessly into an impromptu ’60s R&B and funk dance party before the next band played. The fellas of Elroy Love packed up and headed off to Destin, FL for some R&R (not to play a show or to sell molly at Club La Vela… I’m paraphrasing some) shortly after their set  and I was officially off the clock and could wander Secret Stages trying to fill up on as much live music as I could. As I watched a variety of  independent artists do what they love (some more interestingly than others), I imagined them loading out and their excitement as they headed on to other cities where they may be nurtured, adored, and respected as artists and performers.

If we had a little more mindfulness and recognition of current local artists I believe that Macon would be on that list. Unfortunately we’ve been living off the “We’re a music city” solution in Macon for long, long time. Don’t get me wrong, Macon has spawned an incredible pool of talent not only historically, but recently as well. Sadly, however, it seems to be in spite of Macon that these artists have found success and sometimes because of Macon that others don’t. Macon is a stepping stone, not an end point. The hard truth of the matter is that we need local acts to leave Macon feeling inspired and prepared for whatever comes next. Let’s just hope they spread the word.