In two years both writing about music and working on calendars in this publication, it’s rare to find an event that has the perfect timing, or the stellar lineup, or the ideal array of attractions that would allow it to sell itself. The third annual High Five Fest, coming to Bottletree Café on Saturday, Aug. 9, is one of those events.
In a nutshell: an all-day music festival featuring some of the best acts in the state, tasty food from the Barbecutioners, beer from Good People and its own super hero, High Five Man. The lineup includes acts from a wide variety of genres, two of which – Plate Six and Arclight – are reuniting specifically for the festival.
The headliner is Man or Astro-Man?, who are almost certainly one of the top five science fiction-infused surf rock bands ever to come out of Auburn, Alabama. If you distilled the gleefully nerdy id of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and sprinkled it to taste over the frenetic guitar heroics of Dick Dale, you might approximate their live show. That’s the thing though; with their combination of live-wire energy, chops for days and an endlessly kitschy sense of humor, Man or Astro-Man? are the genuine, irreducible article.
On what’s more or less the complete opposite side of the aesthetic spectrum, you’ve got Beitthemeans, who have been making Southern rock that hasn’t occupied the same ZIP code as frills for more than a decade. Both Beitthemeans and Man or Astro-Man’s songs are rooted in the past, but where Man or Astro-Man? repurpose old dreams of the future, Beitthemeans delve into the tangled, tragic, dirty roots of the South with their storytelling. That probably sounds brainier than it ought to; there’s no Alabama band that’s harder to describe without using the words “badass”, “kickass” or “hardass” than Beitthemeans.
Joining the long runners are two fixtures of Birmingham’s music scene from the last decade, Plate Six and Arclight. Here’s where I admit that I was either too young or too uncool to see Plate Six in their Cave9 heyday, but their recorded output has held up remarkably well as a part of Birmingham’s hardcore history. Brad Reed, the festival organizer, puts it more passionately (and bluntly): “the greatest B’ham band of all time.”
The newer acts on the bill don’t have much left to prove. Banditos are a unique fusion of classic soul, Southern rock and old-time music – think more Stephen Foster than Woody Guthrie – that are never less than engaging. In Snow are a post-rock band who are still able to rock pretty hard, with guitar-driven instrumentals that are long on passion and blessedly short on math. Shaheed and DJ Supreme are competing with K.L.U.B. Monsta and the Green Seed for the title of Birmingham’s best hip-hop act, and when the horns kick in on Supreme’s samples, you can definitely believe it.
The local act I’m most excited about, though, is Wray, who have made the leap from reliable, plucky opener to one of Birmingham’s very best bands in seemingly no time at all. Among the many ambitious, excellent acts on Communicating Vessels’ roster of bands right now, Wray may well have the most staying power when it comes to national appeal. Their hypnotic, reverb-friendly approach to indie rock has earned praise from The New York Times, and there’s something about diving into the band’s ocean of sound in a live show that feels particularly epic. Lots of bands have fun or engrossing concerts, but Wray’s feel like an experience, and that’s why they may well steal the show at High Five Fest.
A quick note about the Barbecutioners, the group of like-minded barbecue aficionados who will be providing smoked chicken, pork and tofu at High Five Fest: it’s the best barbecue I’ve ever had. That may not mean much coming from an apostate who’s just mild on the subject of BBQ in general, but trust me, the food is absolutely something to look forward to. Having Good People take over the taps for the occasion just sweetens the deal.
Summer lends itself to nostalgia more than any other season, and in a time of triple-digit temperatures and wasps, it’s not hard to see those illusions for what they really are. But there’s a special sweetness to summer in Birmingham, a sense of fellowship and fun and youthfulness, and High Five Fest is shaping up to be a truly worthy sendoff.
High Five Fest will take place at Bottletree Café on Saturday, Aug. 9. Doors and food at 2 p.m., music at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15.