A few last minute tips, gang. Maybe you haven't booked a room. Maybe you're looking for additional entertainment. I'm here for you.
1. Hotel Highland. 1023 20th St. S. I parked cars at Hotel Highland, once upon a time, and it was doing that job that I once loaded Gov't Mule's tour bus and, in a related matter, saw Warren Haynes in his underwear. It was doing that job that I came to know Mr. Herman, Southside's most famous homeless man. Mr. Herman was a semi pro wrestler and he wears a fireman's hat and bicycle shorts. One day I was parking a car in the garage at Hotel Highland and saw a light around the corner. I peeked and Mr. Herman grunted for me to go away. I apologized.
Hotel Highland kind of represents this city in hotel form. It's a renovated old building with newness and hipness, but it's in the heart of Five Points South, my neighborhood, the place I first wanted to live when I went to my first concert at Five Points Music Hall when I was 16. It has a really cool bar, and musicians play in there a decent bit. Most musicians that play Workplay and, I assume Iron City, stay there. It's within walking distance of, like, half the food and drink I suggested. It's the best.
2. The Tutwiler. 2021 Park Pl. The Tutwiler is the old standard. It's pretty close to the manufactured "Uptown" district, but it has more character than the Westin or the Sheraton that are there. It's also reasonably close to the loft district and theater district, which have plenty of cool bars and scenery.
3. Redmont Hotel. 2101 5th Ave. N. For all the same reasons as the Tutwiler, I lost the Redmont. Both are likely less expensive than those fancy new places, too. And the Redmont, if it is open this time of year, has a super cool rooftop bar. But that may not be open, as the place just underwent massive renovations and will be opening back up to walkups only the day before the bowl.
Stuff to Do.
1. Waxahatchee/Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires/The Green Seed/Holy Youth/Mike Nix/The Judy Garland Death Squad. December 26. The Nick. 2514 10th Ave. S. There probably isn't anything more Birmingham that you can do the week of the bowl than this show. Lee and Katie (Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee) are two Birmingham natives that were raised on a scene trying to find its identify. They were kids in the crowd at Cave 9 and BottleTree and they found their own sounds, both uniquely Birmingham.
Lee, a former Dexateen, is an Auburn fan. Nothing sounds like Birmingham more than his band, his writing. And even though Atlanta is now his home, you'll not find a more authentic, passionate representative of the Magic City.
The Nick is Birmingham's grosses bar. It calls itself "Birmingham's Dirty Little Secret," a spot where Red Hot Chili Peppers, Drive-By Truckers, Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic and Arcade Fire, among many others, cut their teeth.
Shows at The Nick start on "Nick time," which is to say this bill of six acts could easily play until dawn. But you're not doing anything Sunday anyway. This show is the embodiment of the city I have grown to love and why. Do it.
2. Hank Night. The Chad Fisher Group plays the music of Hank Williams. December 30. Iron City. 513 22nd St. S. Each year around the anniversary of the death of Alabamian's Hank Williams, Sr., Chad Fishers plays his music for a night. Fisher has played with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit and is currently playing with St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and he is Birmingham's hardest working musician. This one is a blast, and it's the night of the bowl. If you're hanging around, don't miss it.
3. Man or Astro-Man? December 31. Saturn. 200 41st St. S. The biggest band to ever crash land into Auburn, Alabama. Is it surf-themed space rock or space-themed surf rock? Man or Astro-Man?'s drummer Brian Teasley owns the venue and he was a partner in its' predecessor, BottleTree. He's been a huge part of Birmingham's music scene and Man or Astro-Man-Man? shows are a blast. Pun intended.
4. Chris Stapleton. January 1. Iron City. 513 22nd St. S. This show sold out FAST. Stapleton played here in June, and in October, he opened for Jason Isbell at The Ryman. One week later, he won the CMA Album of the Year and played with Justin Timberlake and the rest was history.
He has now sold out his own run of three Ryman headlining shows and this show at Iron City. I'm sure you can find tickets, but you'll have to pay. Of note: Iron City holds 1,300; The Ryman holds 2,400. Chances to see Stapleton in a room this size are likely dwindling.
5. Dan Sartain Record Release. December 31. The Nick. 2514 10th Ave. S. Dan is also a Birmingham native and he'll be celebrating the release of his new record, "Century Plaza." Dan has seen huge success overseas, but he's never quite gotten the same attention in his backyard. It's a shame, because he rocks. There's a decent chance you can pull off both NYE shows because of "Nick time."
Buy records at Seasick Records. It's one of my three favorite record stores in the South and I love what those guys are doing. Visit Birmingham Botanical Gardens. It's free, and it's open from dawn until dusk 365 days a year. It's also my day job and I couldn't be more proud of our educational mission. See the city's best views at Vulcan Park and Museum. You'll be hard pressed to find many urban parks in comparably sized cities like Railroad Park. Visit the Civil Rights Museum and the 16th Street Baptist Church and take a walk through Linn Park. Drive up to the Barber Motorsports Museum for a collection of cars and motorcycles that impressed Jay Leno - they have a DeLorean for Pete's sake.
Birmingham is gritty. It's authentic. And it's sincere. You'll never find a more philanthropic community. You'll not get more access to huge rock bands. And we have amazing food. Settling for a bowl game here sucks because it means Auburn had a bad season. But these 10,000 or so words I've given you? There's plenty to love in my adopted hometown. Make the most of it.