The Birmingham-based acoustic quartet Act Of Congress returns to City Stages riding a wave of positive momentum. The band — Bethany Borg, Tim Carroll, Chris Griffin and Adam Wright — melds melodic pop with progressive bluegrass to create a “pop-grass” sound that is both honest and fresh. The band’s full-length debut release, Declaration, has been well received by listeners and critics alike. Act Of Congress has received a Birmingham Area Music Award (BAMA), been the subject of a cover story in Portico magazine and recently played to a sold-out crowd at WorkPlay. The quartet comes to City Stages on the heels of a successful appearance at the famed South-By-Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
Rick Carter • Friday • 7 p.m.
Rick Carter is a local musician with a Midas touch. All of his musical endeavors — each one stylistically different from the others — have resonated with listeners both locally and nationally. Carter first made a name for himself as a member of Telluride, one of the first Birmingham bands to make a splash on a national scale. From there, Carter forged a successful solo career and later formed the bluegrass trio Rollin’ In The Hay and the retro-rock quartet Frankie Velvet & The Mighty Veltones. These days, Carter splits time among his many projects, remaining active on the local and regional club scenes. While City Stages offers a wealth of nationally renowned talent on its stages, Carter’s set at the festival should not be overlooked.
James Otto • Friday • 8:30 p.m.
James Otto’s unlikely path to country music success took him from his native Washington state through a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy before he eventually landed in Nashville. A member of Music City’s “Muzik Mafia,” Otto released his debut, Days Of Our Lives, in 2004 on the Mercury Nashville label. After being dropped from the label, Otto rebounded with a vengeance with the 2008 release Sunset Man (Warner Bros. Records). Co-produced by Big & Rich’s John Rich and Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, the album yielded the number one single, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You.” In addition, Otto was commissioned to perform the Atlanta Braves’ theme song, “The Braves Play Here.” Otto also received a 2008 Academy of Country Music Award as co-writer of Jamey Johnson’s single, “In Color,” the 2008 ACM Song of the Year. In April of this year, Otto released his eighth single, “Since You Brought It Up.”
Indigo Girls • Friday • Friday • 10 p.m.
High school friends Amy Ray and Emily Saliers parted ways to attend Vanderbilt University and Tulane University, respectively, but the two eventually reunited in their home state of Georgia and the rest is history. Cutting their teeth in the same music scene that propelled R.E.M. and The B-52s, the duo’s harmonies and driving acoustic guitars were a musical breath of fresh air to the ‘80s college rock scene. Twenty years later, the Indigo Girls have sold more than 12 million records while receiving seven Grammy nominations. Ray and Saliers have remained true to their sound while collaborating with a diverse list of artists including Brandi Carlile and Pink. “We just keep going,” Saliers told the Weekly in a 2008 interview. “If I do stop to think about it, I feel really grateful for it. In this business — where it’s hard to stay alive musically — we’ve had such a long friendship and partnership that it’s pretty awesome.”
Abram & Sarah • Saturday • 1 p.m.
Birmingham’s rock scene has been healthy for quite some time, but now its acoustic-based singer/songwriter scene is quickly gathering steam. Alongside local acts Wild Sweet Orange and Act Of Congress, Abram & Sarah have now entered the fold. Comprised of sisters Kayd and Karoline Parker and a revolving cast of supporting musicians, Abram & Sarah’s style is self-described as Indie-folk. Growing up in a household filled with music, the Parkers were influenced by traditional country music and a variety of singer/songwriters. Initially urged into the studio by a cousin that owned recording equipment, the duo soon fell in love with the writing and recording process. This summer will find them performing around the Southeast to a rapidly growing fan base.
Brandon Young • Saturday • 2 p.m.
Raised by a musical family in Enfield, Conn., singer/songwriter Brandon Young eventually relocated to Nashville and now calls Los Angeles home. An indie artist who performs acoustic-based folk-rock, Young is set to release a new album later this year. To date, he has shared the stage with David Gray, The Fray, Emmylou Harris and Daniel Lanois among others.
Zee Avi • Saturday • 3:30 p.m.
Malaysian singer/songwriter Zee Avi is a living testament to the power of technology. After posting a video on the website Youtube, she was signed by Brushfire Records, the label partially-owned by singer/songwriter Jack Johnson. Since then, she has appeared at South-By-Southwest in Austin, Texas, and at the 2009 Bonnaroo Festival. Her self-titled debut CD was released this year and she appeared on the Brushfire compilation This Warm December alongside Johnson, G. Love, Mason Jennings and others. Zee Avi’s song “Monte” has been placed in the television show Private Practice. She will spend this summer headlining shows as well as supporting Pete Yorn on his summer tour.
Erin McCarley • Saturday • 5 p.m.
To say that 2009 has been a whirlwind year for Erin McCarley would be a gross understatement. The singer/songwriter released Love, Save The Empathy — her debut release for Universal Republic Records — at the beginning of the year. The disc’s first single, “Pony (It’s OK),” was the iTunes “single of the week” for the first week of 2009. Since then, McCarley has been seen on The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno while touring in support of her new album. The Texas native and current Nashville resident has seen her songs placed in film and television shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill and He’s Just Not That Into You. McCarley has made several appearances in Birmingham both as a headliner and with the musical collectives “Ten Out Of Tenn” and the “Hotel Café Tour.”
Mat Kearney • Saturday • 6:30 p.m.
See write-up under "Mat Kearney on Legacy Stage."
Corey Smith • Saturday • 8 p.m.
Coming of age in a small Georgia town, Corey Smith was equally influenced by George Jones and Nirvana. Later attending the University of Georgia, Smith began performing in the fertile and eclectic Athens music scene. After graduation in 2001, Smith turned to the domestic life, marrying his college sweetheart and taking a teaching job at a suburban Atlanta high school. But music stayed in his blood and Smith won a songwriting contest that led to the recording of his debut album, Undertones. The album’s signature track, “Twenty-One,” took flight on college campuses as students related to the song’s subject matter. Fast forward to 2009 and Smith has built a rabid following as a result of his incessant touring and high-energy live shows. Like a next-generation Robert Earl Keen, Smith blends heartache and humor in a style that is both fresh and familiar. In addition to offering fans numerous free downloads on his website, Smith released the live disc Outtakes From The Georgia Theatre in 2008.
Dierks Bentley • Saturday • 10 p.m.
Number one singles have become synonymous with the name Dierks Bentley. This year, the country superstar scored his sixth top single with “Feel That Fire,” the title track of Bentley’s latest release. Cutting his teeth in Nashville’s downtown watering holes while working days at The Nashville Network, Bentley scaled Music City’s ladder with his traditional-meets-modern country sound. And unlike many country stars, Bentley has written or co-written most of the material in his catalog. Feel That Fire finds Bentley broadening his musical scope with the Spanish-flavored “I Can’t Forget Her,” the honky-tonk swagger of “Last Call” (featuring bluegrass great Ronnie McCoury) and a duet on “Beautiful World” with Patty Griffin.
Pio Fusco • Sunday • 1 p.m.
Birmingham-based band Pio Fusco formed in 2008 and City Stages will be an ideal setting for the band to gain increased exposure. The band consists of Zach Jones, Mike Pace, Parker McAnnally and Yeager Smith.
The Pine Hill Haints • Sunday • 2 p.m.
Unlike Yoknapatawpha County, Pine Hill actually exists, its name embellishing a graveyard in Auburn, AL, where the original members of the ghost music ensemble that also bears that name used to practice.If you’ve ever played music in a cemetery, you may have remarked upon the way that notes linger as they bounce among the granite and marble markers, and the band called The Pine Hill Haints can certainly conjure a spirit or two with its other-century instrumentation (snake rattles and squeeze boxes show up in the mix), but a protracted listen to the music of Jamie and Katie Barrier and their cohorts reveals that these folk seem most often haunted by the ghost of romance past.
No newcomers to New Folk music, the PHH have played together in one array or another since the turn of the century, their ever-changing membership contributing to a sense of musical adventure at their outings.At City Stages, the Haints may play numbers from their well-received 2008 CD Ghost Dance (its “tender, shaky paeans” described as “refreshingly restrained, pleasingly punk” on Pitchfork), or they might pull out a hymnal and go Pentecostal on us. One expects to be surprised by apparitions.
You will hear a variety of influences, weep at the saw or dance to the snare, but surely you will emerge from a performance by these Pine Hill Haints understanding a little better what it must be like to be dead in Alabama.
Enemy Lovers • Sunday • 3 p.m.
Brothers Tim and Steven Scroggs have an obvious family bond, but only in the recent past did their musical bond materialize. After separately pursuing their own musical endeavors, the Scroggs brothers formed The Enemy Lovers. The band records its self-titled, six-song EP in Atlanta with producer Dan Hannon (Manchester Orchestra). Diversity seems to be a key factor in the band’s sound — comparisons to a far-reaching list of artists including John Mayer, Tom Petty, REM and The Allman Brothers Band have been applied to the band’s sound. The Enemy Lovers will spend the summer on a regional tour in support of their debut album.
Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys • Sunday • 4 p.m.
Over 20 years ago, accordionist Steve Riley and fiddlist David Greely formed Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys. With 10 releases and two Grammy nominations now under its belt, the quintet – Riley, Greely, Sam Broussard, Brazos Huval and Kevin Dugas – continues to delight audiences with its updated take on traditional Cajun music. This summer finds the group continuing its active touring schedule with many shows in the band’s home state of Louisiana. Come witness the Playboys’ “swamp swing” firsthand and take part in a true cultural experience.
Courtney Jaye • Sunday • 5:30 p.m.
Courtney Jaye’s childhood would have been any music snob’s dream. Her first memories of music involve The Beatles, she attended a Bruce Springsteen concert at age six, had read the Led Zeppelin biography Hammer Of The Gods by age 11 and followed The Grateful Dead while still in high school. So it’s not surprising that Jaye has a respect for great pop songs and an understanding of how to create them. She began writing songs as a cathartic way to deal with a friend’s death and her songs remain introspective and universal at the same time. Her 2005 debut, Traveling Light, placed her in the company of lauded female singer/songwriters including Brandi Carlile, Erin McCarley and Sara Bareilles. Jaye has lived all over the U.S. and has collaborated with several noted artists including Matthew Sweet, Butch Walker and The Jayhawks’ Gary Louris. Jaye’s latest release is titled The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye.
Ohio Avenue • Sunday • 6:30 p.m.
The Dora-based band Ohio Avenue first came onto the scene in 2005 when three young worship leaders decided to take their Christian message beyond their local church. Taking its name from a street in Indiana that leader Derek Williams once called home, the trio began writing and performing original material. The group’s debut CD, The Sound, conveys a message of hope in spite of the struggles that all believers and non-believers encounter in daily life. Ohio Avenue will perform in churches in Alabama, Tennesee, Kentucky and Georgia throughout the summer.
NEEDTOBREATHE • Sunday • 7:30 p.m.
The South Carolina-based rock outfit NEEDTOBREATHE released its latest album The Heat, in 2007 (Atlantic Records). Two years later, the album’s popularity remains strong and the single “More Time” is climbing the Adult Rock charts. The band – Bear Rinehart, Bo Rinehart, Joe Stillwell and Seth Bolt – has also received a Dove Award nomination given by The Gospel Music Association (GMA). Co-produced by the band alongside Collective Soul frontman Ed Roland and Rick Beato (Shinedown, Jump Little Children), The Heat offers a blend of full-on rockers with acoustic-tinged numbers.
En Vogue • Sunday • 9 p.m.
The female R&B quartet En Vogue took the ‘90s by storm, offering listeners an updated version of the popular “girl groups” of the 1950s and 1960s. With its 1992 release, Funky Divas, the group cemented its place in music history thanks to the success of the singles “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” and “Free Your Mind.” Funky Divas sold over three million copies, earned the group five Grammy nominations and won an American Music Award for “Favorite Soul/R&B Album.” En Vogue also prospered at the MTV Video Music Awards thanks to memorable songs coupled with the group’s undeniable sex appeal. Lineup changes have taken place over the years, but En Vogue’s four original members — Dawn Robinson, Terry Ellis, Maxine Jones and Cindy Herron — are together once again.