The Music Doesn’t Stop


Trever Starnes

Iron City brings music to Birmingham.

by Lindsey Lowe

Photo by Beau Gustafson


There are some things in life that don’t lend themselves to argument. One of those truths is that coffee is from the heavens; another one is that Iron City is playing a crucial role in making Birmingham a real-deal player in the national music scene. The dual space—it’s part restaurant, part venue—located downtown on 22nd Street, has been open for a little more than a year, and in that time, it’s hosted numerous hot-ticket shows, from Passion Pit to B.B. King. It’s not unusual to see a band you love stopping by Birmingham these days. Last year, I saw The Head and the Heart in Atlanta; during their fall tour this year, they’re playing in Birmingham at Iron City (that show is on October 8 if you’re interested.) I think this is indicative. For as much as we talk about how the music scene is doing fancy things like “burgeoning,” that’s evidence that things are changing, and Birmingham is on the map as a mecca for music. And Iron City’s arrival on the scene took that to the next level.

Trevor Starnes, a concert promoter at Red Mountain Entertainment, is one of five people who book shows for Iron City. He says that there’s no science to guaranteeing a show’s success; the only necessity is diversity. “The most important aspect of booking Iron City is booking a wide-range roster that Birmingham music fans enjoy. Birmingham does not just love country music but metal, hip-hop, indie, folk, rock, alternative, and the list goes on,” he explains. “All in all, there is no rhyme or reason to what will be a hit or what won’t be a hit, but an act with strong radio presence, social media popularity, and prior history in the market bodes well for a successful show.” Still, Starnes says that as far as national acts go, there is a process. Part of that is networking, something he and his team do every day; they build relationships with agents, who both respond when they’re looking to bring bands here and reach out when bands are coming through the area. The other part is just logistics: They look for acts that will be in the area, and they try to book conveniently for them (that is to say, they’ll book any night of the week if it’s worth it.) The challenge, Starnes says, is that sometimes, they must sell Birmingham. “Birmingham is not a major market (a must-play market), so it just takes patience,” Starnes says. “Atlanta and Nashville get every show because those are must-play markets. As the success of Iron City grows, more artists will choose not to skip Birmingham.”

What works in Birmingham’s favor in that regard is that it’s proving itself hungry for good, live music. I once talked to a local musician who had played a lot of Nashville and Atlanta shows. He told me that those places are used to getting the big-name bands; it’s not as exciting to them. Not so here. In Birmingham, the people show up to listen to live music. They pack out the houses for big-name shows and locals alike. Starnes agrees with that sentiment: “The creatives of Birmingham have begun to invest into the art of our city. As the demand of quality music has increased, the music scene has had no option but to respond,” he says. And the stats support that claim—according to Starnes, Iron City was the No. 44 most-attended venue in the world and the No. 1 club in the Southeast last year.



As you might imagine, Starnes himself is a music aficionado, always on the prowl for new sounds. “I like to discover music before anybody else, but I am not one to discredit an artist once he or she becomes popular,” he says. “I only see it as more people rewarding their ears. Every band sets out to make music for all to hear. Sometimes it takes one song, and sometimes it takes six albums, i.e. The Black Keys. How do I do it? There is no recipe; just keep listening to more records and more records. The music doesn’t stop.”

Starnes is a lucky guy—discovering new music, a pastime for many of us, is in his job description—but his position does demand that he be in communication pretty much all of time. “I work 24 hours a day, but I am in the office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” he says. “I listen to a lot of music and talk to agents all day long. I grew up loving music. I never thought it would turn into a career, but I can’t complain.” And as you might imagine, there are moments in his profession when his interest collides with reality, which gives him some cool moments. “For 2013, Jason Isbell and the Artic Monkeys stick out. Isbell’s Southeastern was the album of the year, in my opinion, and he put on one of the best shows I have seen in years,” he says.

Starnes told me to get excited because there is much in the works, both for Iron City and Birmingham. “Unless hell freezes over, there is nothing slowing the rise of the music scene,” he says.


Upcoming events:


PHOX / Trails &  Ways at The Bottletree

For fans of St. Lucia, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and Givers



Lindsey Hinkle at Workplay

For fans of Jennifer Nettles, Sara Bareilles, and Taylor Swift



American Animal at The Nick

For fans of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews Band, and Ben Folds

Leave a Reply