Written by Lindsay Garrett
Photography by Andi Rice
Last month the Birmingham artistic community paid tribute to a quirky, spirited friend, The Bottletree Café, with one final Farewell Fest before it closed its doors for good. The venue was known in many indie circles worldwide for the unsurpassable hospitality toward touring artists, and it offered an eclectic, intimate atmosphere that appealed to both musicians and listeners alike. The Bottletree spirit was launched in building form in November 2006 by cofounders Brian Scott Teasley, Brad Challiss, and Merrilee Challiss, with the intention of promoting the underground music and arts scene in the Magic City. It swiftly became known as the place to go for exposure to cutting-edge music and comedy acts, local artwork, and independent films, establishing itself as an unparalleled cultural hub. The doors closed for one last time on March 31, 2015.
The Farewell Fest paid respects to the venue with a series of acts that have earned their places in the hearts and history of the Birmingham indie/underground scene. Photographer Jonathan Purvis was set up to collect photos and memories for the Bottletree yearbook. Good People Brewing, Smoke Screen Printing, Yellowhammer Creative, and ONO Ice were a few of the local vendors set up to contribute their support. Approximately 1,000 people attended the event for a monumental turn out, and the venue opened its arms to everyone by roping off additional space in the upper parking lot.
The 10-hour music schedule began with an appropriately soulful set from The Great Book of John, and tears could be seen forming in eyes all around the room as they belted hauntingly appropriate lyrics such as “everything’s gonna be alright as long as I can make it to the other side.” They were followed by Me & My Knife for a gritty change of pace. Next, local legend Duquette Johnston took the stage with a nine-piece all-star cast of talent including Jody Nelson, Michael Shackelford, and Mandi Rae. Closing out the first round of bands was a one-of-a-kind provocative metal performance from Stoned Cobra.
After the first round, Bottletree cofounder Teasley took a moment to make a heartwarming yet bittersweet toast to an emotional audience that was squeezed into the venue so tightly that movement was physically impossible. Afterward, he presented a nostalgic video tribute produced by Charlie Brown Sanders III and Teasley, which captured the intimate, emotional spirit of the nine-year life of the Bottletree Café. The final scene concluded with a touching farewell moment that left every fan in the room tearful.
The second bill of bands was integral in slowly shifting the mood from somber to celebratory. G/T kicked off the evening with a set of psychedelic punk, followed by another powerful, ferocious set by Young Widows. Between bands, Michael White Whong Huggins stepped in for an impromptu performance of lyrical freestyle. Wray, one of the Birmingham scene’s current favorites, stepped in with their custom crafted dreamy visual accompaniments. Inspired by the chance to take the Bottletree stage one last time, internationally known act Coliseum reunited after a six-year hiatus and blew the packed room away. Next up, Shaheed and DJ Supreme led the house in an inspiring and uplifting set, culminating in a stage full of local musicians chanting lyrics of love with the audience. Finally, in what seemed to be the perfect climax to an incomparable, emotionally charged event, Teasley’s prolific surf punk project, Man or Astro-Man?, took the stage and led the venue in one epic finale. Immediately into the first song, the crowd channeled the band’s inexplicable, burning energy, which triggered a set-long mosh pit front and center, and a lineup of local celebrity crowd surfers.
The scheduled entertainment rounded out just before 3 a.m., and the energy was visibly divergent from the beginning of the Fest to the end. Many friends and family of the Bottletree Café lingered long after the music was officially over, sticking around for last words, hugs, and a few final tears. Though many Bottletree lovers expressed an insurmountable level of heartache at the news of the venue closing its doors, the Farewell Fest offered something less somber. The event threw a compelling and positive spotlight on the intangible spirit of our artistic community and the people who are vessels of that spirit. The closing of The Bottletree Café is undeniably significant to us, and the venue will be missed.
Most of us are still searching for the best way to articulate the way we feel about what seems to be the end of an era. The mood surrounding this transition seems more hopeful than bleak. At the beginning of the day, many people called the Farewell Fest a wake, and some called it a celebration. But one thing is certain: the energy surrounding the event proved that the people in our music community care about the direction in which it’s headed and are boldly passionate about expressing it.
One last “thank you” to every single person who contributed to crafting this quirky little music venue from a simple building into a castle of artistic and social dreams in our Birminghearts. The building itself may no longer be a host to the city’s underground music scene, but the character that cultivated the need for such a venue is still here. The Bottletree spirit will never die.