As an avid concert goer for nearly three decades, I’ve seen some of the biggest names out there and been in venues all across the South: Birmingham, Atlanta, Huntsville, Nashville—I’ve made trips to them all. I saw Ozzy Osbourne come out of retirement at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham, Alabama. His opening acts were Sepultura touring their “Roots, Bloody Roots” album and Type O-Negative touring “October Rust.” I saw Godsmack and Disturbed touring together when they were both “new bands.” I’ve seen Zombie, both White and Rob, once with Pantera on tour with the White Zombie version. I even caught No Doubt touring their “Tragic Kingdom” album. The point is, I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the biggest bands on some of their biggest tours and on the biggest stages. I thought I was content, I thought I was happy with my concert experiences, and then I discovered Iron City Birmingham, and I fell in love with music all over again.
For those of you not in Alabama, you may have never heard of Iron City Birmingham. Heck, I had never heard of them until I caught wind of Marilyn Manson performing there. I had no clue what to expect, but what I found was absolute bliss. Iron City is a small venue by modern standards. It only holds at capacity 1300 people, but there’s not a bad seat in the house. Even the worst seat there is so close that if you were in a huge arena you’d probably be paying close to $200 for the tickets. At Iron City, every ticket is general admission and it’s worth every penny to go.
From that very first concert, I was hooked. I was in the middle of the crowd and it was close enough that I swear Marilyn Manson stared me straight in the eyes at one point. I’d never been able to get so close to musicians I loved. I knew I had to come back. This was my new favorite venue. This was my new musical home.
I saw Seether with Black Stone Cherry later that year. Once again, I was blown away by the intimate setting Iron City provided. I felt like I was at something special—like I’d sneaked into a performance I wasn’t supposed to be at. I mean, how could I be? This was such a small crowd, such a cozy setting, it was like having a private party with a thousand of my closest friends.
By the time I showed up to see Rob Zombie perform there, Iron City staff had grown so accustomed to seeing me that I was getting high-fives and hugs from the workers. HUGS! How many venues can you say you’ve been to where the staff hands out hugs because you’re a regular? That’s something arenas and huge concert halls will never give you—that feeling of being with family—and Iron City makes you feel like family. Let them get used to seeing you and get know you and they will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. This, perhaps more than anything, is what sets Iron City apart from the rest. The intimate setting, the treatment you get from the staff, it’s…it’s something special you just don’t see anymore. It makes every performance special and leaves you feeling satisfied in a way you could never be from sitting in the upper deck of a huge arena.
I remember Rob Zombie taking the stage and apologizing for not having his props with him. He said, as it was, him and his bandmates were going to be tripping over each other because of how small the stage was. He said he hadn’t played a venue this small since he played CBGB in New York over twenty years ago…and I was there to see it. I got to be part of something historical. Odds are Rob Zombie, as big as he is, will never play a venue that small again. Thirteen hundred of us can say we were there, and it is a night I will never forget. Having John 5 tower over me as he stood on the speakers, jamming out a solo that melted my face was breathtaking. I doubt I’ll ever see anything that amazing ever again.
As of right now, I can say I’ve seen Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Knee High Fox, Saint Asonia, Seether (twice), Black Stone Cherry, Damien Rice, The Interrupters, and The Dropkick Murphys at Iron City, and I plan to see much, much more. The small venue is making its return to prominence and it provides the music fan with something a big arena never could. You can connect with your favorite band in a small venue in ways you just can’t do in arenas unless you are fortunate enough to get front row seats.
I had heard stories about people catching big bands when they were young at places like CBGB and The Whiskey a Go Go. I had always wondered what it must have been like to see the gods of Rock in such a small, intimate setting. Because of Iron City Birmingham, I now know that feeling—and it feels great.
The small venue is making a huge comeback, and for music and the fans, that’s a good thing. It’s an experience like nothing else. It’s pure. It’s raw. It’s in your face, smashmouth rock n roll, and ain’t a damn thing wrong with that. You can keep your big arena. I’ll take Iron City Birmingham over it any day of the week.
Iron City Birmingham is located at 513 22nd Street South in Birmingham, Alabama. You can find them at www.facebook.com/ironcitybirmingham/ or their website www.ironcitybham.com. If you live close enough, trust me, it’s worth the trip to go.
Jay Michael Wright II