Quarantine Reading: Huntsville’s Music Audit


A few years back, I was sitting with a friend at a high top table at Sidetracks Music Hall waiting for a show to start. It wasn’t just any show; it was one I had been waiting to see for a few months. One I had been consistently promoting to friends through my podcast and social media. One I was so ready to see that I bought tickets early to make sure I wouldn’t miss out on this band finally making it to Huntsville.

The Supersuckers were on their 30th anniversary tour promoting their new album “Suck It”, which was set to debut a few weeks later. Fortunately for me, they had sandwiched Huntsville in between Birmingham and Knoxville on their tour and I was envisioning a solid turn out since Sidetracks is a fairly small venue and it was the goddamn Supersuckers!

My expectations for that night were high and, in hindsight, foolish.

The Supersuckers were the only band that night. As I watched Eddie Spaghetti, front man for the country-rock trio, and guitarist Marty Chandler take turns at the video golf game tucked in the small corner of the hall near the bar, I was embarrassed.

It was 8 p.m., the posted starting time for the show, and barely 30 people were filling the small venue while the two band members continued drinking and concentrating on their game. It was a missed opportunity for all the show-goers on the Huntsville music scene, and couldn’t have done much toward convincing the Supersuckers that they made the right choice in including Huntsville on their tour.

These are the types of bands that Huntsville needs to come out for. The seasoned, established bands accessible in both ticket price and literally being accessible to meet and have a drink with while waiting your turn to play video golf. The good bands that use to roll through Crossroads like Against Me!, Reverend Horton Heat, Old Crow Medicine Show, Southern Culture on the Skids, Drive-By Truckers, and countless others. The bands that can’t play the VBC (nor would you want them to) but wouldn’t make sense at Coppertop, either.

Suppersuckers rockin
Supersuckers rockin’.

The Supersuckers played their set as if it was a packed arena, overemphasizing their kitschy, dramatic rock bravado with cowboy hats and devil horns as they rocked the hall’s ass good. It was a great time — a great venue and a great band.

Too bad Huntsville missed it.

But why? Why is the turnout for shows like this so low?

Was it bad promoting? Was it a lack of people knowing that these smaller shows are actually better than big arena shows? Are we really a town that can support good live music?

The answer to all is a resounding YES!

Thankfully, there was a multi-year long initiative to study why we fail in many ways to reach our true potential as a destination Music City. This initiative impartially examined the local music industry from the side of the venues, the musicians, the city, the diverse population, genres, geographical variables, events & festivals, and other support “agents” of our musical ecosphere. It puts forth 44 recommendations and specific action items that we as a city can follow to ensure we fulfill our musical potential. This initiative is the Sound Diplomacy music audit,.

Sound Diplomacy was contracted by Huntsville City Council to deliver an extensive music audit and strategy to kickstart Huntsville’s journey to becoming Alabama’s first Music City. In 2019, they produced the single most important document for musicians and fans of live music for Huntsville.

The one thing every musician, show-goer, venue owner, city councilman and woman, the mayor, and you should do while COVID is keeping us from our shows is to print, read, and study this report.

The city cannot do this on their own, nor should they. So, find a recommendation and see where you can contribute. There are subcommittees forming under the Music Board‘s purview that need filling by locals who know where we are falling short. Reach out and see where you fit in. We can all help everyone not miss out on the next great band that takes a chance on Huntsville.

In the meantime, enjoy this footage I took from the night the Supersuckers played Sidetracks Music Hall.