Taking back our Southern identity for good, we dare defend our rights

Mark Hammontree

Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires played an early afternoon set at the Cask and Drum Festival in Birmingham Saturday. If you’ve never heard of the Birmingham native Bains and his band, before you go any further, you need to look up their latest 
album, “Dereconstructed,” and listen to it. Then you can continue.

The following is a condensed relation of what was going through my head during the Glory Fires’ 45-minute set that afternoon. First, listen. 
Then, read:

Yes. Thank God we got here in time for this. I’ve been waiting to see them play since their album screamed its way into my head and heart. This is going to be 
so awesome.

Ah, yes, “The Company Man.” This might be my favorite. The wailing guitars are almost completely drowning out the words. I hope people are listening to the words.

God, it’s hot. It shouldn’t be this hot in the middle of October. How are there already this many beer cans lying on the ground? These guys are so talented, even if Bains is an Auburn fan, bless his heart.

Oh yeah, everyone’s walking over to listen now. They recognize that this isn’t just another band 
playing your generic rock ‘n’ roll.

“They wanted meth labs and mobile homes,” Bains sings in “Dereconstructed.” “They wanted moonlight and magnolias. We gave them songs about taking your own damn stand. In spite of those who’d define and 
control you.”

This man is preaching to my heart. This is the 
anthem for the real South and the real Southerner. Not the myth of Luke Bryan songs and reality shows, but the true, complex, paradoxical spectrum of the folks who 
live here.

Your identity as a Southerner is no more defined by how many guns you have or how big your truck 
is than it is defined by your accent or the color of 
your skin.

Bains just talked about the “commodification of the Southern identity” and the need to reclaim our 
rights to decide for ourselves what it means to live 
as a Southerner.

Why has Southern come to mean a white, gun-totin’, God-fearin’, pickup-drivin’ conservative? Why have we let our Southern identity be hijacked 
like this?

Southernness is not about your religion or your sexual identity or your politics or even whether or not you like sweet tea or barbeque. It’s about loving a place even though it makes you hate it a lot of the time. 
It’s about being fiercely proud even while you’re 
filled with shame.

These guitars are screaming, the drums are pounding, Bains is pleading, all in this unwelcome heat. This is a sermon about being yourself and identifying with your home from your own definitions and telling everyone trying to box you in or box you out that 
they can go to hell.

Oh God, their set is almost done, and I don’t think they’ve reached everyone yet. I don’t know if enough people have heard the force of these lyrics over the power of these guitars. What if people aren’t being changed by this music the same way I was?

Yes, oh yes. “Dirt Track.” This one might be 
my favorite.

This sound is drawn from the fabric of the South just like the stories Bains has been singing about. Bains and the Glory Fires are just trying to keep it on the dirt track. Their sound is simultaneously the grandchild of the mid-century swamp music and the sermons of the Civil Rights movement.

Theirs are angry, proud, disillusioned and desperate love songs to their home. It’s a spiritual experience to watch them share their vision of what the South is; not what it was 50 years ago or 200 years ago, but 
what it is now.

It’s an open invitation to take part in the Southern discussion, no matter who tries to tell you that you don’t fit the description. Bains says it this way:

“If you say you’re an Alabamian, then you’re a 
damn Alabamian.”

If you say you’re a Southerner, then you’re a damn Southerner, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We dare defend our rights.

Mark Hammontree is a junior majoring in 
secondary education – language arts. His column runs weekly.