(Photo credit: Chelsea Kornse Photography)
Nestled just an hour to the east of the state’s capital, Athens, GA is arguably one of the best kept secrets outside the southeast. The sixth largest city in Georgia, Athens is, at it’s heart, a university town. Concentrated around The University of Georgia, the first state-chartered public university in the United States, Athens is an intellectual hub and a refreshing pocket of progressive idealism entrenched within an ever-evolving conservative south. Celebrated for it’s vibrant culture, SEC Saturdays, distinct nightlife, and overall quirky charm, Athens is perhaps best known for its musical legacy and the powerhouses of yesteryear that put it in the jukeboxes and on the map. REM, The B-52s, and Widespread Panic are still revered as the stuff of legends around these parts and perhaps singlehandedly altered the DNA of the city as we know it, ultimately paving the way for generations of musicians to follow in their footsteps. It’s not a question of whether or not Athens is a music town. You can taste it in the water.
For an emerging band trying to find its footing, the entire infrastructure of the town has been designed, tweaked, and continually fine-tuned over the years with the music community in mind. An extremely cheap cost of living ensures that there’s no shortage of musicians here. Walk into any given local bar or coffee shop and there’s a decent shot your server has a show lined up that week. What’ more, the majority of the town’s musical community frequents the same handful of spots. Manhattan, Max Canada, World Famous, Little Kings, and Flicker all exist within a one-block radius and sling cheap PBRs and High Lifes until 2am. It’s a great place to run into like-minded individuals, share a drink, and toss around ideas. The city is a breeding ground of artistic energy and fosters a healthy competition and resulting constant stream of creative output.
House-shows and DIY spots aside, another staple of the scene and indication of its independent nature, Athens is unique for a town its size in that it houses a variety of venues of all sizes and genres. These aren’t your average bar/restaurant-turned-venues typical to many college towns, though there are a fair share of those as well. Instead, Athens offers multiple venues and event spaces with the music in mind first and foremost. Nuçi’s Space, a non-profit catering specifically to the musical community, offers practice spaces, gear rental, and a plethora of affordable resources ranging from health to legal counseling. Venues such as Go Bar, Hendershots, Caledonia Lounge, Live Wire, and The Foundry all range in size and host concerts of all varieties as well as drag and fashion shows and other community oriented events. Then of course there’s the Georgia Theatre and 40 Watt, the two heavy-hitters and historical landmarks in their own right. Both have been instrumental in coaxing national acts outside of Atlanta as well as cultivating emerging local acts and providing them a platform to hop on as support and make a name for themselves locally.
Some of the same aspects that make Athens such an amazing place to be musically can ultimately be interpreted as some of its very same pitfalls. The sheer volume of live music on any given night can be reduced to white noise, and it can be difficult to hold down a service industry job when everyone is constantly trying to get shifts covered for shows. That being said, there are genuinely so many amazing musicians making such great music across the board, that it can also be increasingly frustrating to be continually compared to old Athens. While the musical juggernauts of Athens past undoubtedly deserve to be celebrated, being constantly paralleled to the same handful of acts can serve to both undermine and overshadow the current flourishing music scene. International acts such as Of Montreal and Kishi Bashi still call Athens home and in the past decade alone, Athens has birthed the likes of The Futurebirds, Reptar, Mothers, and a host of other notable national touring acts and emerging artists.
Overall, there’s a certain pride associated with calling The Classic City home. The palpable homegrown culture mixed with the tight-knit community makes for a place of celebration and acceptance of individuals from all walks of life. Athens is like Atlanta’s younger sibling that takes itself a little less seriously but deep down still has an overwhelming drive to succeed and chip on its shoulder with something to prove. These days, the city is entering a new era of learning to navigate corporate money and big business moving to town while still maintaining it’s mom-and-pop, shop-local mentality. While the scenery may change and the waves of students will inevitably ebb and flow, deep down the intangibles that make the city so endearing will ensure the heart of Athens remains resolute. One thing, however, is certain: its music and widespread legacy will undoubtedly live on, grown straight from the Georgia soil and ripe for the picking.
Athens’ Emerging Bands Spotify Playlist
Neighbor Lady – Oh Honey
Roadkill Ghost Choir – Slow Knife
Double Ferrari – Double Ferrari
Wanderwild – Andy
New Madrid – Manners
Lingua Franca – Eight Weeks
Cicada Rhythm – Dirty Hound
Deep State – Mountains
T. Hardy Morris – Be
Walden – Green Lights