AthFest 2013 – 17 Years of Music, Art, and Community
In the day and age of sprawling, largely corporate music festivals, it’s always comforting to me when an organization pays as much concern to the quality of the event they’re putting on – and not just the quantity of things they can cram into one space. Don’t get me wrong – I love spending the weekend at a large festival, camping next to strangers, and trekking from stage to stage, but I’ve always preferred city-based festivals to the organized chaos of tens of thousands of people in a field together. Over the past seventeen years, AthFest has grown from a mere-idea based on a visit to SXSW to a festival that debuted in 1997 after only ten weeks of planning and has since grown into one of the largest music and arts events in the South East.
AthFest is a product of determination, local pride, and the power of activism within a small community. Riding high on the success of a 1989 visit to SXSW in Austin, but disappointed at the lack of similar support in Athens, now-Festival Executive Director Jared Bailey wrote an article for Flagpole Magazine titled “Why Can’t Athens Support Our Music Scene” and the project slowly grew there. Combined with support from the Athens Downtown Development Authority and various other organizations, the idea was a point of discussion for a few years before a dedicated team begin meeting at the Athens Brewing Company in early 1997 and the project seemingly exploded overnight.
As we approach the 2013 Festival, we wanted to take a look back on the sixteen previous years of music, art, and community that have shaped the city – and what you can expect this June 19th – 23rd.
#1 – July 18th – 19th, 1997
After making the decision of “full steam ahead”, the inaugural AthFest was planned and executed in just ten weeks time. High temperatures affected the turnout, however large crowds showed up for headlining performances from #1 Family Mover, Harvey Milk, and Kevin Kinney (Drivin’ N Cryin’) + 60 other acts through the town.
#2 – July 16th – 19th, 1998
After only one year, it seemed like everyone was on board with the Festival! After debuting a compilation CD featuring artists on the lineup, NPR profiled the event and album via “All Things Considered” and gave the Festival their first jaunt in the national spotlight. The Wall Street Journal caught wind of the KidsFest portion of the event and included it in a summer piece outlining the twenty different festivals for youth around the world. Randall Bramblett, The Corrector, and the Common People Band headlined the outdoor stage over the weekend, along with the usual cast of Athens’ “best and brightest”.
#3 – June 24th – 27th, 1999
The third year for the Festival debuted with the Flagpole Awards show, an event to honor local business, artists, musicians, and more. The awards show has been held on the opening night of the Festival ever since. Given the intense heat during late July, organizers make the decision to move the Festival to mid-June, a change that positively impacts the event and has lasted through the years. Headlining acts included Five-Eight, Macha, and the UGA Jazz Band. A young artist by the name of John Mayer would perform a short, but well received set on the Acoustic Stage, only to be asked back for a much longer set the following year.
#4 – June 22nd – 25th, 2000
2000’s Festival is most notable, as it happens to the be the only year in the organizations history that they’ve made the decision to cancel any of the events due to weather. A young lady by the name of Jennifer Nettles performs with her band – you may recognize her now as the singer of world-famous country act Sugarland. Despite the poor weather, the crew managed to make some last minute changes and had Randall Bramblett and his band perform at an inside venue.
#5 – June 21st – 24th, 2001
The 2001 Festival featured an exciting exhibit known as the “Athens Music History Exhibit” – featuring memorabilia from the past thirty years of live music in the community. Acting as a precursor to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the exhibit gained awards from the GACVB and drew attention throughout the state. Headliners included Shawn Mullins, Japancakes, and Randell Bramblett Band.
#6 – June 20th – 23rd, 2002
A steller performance by Drive By Truckers marked a new milestone of growth for the Festival. The band packed out the streets of downtown Athens, making it one of the most successful years yet. As more and more facets of city and local government begin to catch on, the Athens Welcome Center begins hosting a Music Tour Bus that takes visitors to notable homes, venues, and buildings throughout the city.
#7 – June 19th – 22nd, 2003
Headlining shows from Cracker, Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s, and the Kevin Kinney Band pull yet another large and responsive crowd to the downtown for AthFest 2003. Bailey described the year as being “more or less the same”.
#8 – June 17th – 20th, 2004
Due to continued growth, AthFest moves to the lower end of downtown – closer to the 40 Watt. Film::Athens sees the return of film screenings to the festival and the move proves to be highly beneficial. Wired Electronic Music Festival teams up with AthFest to add a new element of style to the Festival and headliners Camper Van Beethoven, Rehab, and a 40th anniversary reunion show from The Jesters drew record crowds.
#9 – June 23rd – 26th, 2005
Now residing in Nashville, The Whigs made their headlining debut at AthFest to huge crowds. Alongside Pylon and Shawn Mullins, the group makes a lasting impression at the eight-annual Festival and are quickly catapulted to nationally acclaimed success where the band would eventually tour alongside Kings of Leon, Manchester Orchestra and more. The Festival Board made the decision to double the size of the entire Festival, resulting in two full blocks of vendors and music – not to mention the additional venues that had come on board in the recent years.
#10 – June 21st – 25th, 2006
The Festival celebrates their 10th year by expanding to five days total. As expected, the anniversary marks the largest Festival in their short history and a lineup that includes Modern Skirts, Now It’s Overhead, Drivin’ N Cryin’ and now indie-giant Phosphorescent. More than 175 artists graced the various outdoor and club stages around the city.
#11 – June 20th – 24th, 2007
Headlining sets from The Whigs, Drive By Truckers, and (now defunct) Perpetual Groove make for one of the most anticipated Festivals yet. More than 150 artists played over the five days – including sets from Lazer/Wulf, Adam Klein, Venice is Sinking, Velveteen Pink, and Dead Confederate, all of whom still actively play shows throughout Athens.
#12 – June 18th – 22nd, 2008
Modern Skirts were the one of the buzz bands on the bill this year, as shortly after AthFest they would embark on a European tour as direct support to R.E.M., with certain dates with The National and Vampire Weekend. Texas alt-rockers Centro-Matic made their way back to Athens for the Festival, after being introduced to the town (and their largest GA fan base) by their friends in Drive By Truckers.
#13 – June 25th – 28th, 2009
2009 marked the last year where the lineup featured the now defunct group We Verses The Shark, which I have heard countless stories about. Atlanta’s The Black Lips got weird, Nappy Roots got high, and the almighty Reptar made their first ever appearance at the Festival – playing a late night set at Nuci’s Space. In only a few short years, the band would be headlining the Festival. Looking through the 2009 lineup, I found a number of bands that are now touring internationally and sell-out venues whenever they come home (Futurebirds, Betsy Franck, Lingo).
#14 – June 23rd – 27th, 2010
This was going to be the first year TheBlueIndian.com crew attended AthFest and to this day I cannot remember why we weren’t there. David Dondero, Packway Handle Band, Bubba Sparxxx, and Perpetual Groove (to name only a few) were among the highlighted performances on the free outdoor stage. As the night progressed, venues filled up to see favorites like Quiet Hooves, Lefty Hathaway, Woodfangs, The District Attorneys, and Lera Lynn. of Montreal’s film Family Nouveau was among the featured films screened at the Festival and everyone was drunk and enjoying themselves.
#15 – June 22nd – 26th, 2011
Ah yes, my first year at AthFest. Plenty wet behind the ears and eager to drink as many beers as I could while behind closed doors of the port-o-johns, AthFest was quite the experience. I was whipped into shape by the end of the first day and would like to think I enjoy the Festival as much as I do now because of the mistakes I made the first year. Reptar’s “so sold-out even the media can’t get in” show at the 40 Watt was one of the most exciting points of the weekend, though seeing Washed Out with a full-band (finally) was high up there. Futurebirds were great, Hope For AGoldensummer was great, the whole damn weekend was one of my favorite trips to Athens ever.
#16 – June 20th – 24th, 2012
For 2012, TheBlueIndian.com featured “12 Bands of AthFest 2012” (clever, right?), a list that included The District Attorneys, Bit Brigade, Young Benjamin, Lera Lynn, Atlas Sound and more. I paid much more attention to the bands playing at clubs around the town than the acts on the outdoor stage, though Reptar’s set was one of the more magical moments to occur in Athens in a few years. Grass Giraffes were a personal favorite and it was great finally being able to buy my own beer. We had a great time.
#17 – June 19th – 23rd, 2013
Returning for the 17th year in a row, AthFest is back – and better than ever. The outdoor (free) stages lineup includes sets from Twin Tigers, Quiet Hounds, Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics, Dank Sinatra, ZOOGMA, and the very last ever show you can hope to see from Modern Skirts. Expect tears. When were not spending time in the Artists Market or the KidsFest, you can expect to find us at one of the towns many bars celebrating the Skirts’ incredible career.
As the sun sets and venues begin opening their doors, we’ll head out to experience (in my humble opinion) the most talented and well thought-out lineup the Festival has ever had. Ten venues are participating in the concert crawl this year – and that means decisions must be made.
I’m eager to see Dana Swimmer on their home turf, though their shows in Macon and Milledgeville have been nothing short of excellent. The Whigs will be setting up camp at the 40 Watt on Friday at midnight, but you can catch 30 minutes of their set before booking it to the Theatre for Reptar.
DRGN King makes an odd appearance at AthFest, but I couldn’t be happier to see these guys again. TheBlueIndian.com has supported them over the past two years and I know they’re eager to return to the South. They’ll be at the newly opened Green Room on Friday at 11:30pm.
Between Cicada Rhythm, Betsy Kingston, Sumilan, the Wired Music Festival, Manray, and nearly 80 other artists schedule for the AthFest concert crawl, it’s going to be a long, strange weekend. Tickets are already available (and discounted) for the 17th annual Festival, this June 19th – 23rd in Athens, Georgia. A full schedule of events is available at www.AthFest.com.