AthFest 2012: A Retrospective
Perhaps you’ve followed our escapades at AthFest the past years. 2012 marked the 16th year of the event and one of the best lineups yet. Grafton Tanner, a newer writer Ben Bowdoin, and myself spent the weekend eating, drinking, interviewing and viewing the best of Athens. Take a few minutes to check out our recap of the weekend. Enjoy – Sean Pritchard
Before Bradford Cox took the Pulaski Street Stage as Atlas Sound Friday evening, I asked him if he knew what he was going to do. Knowing his unpredictable and wild stage antics, I had no idea what kind of treat we were in for. His answer: “Eh, I don’t really know.” He was perched on a stool in Low Yo Yo Stuff Records in Athens listening to Bo Diddley and various country records, so when he opened his Atlas Sound set with “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” I wasn’t totally surprised. Cox put his usual spin on the song, and for a moment, I felt he was performing a selection from one of his fantastic solo records. The vocals blurred, and the acoustic guitar swam in reverb. Cox played the highlights from his 2011 release, Parallax, often improvising over long swells of guitar noise and swirling, looping vocals. With fifteen minutes left in his set, Cox talked some, played a song, and then warped everything coming through the system with his pedal board for the remaining time. Afterwards, he holed himself up in Low Yo Yo, telling stories and spinning more records.
Friday night peaked at the 40 Watt with Quiet Hounds, Twin Tigers, Lera Lynn, and Athens supergiants, Modern Skirts. To call Quiet Hounds professional would be an understatement; these Atlanta folk-poppers have live playing down to a science. More on them later.
Twin Tigers and Lera Lynn performed stellar sets, but it was Modern Skirts who turned AthFest 2012 into a truly unforgettable Athens experience. Their opener (an unreleased new song) bridged the gap between their sunny, OC-pop and the trashy, lo-fi pop of Gramahawk. If the Skirts continue in this direction, their next album could be the best of their career. For their set, the Skirts moved through all three albums, taking time to highlight the Happy 81 EP centerpiece “Thomas Wolfe.”
They were raw, punky, noisy, and as tight as they’ve ever been. The audience screamed every word, and I realized something about this classic Athens staple. Modern Skirts can level every band in this town based solely off their live show, yet it was evident the audience had listened intently to their studio recordings in a setting far away from a sweaty live venue. In 2012, a band can make its living off live shows, but for the crowd to really know your catalogue….well that’s something else entirely.
BMI hosted a day party at Little Kings on Saturday, and that gave me the chance to see an entire Quiet Hounds set from beginning to end. There were obvious fans of the band in the packed audience, and I could see why so many loved their sound. These guys have outstanding songwriting chops, and their vocal harmonies blended perfectly. For a local Atlanta band, Quiet Hounds know how to write the hooks, and that infectious acoustic pop had some dancing and me staring slackjawed.
Athens punk giants Five Eight ripped up the Hull Steet Stage later that day. Their set consisted of material both old and new as well as a cover of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys (arguably the highlight). Afterwards, the 90’s alt-rock band The Glands headlined the Pulaski Stage and delivered a set that was both surprising and lethargic. Surprising, in that The Glands’ music still rocks; lethargic, in that their stage presence was rather lackluster.
Athens-babe Betsy Franck and her group took the stage at Little King’s later that night to perform yet another phenomenal set of her songs, her voice snuggly hovering somewhere between raspy and charmingly smooth. Betsy was one of our favorite act’s from AthFest 2011 and it was a complete pleasure to see her again.
Saturday Highlights: Every single thing that went on at the 40 Watt that night, Grape Soda‘s late night get-down at Cine, The Wired Music Festival at New Earth, the whole crew that was hanging/playing at Caledonia Lounge, “Prince” at Farm 255.
There was no doubt about the fact that we were beginning to grow weary after the festivities of the previous days but being the troopers we are, we stuck with it and we’re treated to one final day of AthFest 2012. The outdoor stages had accumulated a strong crowd earlier in the day that continued to grow through the rest of the evening as we bummed around and collected the parts of the weekend that seemed a bit hazy.
Because the participating venues were not hosting AthFest sanctioned events, the majority of the crowd of the weekend could be found dining around the downtown or slowly trickling in from the surrounding area, clad in shorts and sunglasses. Water and aspirin was plentiful. Sunday was by far the most relaxing day of the event, as it is with most festivals but by the time evening came, the energy of the previous night was back and in full force.
Well played , AthFest, well played. We’ll see you in 2013.