AthFest 2011 Review

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect for my first AthFest but I had a general idea. Some friends and I left Macon Friday afternoon and began the short drive North. Our photographer was unable to make it out to the festival, so I had procured a two close friends to help me spread out and cover as much of the three days as possible. I decided that the best way to keep up with the times was to make a log in my phone of all the things that I did, whether watching bands, eating dinner, or meeting people. That worked fine, despite the fact that it appeared that I was busy texting someone or playing games all weekend.

Despite the terrible weather that plagued most of Georgia on Friday, when we arrived at 7:15 Athens was alive. Both outdoor stages had taken measures to prevent equipment from getting ruined and bands were loading on and playing their sets in the light rain that came and went throughout the evening. Our first stop was at the Hull Street Stage where we caught Athens garage-folk act Woodfangs closing out their set. This was one of my least favorite moments of the entire festival because I’ve heard awesome things about them from friends in Athens, still their last song stuck with me.

From Woodfangs, Ben and I walked around the Downtown area to get ourselves acquainted with all the venues and stages before we headed over to the Pulaski Street Mainstage where I was finally able to catch some of Centro-Matic‘s set. I’ve had the opportunity to see the Denton, Texas quartet before but have never been able to make it work, so it was a real treat to be so close. There was one moment that really stuck with me following one of their opening songs where singer Will Johnson paused to acknowledge what a “sacred and personal thing it is to be in front of a group of people that feel like friends, especially on a day like this, especially in Athens”. Johnson seemed to truly be happy where he and his band were, even though the crowd had thinned out cause of the rainy conditions. Johnson and his bandmates showed their love for their friends in Drive-By Truckers by dedicating the song ” The Mighty Midshipman” to the Athens natives. The band was on the 4th date of a US tour that’s taking them up the East Coast and through the Mid West before finishing with a set of shows in Texas. At the end of their set I ran into my good friend and fellow Maconite Adam Smith as he was finishing shooting their set. I talked with Adam for a bit about the band and his history with him. He recommended to sink my teeth into their record titled Love You Just The Same, a full length released in 2003.

We headed out from Centro-Matic to check out some of Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate) and The Outfit at the Hull St. Stage. Morris’ familiar melodic drone could be heard a few streets over and by the time we made it there, the crowd was quite large. Morris and the band played through a set of original songs that flowed freely in the same manner that Bon Iver’s newest record, or even Fleet Foxes, but were held tightly together by Morris’ voice. I’ve always been a fan of Dead Confederate and was thrilled at being at such an intimate set.

From Hull Street, we rushed back over the Main Stage on Pulaski to catch “hometown heros” Futurebirds tuning and checking. The crowd was easily the largest that I have ever seen them play to and so to get a good view of the action, we found a good spot side stage. We couldn’t hear things the clearest of course, but it provided a must better look into what was going on onstage. The band was energetic and alive as singer Carter King shouted out eagerly to the crowd. The band danced and hopped around stage as they played through crowd favorites “Battle For Rome” and “Johnny Utah” as well as a brand new song they have been working on since the Bonnaroo Buzz Tour. Despite issues with their monitors, the band never slowed down as they proceeded to swap instruments and stage positions, doubling up on mic’s and sliding around in the rain. They were clearly as happy to be there as the people watching them were.

My group and I split up following Futurebirds and I decided the only place to head for me would be to The Melting Point to see my friends and long time Athens favorites, Modern Skirts. Though the walk from the Pulaski Stage to Melting Point nearly did me in, I was most surprised by the line at the door when I made it there. It stretched a good 75-100 people back from the door and was moving slowly. This really stressed me out, until I remembered why Press Passes exist. I made it inside and tried to find somewhere to stand among the packed house. Athens shows love to their own, especially this time of year. I’ve never seen so many people at a Skirts’ show and the energy was to match. The crowd sang and danced through songs from All Of Us In Our Night and their most recent Grammahawk. I didn’t stay for their entire set as it was completely packed the whole time and I needed some fresh air, so I parted ways and headed uptown to walk around.

Ben and I become acquainted with an Athen’s local by the name of Amanda who took us on a short tour of the town before winding up at New Earth Music Hall. We had mistakenly thought that Wired Festival was taking place that night but instead caught the last of Packway-Electric Band’s set. I made my way over to the 40 Watt to finally (after 2 years) see Cinemechanica, while Ben decided to go see Hope For AGoldenSummer and Kaitlin Jones & The County Fair. We spent the rest of the night texting each other ” You’re missing out man, you need to come see this band. They’re amazing”. I finally convinced him to check out Cinemechanica and we both we blown away by their technical skill and personality as a band. Props to their drummer for being a real champion.

By the time they finished, I was worn out and we ran into our friend Grafton and decided to go back to his place to wind down the night. Day one was a clear success:

FRIDAY 24th Highlights: Woodfangs, Hope For AGolden Summer, Cinemechanica, Centro-Matic

I woke up a bit late Saturday and we all eventually made it into town to feast. Tilapia taco’s from Taco Stand were in order and the day could properly began. We walked around a bit and caught some of Mohanan’s set at the Hull Street Stage. I had to head out to do an interview or I would have spent the next hour watching them. I wound up at ERC to do a phone interview with a girl from Portland, Maine who goes by the name of Lady Lamb The Beekeeper. I spent the next half hour talking with Aly about her background and the upcoming year. It should be online soon, you need to check her out though.

I left the interview and headed back to the stages where I ran into my friend Collin. We decided to grab a Smurf Burger and Fries with feta dip at The Grill. Those rocked. The combination of too much good music, sun, hot food, and honey whiskey resulted in a bit of mid-day relaxation at our friend Cassie’s house before heading downtown for the two groups I was most excited about.

However, by the time we got to 40 Watt they we’re already at capacity. I found this hard to believe and that maybe they would start letting people in as others left since they decided on no re-entry, but after hanging around for 30 minutes, I decided that I needed to continue my quest for a good time and headed out. The venue was so full that they wouldn’t even allow press coverage of the event until attendance subsided. Ben and Grafton stayed in the line and I decided to walk around and catch any music I could. I ran into some awesome string/blues bands but I never got the name of them. About 30 minutes after I left, Ben texted me to let me know that media passes were now allowed in so I booked it back to the venue. FLT RSK had finished their set just before I got in line the first time and now Reptar was winding down. 40 Watt left their doors open and so I was able to hear a few songs from their most recent EP Oblange Fizz, Y’all before their set was over. We made it inside and secured a place in the very front as Washed Out was setting up. Washed Out played with a full band and it completely made the night. They played through a good bit of new songs before getting the crowd moving with their tracks “Feel It All Around” and “Get Up”. Despite the troubles we had getting in, this was one of the better shows that I’ve been to in a long time.

SATURDAY 25th Highlights : Eureka California, Mohanan, Quiet Hooves, Reptar, Washed Out

I had to head back to Macon very early Sunday morning but my friends that got to stick around let me know how things went. It was probably for the best, I’d accrued a fairly massive hangover from the past two nights and needed a good shower and some hydration.

Most of the day for them was spent resting up but the afternoon and evening brought acts like Dank Sinatra, Col. Bruce Hampton, and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, who closed out the festivities. Macon’s own Abby Owens, a close friend of Isbell, sung along with him on a few of his songs.

All in all, this festival was an awesome experience. Thanks so much to Nomad Artists, Michelle Roche, all the venues and sponsors and volunteers involved. We’ll see you next year.