If you missed the massive Bonnaroo Music Festival this month, and you're still eager to catch a hot summer festival in the region, consider a road trip up to Northeast Georgia for the 15th annual AthFest Music Festival & Conference. The festival started up while I still lived in that town, and I never missed it. The musically diverse events still catch City Paper's eye.
AthFest is set for Wed. June 22 through Sun. June 26 in downtown Athens. Organizers highlight mostly local bands and solo artists on several outdoor stages and at local music venues such as the 40 Watt Club, the Caledonia Lounge, Flicker Theatre, Little Kings, the Go Bar, Melting Point, Cine, and the Rye Bar, among others. Unlike some of the other major festivals around the country, AthFest is fairly accessible and affordable. The convenient proximity of the venues is a serious advantage for those on foot as well; nothing's more than four short blocks away.
Athens-based indie label Ghostmeat Records (ghostmeat.com) recently released a 13-song AthFest compilation disc featuring a variety of up-and-coming rock, pop, and jam bands (many of them previously unreleased).
The local alt-weekly Flagpole Magazine holds its elegant Flagpole Athens Music Awards event at the historic Morton Theatre on Thurs. June 23.
Headlining acts on the AthFest outdoor stages include Futurebirds, Bloodkin, Col. Bruce Hampton (ret.), Kevn Kinney, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and Nappy Roots.
Old-school Athenians are excited about two vintage Athens groups set to perform reunion sets on the main stage on Sat. June 25: the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies and Guadalcanal Diary.
As the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies, guitarist Ben Reynolds and singer/harpist/washboard player Brant Slay were bluesy stand-outs in the crowded Athens music scene. Formed in 1988, the duo played around town and took their act on the road behind a small pile of recordings. Fans loved their on-stage enthusiasm and backwoods image. Critics raved about their Southern personality, bluesy style, and Slay's skills at playing stompbox, harmonica, washboard, and a battery of homemade percussion instruments. Fellow musicians admired their raw-but-effective technique.
"It's hard for me to look back at it and say what we were, or what we are now," says Reynolds. "We certainly didn't plan on being a kind of novelty act, although it did sort of turn into that at one point. For us, it was all about the music. We had a great time doing it, and there was some sort of weird chemistry between us. By myself, I couldn't play chords and make up a song, but with Brant, I could do it. We could trip it down and work it the right way."
The twosome called it quits in 1992. They recently reformed as a trio with drummer Alan Cowart (of Jacksonville's Beggar Weeds) after re-recording a scratchy romper called "Chickenbone" for the original soundtrack of director Simon West's recent film The Mechanic.
"It's fun to revisit this stuff with new ears and old ears," says Reynolds. "If we can write some new songs and play them out, instead of just playing old stuff, I think we'll stick around for a while."
Atlanta-born quartet Guadalcanal Diary formed in 1981 as a guitar-based, melody-driven, twangy power-pop band comprised of lead singer/guitarist Murray Attaway, lead guitarist Jeff Walls, bassist Rhett Crowe, and drummer John Poe. Through the early '90s, they were one of the major Athens/Atlanta acts in the scene. They celebrate their 30th anniversary at AthFest.
"We always felt more akin to the Athens scene than the Atlanta scene, which is why most of us moved there," says Walls, currently of garage-rock band the Woggles. "The threads that ran through things are easy to spot, though. You definitely hear that Pylon, four-on-the-floor, Athens beat in a lot of bands. There were certain rhythmic ways of phrasing that sound very Athens-y to me when I listen back."
Guadalcanal Diary's earliest recordings came out on the Athens-based DB Records label. In 1984, they released a full-length titled Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man, produced by N.C. studio wiz Don Dixon. In 1985 Elektra Records signed the band and released three studio albums over the next few years: Jamboree, 2x4, and Flip-Flop. The band endured several lengthy tours before amicably parting ways.
"We didn't break up because we didn't get along. We broke up because we were tired of doing what we were doing," says Walls. "But we all stayed friends."
Walls says the band plans to play the fan faves, with emphasis on their earliest material.
Tickets for AthFest are available in advance for $15. Wristbands allow unlimited access to participating venues. Outdoor stages are free.
Visit athfest.com for full details.