From Friday, June 23 to Sunday, June 25, the Athens community came together to enjoy local artists for Athfest 2023. This year commemorated 25 years of the festival and brought together acts of all generations and genres. In celebration of such a fun and successful event, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite artists who I saw this past weekend.
2023 Vic Chesnutt Songwriter of the Year Award Recipient and Athens Hip Hop Titan Trvy took the stage Saturday evening at Livewire. He rapped with the aid of a backing band, collectively known as Trvy & The Enemy. Originally formed for a one-off Tiny Desk-style performance, the band soon realized the chemistry and potential they had, and thus continued to perform and make music together. A self-described mix of trap, psychedelic rock, world music, and funk, this boundary-pushing quartet put out their debut self-titled debut just a few days before AthFest began.
My favorite track off the EP is legend, in which he repeats the mantra “gotta die legend.” Built on top of a speedy bassline, the track feels like it’s about to bubble over at any moment but instead closes out with a heavy instrumental. This part especially reminds me of the climax of an action film, like a shootout through a building or a highway car chase. Trvy, as always, comes with the bars. His first verse contains my favorite lyrics from the song.
It can only go one wayTrvy & The Enemy, legend
You can only grow from the pain
Least for myself
Pour from my cup till my cup runneth over
And life just gon spill in my lap
Still keep an eye for the circling vultures
Who just wanna know how it fell in my lap
On the Georgia Theatre Rooftop at 1:00 AM, I saw indie rock band Recess Party perform. Despite the late start time, it was one of the most energetic sets I attended. They performed tracks from their upcoming album Paid In Full and my personal favorite song of theirs, “Change of Pace.” Bassist Sam Smith closed out the night with a rendition of Metric classic “Black Sheep.” In a recent interview, the band members spoke about spending time refining their sound and listed off some of their influences. Genre-wise they, listed sixties & psychedelic rock, singer-songwriter, hardcore, industrial, and nu-metal. They specifically named drummer Ginger Baker, guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Chris Buck, and singer-songwriters Elliot Smith and Phoebe Bridgers. Some of their overall band influences are Turnstile, Author & Punisher, Tool, System of a Down, Average White Band, and Radiohead.
When asked about their experience at AthFest, the band responded,
Well, it was our first AthFest, but the stage was familiar and so was the crowd. It feels really special to have people that will stay after your set to talk. We really are playing to our friends and we’re so pleasantly surprised to see that many familiar faces so late at night.Sam Smith, Recess Party
The band’s performance started just over 24 hours after the release of their latest single, “Hypocrite.” Upbeat and angsty, the song narrates an unfortunate yet inevitable life experience. In my favorite vocal moment of the song, frontman Riley Stillwagon purposefully strains his voice singing about an inevitable life experience. “Hypocrite / Just get over it / One day in your dreams enough’s enough.” Beyond just the singing though, I find myself attracted to a new moment or section of the song on each listen, whether that be the guitar lick at 1:07, the background vocals at 1:51, or the moment when the whole band drops out at 2:37.
Standing outside of Flicker Theatre & Bar on Friday evening, a friend exalted Immaterial Possession as one of the best two bands in Athens. Their set began at 10PM and was fitting, considering the venue’s homey atmosphere. The band’s eclectic sound was matched by their gothic iconography. Immaterial Possession is beautifully anachronistic. Medieval yet modern, they combine punk-rooted bass, Greek and Spanish musical scales, and more, to bring together a truly unique, yet cohesive sound. Multi-instrumentalist Kiran Fernandes was switching instruments in nearly every song, notably playing the congas, saxophone, clarinet, and keys, guitar, bass, and more. Their sophomore album, Mercy of the Crane Folk, was released early in May of this year.
I reached out to the band about how the performance went. Frontman-bassist Cooper Holmes responded,
The performance went well. It was fun. If it was less chaotic, it would have been nice to dial in some lighting design more. The sound wasn’t perfect, but the energy was good and that’s what mostly matters to me.Cooper Holmes, Immaterial Possession
My favorite track from their album is the eponymous and eerie “Mercy of the Crane Folk.” In the band’s own words, the song is a “Sisyphean tale of feeding a persuasive ghost that never gets full,” with a music video depicting a “magical ritual gone awry.” Sisyphus is a figure from Greek myth, punished by Hades for cheating death twice. In the same way that he endlessly rolls a bolder up a hill, the surfy bass line continues on and on. It grounds this enchanting track, while a medley of other sounds and instruments is layered on top. Holmes and Madeline Polites, on bass and guitar respectively, share vocal duties. The music video, however, only features Holmes and Fernandes.
At 1:40 on Saturday afternoon, singer-songwriter Clover County began her performance at the Wicked Weed Stage. I sadly missed Clover County’s set but was able to get some insight into how it went from the artist herself.
Just last year, I was standing outside The 40Watt watching artists perform on the main stage with no expectation for myself to be up there the following year. This year, I found myself overwhelmed with friends and musicians who were ready to help me make AthFest special. My AthFest band consisted of Cannon Rogers, Wim Tapley, and Matt Martin. They’ve all played the fest in the past and made it really easy to feel cool and confident going into things. The most special thing to me was seeing so many familiar faces in the huge crowd on Washington St. I could name them and give you a little bio about most of the amazing locals who help keep this city so magical. I wouldn’t trade my first experience at AthFest for anything and I hope to be back next year to share even more music!Clover County
Together in matching “Clover County” shirts, the four performed a medley of her own original songs. This performance coincided with the release day of her debut single, “Outlaw.” The aforementioned Matt Martin mixed, mastered, and played on the track. An especially strong vocal performance, the song’s premise is explained in the chorus: “It should be a crime to love him this much / And I’m an outlaw inside my own dreams.” These are words reserved for someone who completes you. Nestled between indie folk and Americana, this is an intimate love poem written about “a desert-driting, whiskey-sipping man with turquoise eyes” who’s walking “through hell and back.” Thematically, I’m reminded of Kacey Musgrave’s “good wife.” This type of pure, fulfilling love makes this song antithetical to a track like “Oh Daddy” by Fleetwood Mac.
Athens-raised Hip Hop artist Kxng Blanco also performed at Livewire on Saturday evening, taking the stage around 11 PM. This was his first performance following the early June release of his latest album, Baby Hefner. Rapping over both Jersey Club and more Atlanta-style “rage” beats, this set was filled with energy, dancing, and smiles all around. By virtue of his stage presence and crowd engagement, it’s evident that this 2x Athens Hip Hop Award winner is a seasoned performer. Along with singles and features, Kxng Blanco has been putting out at least one full-length album a year since 2018.
Kxng Blanco himself added, “the show is a memory that I won’t forget no time soon. Really felt like God gave me the moment as a ‘keep going, you doing the right thing’ type of ordeal”.
My favorite track from the aforementioned Baby Hefner is “INeed2KnoToo,” a duet with R&B artist Convict Julie. A simple guitar melody, distant background vocals, and some well-placed kicks come together to make this rap ballad. Speaking to a lover, Kxng Blanco asserts, “I need to know what’s on your mind / Do you think bout me when we not together?” The song reminds me of “Playing Games” by Summer Walker and Bryson Tiller along with many other recent male-female Rap-R/B collaborations.
Adeboye Adeoye is a student at the University of Georgia studying Economics, Sociology, and Music Business. As an avid playlist maker, he always looks for connections and themes across albums and genres. He listens primarily to Hip Hop but enjoys R&B, Neo-Soul, Pop, Afrobeats, Indie, and more beyond that as well.