AthFest – also known as Athens-Clarke County’s premiere local music festival – went down this weekend, and here is a brief VinylMag recap of some things that happened.
Another year, another exclamation that our music scene is better than yours. I mean, where else can you find this much talent in one town? Don’t say New York, Portland, Nashville, or Austin; that was a rhetorical question and those are cities. As Harry Kagan from Music Band so eloquently put it, “You can’t shake a stick in this place and not hit somebody with a drum key.” The annual summer showcase of Athens’ musicians was the best we’ve seen in recent years. The organizers put together a nice mix of Athens upstarts and established heavyweights while mixing in a few nationally known touring acts to attract one of the largest crowds to date.
Most of Saturday afternoon was spent dodging light rain showers, catching up with friends and fanboying at Caledonia Lounge’s Dirty Athens Day Party. This is truly the place to see and be seen during AthFest. You’ll pay no cover, drink cheap beer, and discover some gritty new punk band along the way. It’s a great way to ease into what is sure to be a long night. The highlights were locals Hot Fudge, Crunchy, Grand Vapids (keep scrolling), and Nashville’s Music Band. The latter put on perhaps the tightest and most energetic set I saw all weekend. Those guys are true professionals.
@grandvapids tearing up the #caledonialounge outdoor stage for #dirtyathens #AthFest A video posted by Vinyl Mag (@vinylmag) on
Then the rains came. I’m talking heavy – like Bells Beach at the end of Point Break heavy. The 50 year storm was upon us, and Manhattan Cafe was my once-in-a-lifetime wave. I rode it out and settled in for Hardy and the Hard Knocks on the Hull Street Stage where Morris played slightly more uptempo than recent live offerings. The small townie stage next to Little King’s Shuffle Club provided the perfect setting for their brand of rowdy backwoods grunge. You’d be hard pressed to find a band producing a more authentic sound than these guys.
That @deadhardy is so hot right now. #thardymorrisandthehardknocks at the Hull Street stage right now! #AthFest #my_athens A video posted by Vinyl Mag (@vinylmag) on
The day’s outdoor headliner was beloved Athens weirdos and hired hands of Montreal. I haven’t missed one of their local sets since I was transplanted to the scene three years ago, even traveling to Atlanta one night for a Terminal West date with Monsoon. Seeing of Montreal is always a treat, no matter which musicians Kevin Barnes assembles to come along on his carousel of oddities. Their live performances are often legendary, and it’s rare to see an artist that cares so much about his stage presence and interaction with the audience. That being said, this set proved that Barnes and Co. is an act that must be experienced in the confines of four walls; outdoor stages and open air just don’t do them justice – especially when you’re banging bodies with smelly, rain-soaked strangers. Maybe the years have finally caught up with me, but five songs in, I was ready to make a move.
I hustled up to the Georgia Theatre rooftop to catch the last few songs of Woodfangs. After seeing their name on nearly every flier and admittedly only hearing some of their music over the last couple years, I was excited to finally see them play. The small sample size (only 3 or 4 songs) did leave an impression. John Harry’s psych-saturated guitar and energetic, sometimes spastic vocals paired with dry banter really make for a fun listen. Rather than feed off of Harry’s energy though, the other ‘fangs seem to drift in and out, failing to make much of an impression. I’m willing to give these guys a pass, as the crowd was nearly non-existent – its tough to get up for girlfriends and old roommates. The most important thing Woodfangs provided were clever licks over an upbeat albeit dark, rhythm. After sporadic, heavy afternoon downpours forced me to slug a couple beers at Manhattan, the sound of Woodfangs ushering in the night was a truly welcome sound.
Earplugs recommended for #woodfangs rooftop set @georgiatheatre A video posted by Vinyl Mag (@vinylmag) on
With the night fully descended upon Athens, The Rooftop crowd swelled just in time for Grand Vapids: Part Two. While the Dirty Athens day set was heavy on Deerhunter with hints of Cloud Nothings, the nighttime version featured the melodic indie drone they debuted in January. Spurned Caledonia fans from earlier saw a band returning to their roots. What I saw was a band that approached the weekend with the same intentionality of every pick stroke and melody present on Guarantees. Simply put they catered to the party, showed a little more personality, and displayed some musical growth. That kind of thought and dedication to their craft is what has this band poised for a breakout. If you hoped to find Athens’ next big export at this year’s Fest, Grand Vapids is the one you want to pretend like you’ve been listening to for months.
Surfer Blood was probably the band I was most looking forward to at this year’s AthFest. After just missing them at Shaky Knees, I was curious to see how their music translated to the stage. They played all the songs you’d expect, and quite flawlessly at that. Stage presence left a lot to be desired, but the precision at which they played was refreshing to see. After seeing them for myself, my worries of them being merely a studio band were put to rest. They’re deserving of the early success.
And another one. #instantclassic @surferblood #AthFest @georgiatheatre A video posted by Vinyl Mag (@vinylmag) on
Honorable mentions go to Pujol, Dead Confederate, and The Whigs on Friday night. What can we say that hasn’t already been said about those guys.