Athfest 2014: How We Went Straight to Hell (or maybe it was just summer in Georgia)

Ah, AthFest. What varied memories you inspire.

For those of you unfamiliar with this yearly happening, AthFest is a music, arts, and film festival which takes place every June in Athens, Georgia. It is a five day event, complete with food vendors, an artist’s market, and activities for kids. But Athfest is best known for its music. Well, that and the heat.

Some of you have never been to Georgia in the summertime, and are unaware of what conditions are like. Putting it mildly, to say that it is hot would be akin to saying that Godzilla is a little bigger than most lizards.

I’m not kidding about this. For several years, my wife Dena participated in the artist market. The good thing about this is that you spend all weekend at AthFest. The bad thing is that you spend all weekend at AthFest.

One year, after spending all day and evening on Saturday outside in 95 degree heat and nearly 100% humidity, I began to feel sick while helping set up our tent on Sunday. When my condition didn’t improve by the middle of the following week (in fact, it got worse. By Wednesday I could barely speak), I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with laryngitis.

The very next year, Dena began to feel weak and feverish on Saturday night. She missed the entire day on Sunday, which resulted in me attempting to man the booth on my own. This was awkward at best, though I did manage to make a few sales (including an “I need more cowbell” piece of cross-stitch embroidery). We eventually found out she’d suffered a heat stroke. After that, we dropped out of future markets.

But that doesn’t mean that the Bear Team doesn’t still get out to Athfest. While there are lots of club shows which require a cover charge, the outdoor stages are free. Being a huge music fan, every year these free shows feature at least one band performing that I want to see. In 2014, that band was Drivin’ N Cryin’.

For many years I’ve been a fan of the band from Atlanta, Georgia. When I found out that they were closing out the festival on Sunday evening, I immediately made plans to attend the performance. I’d seen them live before, but it had been more the ten years since the last time.

I spent the entire week leading up to Sunday, June 22 catching up on music I hadn’t listened to in awhile and looking forward to the show. We made it to the main stage, in its usual place at the intersection of Washington and Pulaski, just before showtime. When Drivin’ N Cryin’ hit the stage, they didn’t disappoint.

After opening with “Jesus Christ!” from their latest release, the E.P. Songs for the Turntable, they launched into the 1991 hit “Fly Me Courageous.” Though the heat was just short of bearable, we stuck it out. No one ever said the life of a fan was easy.

They played for two hours, and I enjoyed the show immensely. Deftly mixing new and old, they ran through such classics as “Scarred but Smarter,” “Whisper Tames the Lion,” “With the People,” and “Let’s Go Dancing,” before switching back to newer songs like “Ain’t Waitin’ on Tommorrow,” and “Turn.” While the older hits will always be my favorites, the new stuff was excellent as well.

The show wrapped up with two of the band’s best known hits, “Honeysuckle Blue,” and “Straight to Hell,” from 1989’s Mystery Road. Few experiences can match joining hundreds of other sweat-soaked, sunburned souls in singing the immortal line “I’m going straight to hell, just like my mama said.”

When the show was complete, we headed back to the car. When we paused for a rest, a photographer from the Athens Banner-Herald snapped a photo of us sitting on a brick enclosure which surrounded a flower bed. Not a bad way to close out Athfest for another year.

I don’t get out to nearly as many shows as I once did. While I used to hit at least four or five big head-banging, mosh pit intensive rock and metal concerts per year, now I’m lucky to make it to one. Part of the reason for this is the fact that I’m getting old. At least it feels like I am. After watching “Drivin N Cryin,” hardly the kind of show where you might hurt yourself, I woke up with a stiff neck and a hoarse voice. But whatever pain I endured was well worth it. As I said earlier, no one ever said the life of a fan was easy.

That about wraps up another edition of “Adventures of the Bear Team.” For more on my interests in music, check out my hard rock/heavy metal blog “Into the Void.” Also, be sure to check out Dena’s Etsy page “Adornments in Thread.” As always, thanks for reading. We always appreciate it. I’ll leave you with my thought for the day:

Those who are always pessimistic shall never be disappointed.

Words to live by! For all of us here at the Bear Team, see you next time!

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