I See Georgia: Athfest
The Bear Team has a lot of experience with Athfest, in both official and unofficial capacities. We’ve often attended the annual festival, and despite the customary throngs of inebriated revelers, severe thunderstorms, and soaring temperatures, we’ve usually had a good time. Before we dive into the 2017 edition, a little background.
Athfest is a three-day music and arts festival to benefit music and art education. It takes place in late June, in our hometown of Athens, with both free outdoor stages and nightly club shows. Held yearly since 1997, the festival routinely features some of the best local bands, as well as visiting artists from all over the Southeast and beyond.
For years, we’ve cherry picked the bands we wanted to see each year. Between young upstarts, popular local favorites, and bigger, more well-known headliners, there were always at least a few must-see performances. So, we’d brave the elements and head out, slathered in sunscreen and drinking water by the gallon in an attempt to stay hydrated.
In addition to going as fans, we’ve also been involved in other ways. For several years, Dena participated in the artists’ market. The market is held on Washington Street, within site of the main stage. To say that it was hot would be akin to saying the ocean is deep. Despite having a tent to provide shade, we would spend the entire day covered with sweat and uncomfortable.
Artists received a free wristband which granted entry into all of the club shows, though we were always too drained to take advantage. It was so hot that in consecutive years, Dena was driven home by heat exhaustion and I was laid up with laryngitis. Plus, some years sales were good, while others they were not.
More recently, Dena has been covering Athfest for a website called “We Heart Music,” a gig that also grants free entry into all shows. The main difference from before is that she can now actually make it to the shows! Substituting a camera and note pad for a tent and a fan; not a bad trade off!
You can find Dena’s coverage of Athfest 2017 at
Due to the costs involved in attending the club shows, I ordinarily stick mainly to the free outdoor stages, supplementing with a club show or two. Such was the case this year, as I spent the week leading up to the festival making plans for the bands I didn’t want to miss. My experience with Athfest 2017 began on Saturday afternoon, when we headed for Little Kings Shuffle Club to take in a set by Atlanta garage rock favorites MammaBear.
We parked in the parking deck and entered the club, where we ordered Tropicalia drafts and took our place in front of the stage. MammaBear, fronted by high-energy singer/guitarist Kyle Gordon, took the stage and commanded the room for the next half hour. The band’s reverb-heavy sound worked well in the small space, and the crowd tapped its feet and nodded along to every song.
We remained at Little Kings for a couple of hours, sipping a few more beers and listening to some other bands, including an impromptu acoustic performance in the middle of the crowd. Eventually, we headed home for dinner and a break before the night’s festivities commenced.
As nightfall approached, Dena headed back downtown to check out an eclectic group of bands she would be covering for the website. But for me, Saturday night was about one thing and one thing only, metal!
The Caledonia is a small club; even when you count the outdoor patio in its total area. Over the years, it has become the home of hard rock and metal in Athens. I’d hoped for some killer music during Athfest 2017, and as soon as I saw Lazer/Wulf on the schedule, my wish was granted.
I’d seen Lazer/Wulf, an Athens band relocated to Atlanta, during Athfest 2016 and been blown away. Now I had my chance at a return engagement. They would hit the stage at 1:00am. Not wanting to risk the club hitting capacity, I left the house at 11:40pm and headed downtown.
I parked directly across the street from the Caledonia, a feat unheard of in Athens, and paid my $7 cover charge. I entered the club just in time to hit the bar for a Tropicalia before another Athens favorite, Savagist, took the stage and set about turning our eardrums into swiss cheese.
A brutal three-piece sludge metal outfit, Savagist isn’t for the casual fan. Never deviating from their hard-edged riffing, they thrashed their way through a head-banging set that only served to further excite an already raucous crowd.
By the time Lazer/Wulf hit the stage, the energy in the room was off the charts. The band, a mainly instrumental prog metal trio, is known for the intensity of its live shows, and this one was no exception. As they blazed through song after song of blistering guitar licks, rumbling bass and jackhammer drums, fans crowd surfed, moshed and generally went crazy!
The frenetic pace of the show hit its peak when a crowd-surfer somehow ended up in the rafters, first hanging by his knees, then propping on his elbows like a gymnast while gyrating his legs, which narrowly missing kicking the drummer in the head. As the show headed into the home stretch, the crowd took it up yet another notch by throwing cans and cups all over the club, drenching all of us in beer, water and god knows what else.
After the show, I headed home; exhausted but exhilarated. Dena arrived home at around the same time, and we immediately settled in to get some sleep. It had been a long weekend of music, and there was still another day to go!
Sunday dawned, bright and early, with a breathtaking sunrise coloring the sky to the East. Probably. I can’t say for sure because I didn’t see it. I woke up at 10:00am, tired but excited. Sunday would surely be the best day of Athfest, featuring two of my favorite local bands.
First up was long-time Athens mainstay, Five Eight. I’ve been a fan for a long time, and never miss a chance to catch their legendary live shows. We headed downtown at 5:00pm to catch the 6:00pm show. With a little time to kill before show time, we stopped in at the World Famous for a Tropicalia. We were just finishing our beers when the band emerged.
Playing the Hull Street stage, they launched into their set. We moved in front of the stage and were immediately engulfed by the crowd. Every Five Eight show is memorable, and this one was no exception. Front man/ guitarist Mike Mantione was his usual energetic self, jumping up and down and giving every ounce of energy to the performance. The other band members, bassist Dan Horowitz, guitarist Sean Dunn, and drummer Patrick Ferguson, fed off of Mike’s energy, playing an assortment of old favorites and new songs from the band’s forthcoming album Songs for St. Jude.
As soon as Five Eight wrapped up, we headed for the main stage to take in the final show of the festival. We hurried along Washington Street, approaching Pulaski Street just as Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ took the stage.
Those of you who have followed our ramblings around our great state from the beginning will know that these Southern rockers from Atlanta hold a special place in the world of the Bear Team. We’ve both been fans for years, catching live performances whenever we can. We even borrowed the title of this blog series from one of their songs.
Opening with deep cut “Eastern European Carny Man” from 1993’s Smoke, Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ proceeded to rock out for the next 90 minutes. Playing both newer songs like “Ain’t Waitin’ on Tomorrow” and “Jesus Christ,” and classic favorites like “Scarred but Smarter” and “Fly me Courageous,” they had the crowd singing along the whole way.
The highlight for me came when front man/guitarist Kevin Kinney launched into the 1989 hit “Honeysuckle Blue.” Of all the band’s songs, none capture the essence of Georgia like this one.
Before we knew it, it was done. As soon as Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ left the stage, volunteers began breaking it down. Athfest was over for another year. As we headed back to our car, I couldn’t help but reflect on everything we’ve seen so far during our travels: lakes and rivers, sunsets and storms, cities and towns. So many adventures, and so many yet to come.
I was filled with nostalgia but also bursting with excitement. There are so many places yet to visit. Perhaps my feelings are best summed up by Drivin’ n’ Cryin’:
Have you ever seen the Blue Ridge Mountains, boy?
Or the Chattahoochee?
Or the honeysuckle blue?
That’s it for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information about Athfest, and the bands we checked out, visit the official website at http://www.athfest.com/
Next time: We’ll venture South to check out a place synonymous with its military base. It’s the Air Force town of Warner-Robbins!