Arts & CultureKiddie Dope

Big Beats for Little Feet: Navigating AthFest With Kids

As I write this, the suck-the-life-out-of-you hot that usually settles in during AthFest hasn’t quite taken hold. But don’t worry, I’m sure it will come in time for the annual music and arts festival—because, let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be AthFest week without oven-like heat and thick humidity, right?

No matter the weather, one of the great things about AthFest is its accessibility for kids. Over the past decade or so, the offerings for kids have vastly expanded, with this year probably being its biggest yet. Not only can kids catch acts on their own kid-friendly stage all three days, but this year includes a new indoor event and lots of free activity tables.

While highlighting bands for kids out of the general lineup is a bit like naming your favorite Condor Chocolates truffle—they’re all good—I want to point out that the famous former children’s storytime reader from the Athens library performs as the Rebecca Sunshine Band at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. You can also see kids from the Nuçi’s Space Girls Rock Camp at 11:45 a.m. Saturday. Sunday afternoon’s performances are a great time to watch other kids perform, with groups from several dance and music schools taking the stage between 1:50–4:20 p.m.

When it gets to the hottest part of the day, or you just need a break from the sun, this year you can find two indoor events for kids as well. The AthFest Kids Dance Party is 1–3 p.m. Saturday at Ciné, and new this year is the AthFest Kids Open Mic, taking place at the same time at Flicker Theatre and Bar. The dance party is great for the little kids to get the wiggles out, with DJ Mahogany spinning tunes both kids and adults can appreciate. But for the older kids, the open mic event will be a fun chance to take the stage for three minutes to sing, dance, tell jokes or otherwise show off their skillz. Admission to both events is free.

The various activity tents this year feature a station for kids to make their own instruments and build things courtesy of Home Depot, plus information about kid-centric programs Extra Special People, Girls Rock Camp and Wild Intelligence, and water conservation. I’ve also been told there is a life-sized hamster ball cage, which means that’s probably where you will find my 9-year-old the entire weekend.

As far as getting through the weekend, no matter how much you prepare, you are going to be hot and sweaty, so if you just accept that fact and move on, you’ll be a lot less stressed. This means wear a hat and sunblock, pull your hair off your neck, and opt for comfort over style from your wardrobe. After attending with various ages of children over the years, I also have a few specific tips:

Babies/toddlers: Strollers can be a pain to navigate, but they also give you a place to stash stuff like water bottles, extra diapers, snacks, etc. I also recommend some sort of baby-wearing contraption—it’s good for when they’re sick of being in the stroller but can’t be trusted to run free, because it at least gets them up higher, and they can see what’s going on. Also, hit up ReBlossom on Milledge Avenue for some baby-sized, noise-reducing headphones—when it comes to ear protection, start them young.

For elementary-schoolers: Be prepared to move around. A lot. You may feel like a pinball, bouncing from one spot to the next, but sometimes that’s half the fun of AthFest (kids stage, adult stage, activity tables, bounce house, dance party, bounce house… you get the idea). Bring lots of water and snacks, and at some point in the afternoon, take a break, even if it’s just walking down Clayton Street to get something to drink that’s away from the crowds. It’s a nice way to hit the reset button. 

For middle-schoolers and up: Because it’s a music festival in a familiar place, it’s a great opportunity to let kids spread their wings a bit. Last year was the first time we flirted with letting our daughter, who is not yet in middle school, go off with friends to explore. For kids who are a few years older, AthFest is a great opportunity to pretend you’re at a grown-up rock concert—but because it’s Athens, you still have your bearings.

As someone who grew up in a small town, I envy our kids who get to experience AthFest every year. So bring the kids and the sunscreen—it takes a village to raise the next generation of townies.