Threats & Promises

Tomorrow’s News Today: A Forecast of the Athens Music Scene in 2023

Look forward to a Nirvana tribute in 2023. Courtesy of Sub Pop Records.

Well, happy New Year, y’all. As we do each year at this time, we’re going to go ahead and get the year’s news out of the way and just tell you what’s going to happen. So, welcome to the Threats & Promises recap of 2023.*

JANUARY: The Athens music scene woke up in a great mood for once, which surprised everyone. This can most likely be attributed to New Year’s Day falling on a Sunday, which means the scene didn’t even have to get out of bed until 3 p.m. or so. 

FEBRUARY: Ah, February. In any rationally functioning society, this would be an annual month of economic reckoning for those who went for broke during the holidays. But in the spirit of kicking the can down the road, we in Athens celebrated Valentine’s Day in style. First, the whole scene met up for the prix fixe menu at The National, where everyone was guaranteed to leave with just enough room left in their bellies to justify picking up some Krystal on the way home. But before that, everyone loaded into Hendershot’s for its annual “Bottle Of Wine Night Featuring 45 Local Pop-Jazz Singers!”

MARCH: Although things necessarily slowed down over the past few years, 2023 was the year that participating (traveling, playing, covering) in Austin, TX’s South by Southwest music conference roared back into action. Longtime participant T. Hardy Morris was briefly spotted outside the Shell Food Mart at the corner of E. 87th Street and I-35 snatching a gas receipt from the hands of fellow band member Gene Woolfolk. Known for his tax-consciousness and commitment to proper paperwork, Morris was overheard telling Woolfolk, “No way, man. No more throwing these things out. This year, we’re doing it right!” A few seconds later, as Morris was heading into the store, he was heard asking Woolfolk if he wanted plain Corn Nuts or barbecue. 

APRIL: April showers bring May flowers, and what do Mayflowers bring? Pilgrims! While the Athens musicians who go by the singular of this designation are tried and true, dyed-in-the-wool dependable rockers, member Richard Mikulka specifically embodied this ethic. If you purchased anything at the Flicker Theatre & Bar during 2023, you were served by him. As I typed this out at nearly 1 a.m., Mikulka, the “Telecaster Tornado,” was still there. And he was there the next night, and the next, and the next. If there were ever an Athens sentry, he’s it, so think about that when trying to book your band. 

MAY: This was the month that all the band folks who finally graduated from UGA decided to announce that their groups were on “hiatus.” Well, ha! As we saw many years later, the market for 40s-ish dudes “getting the band back together” wasn’t nearly as saturated as we thought. So, joke’s on us.

JUNE–AUGUST: In previous reports, the three most brutal months of summer—in a town that has, basically, nine months of summer—were broken out from one another. But in 2023 everyone finally admitted to having no idea when AthFest was actually happening, if the Flagpole awards were still a thing or knowing whether or not their shift was covered. Amazingly, or perhaps not, these three topics occupied most of the music scene’s conversation all season. Well, those and the age-old bitch Olympics whereby everyone complained loud and long about AthFest’s shortcomings, the lineup, et al. However, in the spirit of diversity, the 2023 lineup featured acts of all talent levels from the truly great to the horrendously atrocious, and I think the organizers deserve some kudos for that level of commitment.

SEPTEMBER: If May is the month when hobby bands go on hiatus, then September is the month they’re born. The paint was barely dry in the freshman dorms when one incoming student spied that guy who sits in the quad with an acoustic guitar and struck up a conversation. They’re really looking forward to playing the Panhellenic Spring Fling in 2024. 

OCTOBER: Remembering her success with the 40th anniversary celebration for R.E.M.’s Chronic Town, 40 Watt talent buyer Velena Vego decided to ride the lightning and book a live tribute celebrating the 32nd Anniversary of Nirvana Playing the 40 Watt. The original show happened Oct. 5, 1991, but it would take over three decades before tribute band Molly’s Lips was formed and ready to shine out. Ticket sales were robust and moved quickly, but nowhere was the excitement more palpable than in the 9,000 Facebook comments that simply read “I was there!” even though that was all a pack of filthy lies and everyone knew it. 

NOVEMBER: While gearing up for the holiday shopping season, Propeller Sound Recordings co-founder Jay Coyle was seen furiously digging through the bins of old albums at Wuxtry, Low YoYo Stuff and Watkinsville’s Rock Nobster and telling the clerks at each, “If you find anything here with an Athens, GA address on it, let me know, because we’re reissuing it, baby!” And that’s the origin story of why you got a brand new copy of Dayroom’s 1997 album Contagious in your Christmas stocking from your relatives that “heard you were into local music.” Similarly, New West Records announced it would release a previously unheard recording of Janis Joplin ordering sandwiches that was recorded through a closed-circuit camera at a Whataburger location in Austin, TX circa 1967. 

DECEMBER: It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Damn right, it is. It’s the month of work slowdowns and holiday hoedowns. In 2023, people reminisced about the old Flagpole Christmas albums, and a few go-getters made plans to revive the series. Now titled the Athens Album of Lights, the anticipated proceeds for the record—which were due to go to some vaguely defined charity out of town that one of the organizers knew about—were sharply curtailed. The cause was each participating band just going ahead and releasing its own track individually and according to no timeline at all. So, strike a blow for charity and teamwork, but chalk one up for the old can-do spirit of Athens and our continued celebration of individuality. See ya in 2024! 

*It’s a joke, y’all. Lighten up.