Thursday, June 17, Iâ€™m at the 2004 Flagpole Music Awards show, which overall is pretty darn cool. Honorable mentions go to Don Chambers + GOAT who rock with rustic oomph, then Park Bench Trio who rock with blues-rock power and finally the house band Dan Nettles Band who are just fun. Then thereâ€™s Canopy, the aerial performance artists who are fantastic in every sense of the word as they mesmerize us with their artistry, upper-body strength and stunning sensuality.
Friday and itâ€™s 8 p.m. Iâ€™m in front of the main stage by the 40 Watt watching Daisy, the standard long-running Athens all-male, punk rock quintet. Well, standard except that lead singer David Zwart is wearing a gold toga/dress and black boots. Iâ€™m thinking about how the outdoor stage is such a different animal to playing indoors, especially considering itâ€™s still daylight. So much of the sound just blows past you and unless youâ€™re already a fan of the material being played, it seems harder to get into. Nevertheless, Daisy does what it does well, and Iâ€™m starting to rock in my black plastic chair. Off on the side stage, I find the country rock of Joseph Plunketâ€™s The Weight a bit more audibly accessible before returning to the main stage for the headlining act Camper Van Beethoven. Having hardly had time to wash the mud out of their clothes after performing at the Bonaroo Festival in Tennessee, the California five-piece is glad to be on clean, hard ground. Iâ€™m struck first by how much David Lowery sounds like Billy Bragg with the roots-rock backing of three guitars, drums and a violin. About six songs in, CVB plays its obligatory hit “Take The Skinheads Bowling” to a mild reception from the crowd. Next, roots-rock is left behind for more traditional Irish, Pogues-sounding folk rock and then back into up-tempo alt-rock, sounding just a little Pink Floyd. Overall, interesting, but nothing to write home about.
My enthusiasm wanes and I head for Tasty World. Inside the crowd is thick and the humidity thicker; local country rockers Grand Fury have the hoe-down well in hand. In case you are one of the few who donâ€™t know and want to join the many who do, Iâ€™ll tell you, Grand Fury are “the business” when it comes to seriously blues-country-infused-rockinâ€™-fun. Itâ€™s time for my second hit of Jeff Andrewsâ€™ Ãœberbuzz, after recently hearing the man play solo at the old Lunch Paper. Tonight though, Ãœberbuzz is a full band including Count Kellam and other talented local musicians, who are attempting to recreate the waiting-to-be-released album Pink and Blue Redemption. Andrews looks a little edgy, like a man who has a lot vested in whatâ€™s about to go down and wants to hit the nail on the head. Right from the rockinâ€™ outset (“Box Out The Rebound”), he does just that. The beefed-up beginning, including a new song, serves to run some nervous energy out of the bandâ€™s system and Ãœberbuzz moves into a couple of easy-walking toe-tappers like “Pendulum Swing.” The intensity of the performance drops a little, Iâ€™m standing by the mixing booth but thereâ€™s no one at the helm and I wonder if the mix is all it could be? I know this music is designed to be a little more melodic and Kellamâ€™s guitar and vocals seem lost in the mix. The things that stay in my mind after the show are Andrewsâ€™ charismatic enthusiasm and lyrical hooks. The Buzzâ€™s best is still to come.
Saturday night is posted as “Rock Night” at the 40 Watt; the lineup strangely includes Summer Hymns who are anything but straight rock. Right now Sci Fu is bass-line-thumping and drum-beat-pumping with great vim and vigor. Even when I was into heavier rock, it was never of this pace and power, but these guys deserve respect for picking a style and jumping all over it with ballsy enthusiasm and a dark but mischievous stage presence. Amid the onslaught, Sci Fu drops in some traditional Transylvanian sounding vampire music, helped along by a gothic violin, just to show that they can play varying shades of black.
I canâ€™t sit here listening to Summer Hymns and say nothing, despite having already raved in recent columns. Firstly it is my considered professional opinion that Summer Hymnâ€™s absence from nomination at the Flagpole Athens Music Awards was a travesty! This bandâ€™s ability to consistently come up with new material while recording and touring heavily as well as playing local shows is astounding. Not long back from touring the West Coast with Elf Power, tonight the Hymns look a little weary or perhaps deflated and I wonder how long they can sustain the pace without greater recognition.
Sunday afternoon finds me back at the AthFest outdoor stage to see the visual delight of a man in prison coveralls and a gorilla suit joined by four lurvely ladies; itâ€™s 8-Track Gorilla and The Love Handles fronting heavy metal cover band Knight Seeker. They perform songs such as “Walk On The Wild Side” and “Robert Palmerâ€™s “Addicted To Love.” My favorite is AC/DCâ€™s “TNT.” Afterwards, I am impressed again by Leslie “Serpentfly” Helpert and her poignant folk-rap-ramblings, at one point begging the question, “Does the man in the oval room, even have a womb”?
First things first: the decision to move AthFest this year to the 40 Watt end of Washington Street was an excellent one. Whether aesthetically based or based on hotel-construction necessity, setting the outdoor festival where there are nice things like trees, stores and people helps. A lot. When AthFestâ€™s outdoor stages were located by the Classic Center the terrorist sun hijacked any pleasure the music produced; what fun is it to listen to music sitting on a slab of concrete? (The answer: none at all.)
With Flicker, Clocked, Room 13 and numerous other businesses to provide both backdrop and respite, AthFest actually felt important. It felt like a community effort. There are those who complain the move reduced attendance – Iâ€™d argue that it was the advent of Fatherâ€™s Day more than anything, though I didnâ€™t notice any drop in numbers. If anything, the people who did show up stayed longer and had a better time thanks to the surroundings. There will be those who suggest moving back down Washington next year; the only correct response will be a brief silence, an awkward shuffling of papers and – if generosity permits – a polite cough before moving past such nonsense.
But the music: yes. Yes! What looked at first to be a less-than-satisfying lineup ended up, well, satisfying. Check p. 28 for a full rundown of the events at the 2004 Flagpole Athens Music Awards, an event so treasured in this town that more than 1,000 voted for the awards and hundreds came to the awards show and Athens Banner-Herald publisher Jeff Wilson vetoed any coverage in his paper. Personal bias trumps serving the readers once again! Nice one, ABH.
The night of Friday, June 18 found Don Chambers + GOAT bringing the brilliance to the Caledonia. A quick hop out and up finds Camper Van Beethoven closing out the main stage. I admit Iâ€™ve avoided the band my entire life because I think theyâ€™ve got a stupid name – itâ€™s a personal flaw Iâ€™m working to overcome – and now theyâ€™re on my Check Out More At Some Point Maybe list. But hasnâ€™t David Lowery – with Cracker headlining last year – had enough AthFest exposure?
Over at the 40 Watt, a shockingly small number of people (40? 50? Iâ€™m bad at that sort of thing) see The Wee Turtles perform a number of their Fantastic Four-themed songs: “Flame On (My Life As A Human Torch), “Clobberinâ€™ Time,” etc. The popâ€™s energetic, infectious and the type of music that the aging townie crowd loves to love but always manages to forget what time the band starts.
Thereâ€™s not enough time to run down to Tasty World for Psychic Hearts, so itâ€™s stay still for me. The club is packed for Magnapop, and, in spite her cut-off jean shorts, Iâ€™m definitely feeling the vibe that Linda Hopper shakes out. Thereâ€™s a line out the door (!!) for The Whigs, one of the few bands in town able to please the indie rock elite as well as the seldom-scene-seen college/ frat crew. And itâ€™s all deserved, because the bandâ€™s mix of Archers Of Loaf-indie rock and catchy pop hooks is some of the strongest, most accessible music in town.
Saturdayâ€™s a long one; Atlantaâ€™s Blake Rainey doesnâ€™t show up for his performance, which, yâ€™knowâ€¦ everyone else knew what time he was supposed to go on. But it turned out for the best: Claire Campbell of Hope For Agoldensummer performed an impromptu solo set highlighted by her piercing vocals. I know the trek to NuÃ§iâ€™s Space later to catch the full band wonâ€™t fit in the schedule, so everythingâ€™s good-good. At 6 p.m., Funkle Ester performs on the main stage, and I seriously question the judgment of giving an act who performs disco covers 40 minutes on the main stage, while excellent, original Athens musicians like Murder Beach, The Weight and Annaray perform 20-minute sets on the second stage. I mean, itâ€™s not like Funkle Ester are The Jesters (more on them in a bit), reuniting after 40 years or anything. But yeah: the main stage features disco covers from a local act, then Irish hip hop (Olympic Lifts), then quasi-local Left Front Tireâ€™s predictable pop-punk and finally Atlantaâ€™s Rehab, a miserable 311-ish thing calling itself a band. (Maybe the “Ath” in AthFest stands for something else, but I thought it was for “Athens.”) Granted, Iâ€™m being a little harsh, but almost 25 percent of the outdoor stage performers had nothing to do with Athens. If this were an email, thereâ€™d be a bold-faced, 48-point WTF? right here.
Saturday night, Tasty World was the place to be; club owner Murphy Wolford offset the distance disadvantage he encountered when the stages moved further away by booking an evening of Athensâ€™ buzz-worthy young bands. Upstairs An Epic At Best played heavy emo lovesongs that, while perfectly well-done, made me think that Iâ€™d already heard the Get-up Kids five years ago. And Sunny Day Real Estate seven years ago. But I do see the appeal in having a local band produce the sounds, so I dunno. I missed the always-excellent Reading, but my roommate said later, “They made me forget how hot I was. They made me forget how tired I was. They made me forget about cigarettes.” See them, post-haste, as well as We Versus The Shark. But only if, yâ€™know, you like your music and awesomeness served together.
Sunday, Sunday! The Artie Ball Swing Band? Capable and energetic. Stewart & Winfield? Huge. The Jesters, an R&B band from Athensâ€™ past? Look, if you can cover Otis Redding and give me goosebumps, then you win. Flat out, you win.
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