Flagpole’s Athens Music History Walking Tour

The city of Athens is lucky when it comes to music. Both its history and its contemporary scene are vital and full of energy; Athens’ music scene is young enough, however, that those involved with its germination remain essential today, making Athens unique. This two-hour “walking tour” scratches the surface of our musical past and present. Take the time to check out these historical markers, but keep in mind that some of these venues, as well as many others not listed, are fostering a new generation of Athens musicians.

  1. 394 Oconee St

    • Former site of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church (AKA “The Church”).
    • R.E.M. practiced here (some members lived here as well), performing its first gig at a birthday party for Kathleen O’Brien at The Church on Apr. 5, 1980.
    • The church was torn down in 1990, and only the steeple remains.
    • Currently at this address: Steeplechase Condominiums.
  2. 393 Oconee St

    • Former site of an empty commercial sewing factory and fiberglass fabrication plant known as Stitchcraft which housed multiple practice spaces, an illegal living space, the Rat & Duck Theater performance space, Lunch Paper (a rock club) and a business called Polar Bar.
    • Early/mid-’80s DIY venue known for its wild parties.
    • Memorable performances include The Replacements, The Primates, Pylon and R.E.M.
    • Currently at this address: Waterford Place Condominiums.
    • Just up Oconee Street (go left onto Poplar St.) you’ll find all that remains of the old railroad trestle featured on the cover of R.E.M.’s 1983 album Murmur.
  3. 1016 E. Broad St

    • Weaver D’s Fine Foods serves up soul food to satisfy.
    • Owner/cook Dexter Weaver’s slogan is “Automatic for the People,” which R.E.M. used as the title of its 1992 album.
    • The starburst sign which graces the cover of Automatic for the People – which used to grace the front of Weaver D’s – was stolen in the mid-’90s.
  4. 244 Oconee St

    • Throughout the ’70s, the B&L Warehouse hosted rock bands popular with college students.
    • The I&I Club opened in 1980, hosting acts like Pylon, Guadalcanal Diary, The Killbillys and Iggy Pop.
    • Used as band practice space and artists’ studios throughout the ‘90s, the space – briefly known as Buckhead Beach – was renovated in the early 2000s to make way for office space.
  5. 112 S. Foundry St

    • Though not its original location, it’s now the home base of Flagpole Magazine.
    • The magazine was founded by Jared Bailey in October, 1987.
    • Originally, the “Colorbearer of Athens Alternative Music,” Flagpole has since evolved to cover news, politics, food, art and all things Athens.
  6. Northwest corner of Foundry Street and East Broad Street

    • A patch of grass and a driveway between Foundry Street and the Classic Center Parking Deck marks the site of Tyrone’s O.C. (Old Chameleon).
    • Opened in 1978, Tyrone’s was the de facto home of the underground scene, hosting performances by Time Toy, R.E.M., Is Ought Gap and Pylon.
    • Tyrone’s burned down in January, 1982.
  7. 433 E. Hancock Ave

    • Now an empty lot, this was the former site of the Rockfish Palace, a small club that opened in 1986 and took its name from the fish market located next door. The space has since gone on to house multiple dance clubs, most notably the long-running Boneshakers, which closed in 2005.
    • Featured local acts included Tinsley Ellis, Time Toy, Widespread Panic, Five Eight and Bloodkin, and larger acts like GWAR and Swans came through as well.
  8. 260 N. Jackson St

    • From 1982 to 1984, record store Wax Jr. Facts was a meeting place for much of the early music scene.
    • The store was co-managed by Pylon bassist Michael Lachowski.
    • Currently occupied by Jackson Street Books.
  9. 142 N. Jackson St

    • Popular band practice space from the early ‘80s through the early ’90s.
    • R.E.M., The Side Effects, Mystery Date, Love Tractor, Pylon, Roosevelt, Porn Orchard and Clamp, among others, practiced upstairs.
    • Currently home to college bar/ music venue J.R.’s Baitshack.
  10. 312 E. Broad St

    • The three-story Frigidaire building was originally built in the early 1880s as the Athens Opera House. From 1942 to 1996, it was a retail space for Athens Refrigeration, and in 1997 Tasty World opened its doors as a two-stage music venue.
    • Many of Athens’ newest rising stars got their start at this club, including acts like The Whigs and Modern Skirts. Acclaimed national acts like The Shins, Kings of Leon and The Hold Steady have also graced Tasty World’s stage.
  11. 382 E. Broad St

    • The fourth location of the 40 Watt Club, known as “the 40 Watt Uptown.”
    • Opened in 1984, the club – the largest in town at the time – booked acts like The Replacements, Kilkenny Cats, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Time Toy, Dreams So Real, Jason & the Scorchers and Bad Brains.
    • Closed in March, 1987, the space is currently occupied by the University of Georgia’s Department of University Architects.
  12. 229 E. Broad St

    • Former home of Foreign Legion record store which carried hip and hard-to-find underground vinyl and press.
    • The upstairs storage room occasionally served as a performance space – The Cramps, for instance, played upstairs in December, 1979.
    • Foreign Legion became Chapter 3 Records, and restaurant Five Star Day Café now occupies the space. Popular late-night chow stop The Grill was also located here, and paid the way for many local musicians.
  13. 100 College Ave

    • On the upper floor of what is now Starbucks Coffee, Curtis Crowe and Paul Scales opened the 40 Watt Club East, the second incarnation of the 40 Watt Club, in 1980.
    • The Side Effects and Love Tractor performed the first two nights, and R.E.M. played several gigs.
    • Clubgoers would sometimes have to enter through the Blimpie Base sandwich shop downstairs.
  14. 114 College Ave

    • During the late ’80s and early ‘90s, this second location of Downtown Records featured releases from national artists, but also stocked local music.
    • In April 1995, local musician Monte Koster opened Lunch Paper, a bar and venue that became a focal point for Athens’ service industry/ punk scene. The bar hosted memorable performances by Jucifer, Don Chambers, Polemic, Exit 86, Cafeteria and the Drive-By Truckers.
    • Lunch Paper relocated to Washington Street in 2004, but has since closed. At press time a bar called Chapel fills the space, but the name may soon change again…
  15. 128 College Ave

    • Featured in the 1986 film Athens, GA– Inside/Out, this location housed music shop Ruthless Records.
    • In 1989, Ruthless became Downtown Records before moving to 114 College Ave.
    • Occupied for a long time by the popular Blue Sky Coffee, Walker’s Coffee & Pub is in this location now.
  16. 171 College Ave

    • On Halloween night, 1979, Curtis Crowe’s band Strictly American played the first show at the first location of the 40 Watt Club.
    • The club was named by a guest who commented on the fact that the entire space was lit by a single 40-watt light bulb.
    • It was located on the second floor above what was Schlotzsky’s Deli; currently that space is occupied by The Grill.
  17. 197 E. Clayton St

    • Established in 1975, Wuxtry Records became known for its wide selection of mainstream and obscure vinyl, CDs, cassettes and publications.
    • The store has employed a number of famous local musicians. Among others, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, the Olivia Tremor Control’s John Fernandes and Brian Burton, AKA DJ Danger Mouse, have all sold records there.
    • The Athens Music Museum, reopened after renovation in 2005, briefly inhabited the corner store that is now part of OK Coffee, while Wuxtry has expanded to the space next door.
  18. 140 E. Clayton St

    • Local musicians Jim Stacey, David Levitt, Mindy Jaques and Chris DeBarr opened The Downstairs in mid-1988, as a café with an eclectic schedule of live music.
    • Local and national acts such as Smoke, No Man, Porn Orchard and The Woggles performed, as did the band known as Synthetic Flying Machine, which would go on to become Olivia Tremor Control.
    • Resold, renovated and re-opened in 1995, music club DT’s Down Under also featured local acts. Now the space is home to Rye Bar, where DJ and record collector Kurt Wood spins vintage vinyl every Thursday night and numerous other local bands and DJs play as well.
  19. 215 N. Lumpkin St

    • From 1978 to 1981, the first incarnation of the Georgia Theatre hosted acts like The Police, The B-52s, Tyrone Davis, Muddy Waters, John Cale and Tom Waits.
    • Due to financial concerns, the site stopped booking live music during much of the ’80s, becoming a movie house called the Carafe and Draft.
    • Re-opened by Kyle Pilgrim and Duck Anderson as a live music venue in late 1989 (almost 100 years after it was originally built!). The Georgia Theatre has become a regional music powerhouse; performers have included Widespread Panic, David Allen Coe, Wynton Marsalis, Ice-T, Phish, The Dave Matthews Band, Hootie & the Blowfish and many, many local bands. The Theatre’s currently owned and operated by longtime scenester Wilmot Greene, who has continued to make substantial renovations.
  20. 184 W. Clayton St

    • This pre-scene bar and music club called The Last Resort opened in 1966.
    • The club featured bluegrass, folk, jazz bands and stand-up comedy. Guadalcanal Diary debuted here, and performers included The B-52s, Steve Martin, Randall Bramblett, Townes Van Zandt and Jimmy Buffett. Gamble Rogers, Elizabeth and Terry Melton and Brian Burke were among the notable locals to set up residence.
    • The club closed in the late ’80s, and in 1992, The Last Resort Grill opened as a moderately upscale restaurant.
  21. 256 W. Clayton St

    • On April 19, 1980, R.E.M. played its first club gig here at the 11:11 Club (named because that’s when it opened every night). The police raided the show during the performance and closed the club down for lack of a proper license.
    • Both the third and the fifth locations of the 40 Watt Club, between 1982 and 1984 and between 1987 and 1990, respectively.
    • Currently occupied by the Caledonia Lounge, a home to Athens’ indie rock scene since the mid-’90s.
  22. 285 W. Washington St

    • In April, 1990, Jared Bailey and Barrie Greene moved the 40 Watt Club to its present location in the old Furniture Mart building.
    • The first show at the club featured a reunited Pylon and Flat Duo Jets.
    • The club continues to host a wide variety of local, national and international bands; performers have included Pavement, Run DMC, Flaming Lips, Elf Power, Mike Watt, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, RJD2, Sebadoh, The Fall, Bright Eyes and Vic Chesnutt.
  23. Intersection of Washington Street and Pulaski Street

    • On April 19, 1998, Widespread Panic set up a stage between the 40 Watt Club and Sunshine Bicycles. The show is documented on the Panic in the Streets DVD.
    • As the biggest outdoor event in Athens history, the audience exceeded the city’s predictions of 35,000; estimates of actual attendance range from 60,000 to 120,000.
    • In 2004, due to construction at its original location at the other end of Washington Street, the annual summer music and arts festival AthFest moved to the this location, where it remains.
  24. 243 W. Washington St

    • Currently the bar The Max Canada, for much of the early 2000s this space housed the bar/music venue known as The Engine Room.
    • In its multiple rooms, local bands performed – from the punk of Hunter-Gatherer to the rock of **** Volcanic to the jazz of the SS Puft Trio – and its late night dance parties were well-attended and long-running.
    • Stand between the front-of-the-house pool tables and the windows, and you’ll fill the same space Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum did in 1997 when he recorded a live album when this location housed a Jittery Joe’s coffee shop.
  25. 223 W. Hancock Ave

    • Joey Tatum, owner of the Manhattan Café, a bar popular with local musicians, opened Little Kings, for receptions, parties and live music in 2004.
    • On August 5, 2004, Pylon made its big public reappearance here, only announcing their intentions the morning of the show. Hundreds of people turned up to catch the band’s first show in 13 years.
  26. 195 W. Washington St

    • The Morton Theatre, one of America’s first African-American built, owned and operated vaudeville theaters. Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong and Ma Rainey performed during the theater’s golden era.
    • Several local musicians, including Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson of The B-52s, worked in the El Dorado (later The Bluebird) restaurant in the southwest corner of this building in the 1970s.
    • After extensive renovation in the early ‘90s, the theater re-opened as a community performing arts center and hosted the first Flagpole Athens Music Awards in June, 1999. The venue continues to host the Awards Show, which kicks off AthFest every year.
  27. 140 E. Washington St

    • Georgia Theatre proprietors at the time Kyle Pilgrim and Duck Anderson bought the Uptown Lounge in April, 1984, converting it into a prime live music venue. By 1987, the Uptown was the largest club in town. It closed in 1990.
    • Widespread Panic started out at the Uptown in the mid-‘80s as a weekly house band, and national acts such as The Pixies, Soul Asylum, Jane’s Addiction, Dinosaur Jr. and Black Flag all performed here. R.E.M. also played a few unannounced shows.
    • During the ’90s, the space housed various rock clubs and discos (The Chameleon Club, The Shoe Box, The Atomic Music Hall). In its time, the Atomic was one of the local scene’s most vital clubs. The space is now occupied by the Copper Creek Brewing Co., with the brewing tanks located where the stage was.
  28. 137 Hoyt St

    • This old train depot area was occupied by several bars, music venues and cafés throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.
    • TK Hardy’s Saloon opened in 1971 and hosted classic rock and country bands. Locomotion was a short-lived coffee house and screening room open in 1975. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Flying Buffalo hosted a weekly series of acoustic shows. The Grit opened as a tiny restaurant/ coffee house/ performance space/ hangout in 1986 and hosted many underground acts. Hoyt Street North booked indie rock and punk bands in the early ‘90s.
    • The entire building burned down in 1996; a few remnants of the structure’s foundation remain. The Athens Community Council on Aging is now located in the complex.
  29. 199 Prince Ave

    • In what is now the kitchen of The Grit vegetarian restaurant, the Coffee Club once provided musicians and artists with a hangout in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
    • Boat Of, a band featuring Mike Greene (The Fans), Michael Stipe and a naked drummer, performed once or twice.
    • The second incarnation of The Grit opened in May, 1990. The independent film company C-00, run by filmmakers Jem Cohen, Jim McKay and Michael Stipe, kept offices upstairs here.
  30. 156 Grady Ave

    • While living here in the 1990s (he’s since moved, so don’t go knocking!), Jeff Mangum wrote the songs for the 1998 Neutral Milk Hotel album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
    • At this house, Elf Power recorded its breakthrough album When the Red King Comes between 1996 and 1998.
    • Kicked out of its former space, the Olivia Tremor Control took over Mangum’s bedroom to diagram and mix on 8-track its 1999 sophomore album Black Foliage: Animation Music.
    • Currently at this address: private residence.
  31. 653 N. Milledge Ave

    • Site of the first public performance by The B-52s, who played a Valentine’s Day party the night of February 14, 1977.
    • The band performed the songs “Planet Claire,” “Killer Bs” and an early version of what would become their hit “Rock Lobster.” Due to crowd enthusiasm, the band then performed the exact same set, all over again.
    • Currently at this address: private residence.

Contributing research from Chris Hassiotis, Jared Bailey and Ballard Lesemann.

Thanks to Kurt Wood, William Orten Carlton, Greg Reece, Michael Lachowski, Jeff Walls, Barrie Buck, Michelle Gilzenrat, Tony Eubanks, Curtis Crowe, Andrew Rieger, the late John Seawright and all the others who contributed information.