AthFest Day 1: review + photos

Athens, a city practically synonymous with “college town,” can get a bit sleepy during the summer. One event that always livens up the Classic City is AthFest, held annually in June. The three day event stimulates the local economy and is held as a benefit event for AthFest Educates, a non-profit dedicated to music and arts education in public schools.

AthFest started off last Saturday with a spectacular show on the main Pulaski Street stage by soulful University of Georgia graduate Sam Burchfield. His excellent guitar skills were on display for an excited crowd and his claims of “get[ting] the party started” were completely warranted.

My next stop didn’t take me far — I stayed at the Pulaski stage for Ruby the Rabbitfoot, my favorite local act. I was thrilled to see her on such a big stage, but she was pretty sick with a cold and the first few songs suffered as a result. She apologized repeatedly and said she’d rather die on stage than cancel the show — the crowd seemed to really appreciate her effort and dedication even though the result was a bit lackluster at times. She seemed to get better as the set went on and her voice cleared up, and she ended her set with a brand new song. I really enjoyed the dramatic backup dancer who stood behind her with an expressionless face, occasionally dancing under a bed sheet. It was weird and it was a bit campy, but I loved it.

I briefly headed over to AthFest’s other outdoor stage, the much smaller Hull Street venue, to see Powerkompany perform an odd, trippy set that involved a lot of swaying and on stage body painting.

Next up was Roadkill Ghost Choir back at the Pulaski Street stage. The four piece act sounded great and it finally began to feel great outside as the temperatures slowly decreased from the day’s sweltering highs. I’m a sucker for dancing lead singers, and the Florida band’s Andrew Shepard fit the bill perfectly, occasionally shaking his long hair out of his face to get his groove on.

The last outdoor show was one of the night’s headliners, popular Athens locals Futurebirds. Their chill sound was a great end to the outside festivities, great fit for a summer evening concert. The five piece band switched singers frequently. I loved the trumpets — brass seems underused on today’s rock scene and I think it really adds a cool sound, especially to southern rock.

My first indoor show was Richard Lloyd, founder and former frontman of Television. I liked them a lot, though it was a little odd that Lloyd seemed to be having less fun than everyone else in the band! His guitar was really neat, had very interesting markings on it and sounded great.

I then headed over to The Globe, a small venue I had never been in before. Man, what a cool place! The downstairs area was for drinking and concert-goers had to climb up a winding set of stairs. The upstairs area had a second bar and the band was set up in a neat little cubby set off from the wall. I saw The Welfare Liners at last year’s AthFest and they were again impressive. The twangy four piece was very enthusiastic. I didn’t have a great spot to get photos from, but I’d love to catch them again with a better view.

Next up was DAISY at the Georgia Theatre. The band is from Arizona, but the show had a real sense of Athens weirdness about it…the lead singer was wearing a Naruto t-shirt, the stage was decorated in artificial daisies, and the crowd was filled with children dancing in horse and pigeon masks. The dreamy sound was a great fit for the venue, and I was really impressed by their range–some of the songs were quite funky and psychedelic, with some coming off as much harder rock.

My last set of the night (I lack my dad’s stamina) was Athens-born Cindy Wilson, best known as a songwriter and founding member of the B-52s. Her solo stuff is not my cup of tea, as I prefer the bouncier work from the B-52s, but her set was entertaining. She had great interaction with the adoring crowd, dancing and teasing front row admirers with her feather boa. The songs were quite techno-y. I loved the violinist in her lineup, I’m a big fan of artists using less popular instruments as they really tend to change the sound quite a bit and make it more unique.

Check out more photos from Athfest day 1: