Athfest Days 1-2: photos + review

Apologies with the lateness–I bought a house right around the time of Athfest and so I’ve been without internet for a bit, not to mention busy with moving and various home improvement projects!

Athfest is a weekend-long festival in Athens, Georgia celebrating local and national acts. Proceeds fund Athfest Educates, a nonprofit supporting arts and music education in local schools.

As always, Athfest was a blast this year. This is always one of my favorite festivals, though I live in Athens, so I’m maybe a bit biased. The first act I saw was on Washington Street’s outdoor stage just outside the iconic 40 Watt. Pip the Pansy (formerly known as WRENN), a self-described “rainbow pop” artist, is from Atlanta but now based out of Athens & has become one of the staples of the town’s pop scene. I caught just the tail end of her set, but as always, she was a confident blur of color and smiles. Her trademark flower-covered piano is always a hit with the crowd.

Next up was Nicholas Mallis and the Borealis on Hull Street’s smaller outdoor stage. I am an absolute sucker for dudes in feminine button ups who bounce around on stage a lot, and on that note, I kinda feel that the band was designed just for me, but there was a big crowd and everyone else seemed to enjoy it as well. Mallis has Bowie-esque vocals while still managing to sound original, and he had a ton of charisma. For the last song, he invited everyone in the audience to come on stage and dance.

I caught a bit of Hunter Morris and Blue Blood on the Washington Street stage. They’re a five piece from Athens and had performed at last year’s Athfest as well. They were less poppy on stage than their studio songs suggest, and I loved the harmonica!

Calico Vision played next at the Hull Street stage. They were named best local pop group in Flagpole magazine’s 2019 awards after winning Best Upstart Group in 2018. The keyboardist was dressed in an elaborate paper mâché egg costume that sadly fell apart from rocking too hard. You gotta love their description from their website: “a dream-pop/psych-rock band with some slacker sass sprinkled on top.”

One act I caught that was nothing like the others was Hawk Proof Rooster, playing at Ciné, but they were absolutely delightful. I stopped in just because I liked the name, but they made me smile and I ended up sticking around for a while. The group was comprised of an older couple and involved fiddling, acoustic guitar, a harmonica, and whistling. Their sound reminded me a lot of the old Oregon Trail computer game, and it made for a refreshing break from the harder rock sounds I had been hearing. 

I grabbed a quick bite to eat during most of Walden’s set, but I did manage to see their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. Walden is a four piece from Athens that’s rapidly growing in popularity with the recent release of their first EP.

I absolutely love Double Ferrari–they’re one of my favorite local bands even though instrumental metal is not normally something I’d think to call myself a fan of. They sound awesome, I love the hair metal riffs, and I had to laugh when they dedicated one song to “everyone in the audience who this is their only time of year they support local music.”

Next up was Jester at Georgia Theatre. Being the home of UGA, it can be a little difficult for bands to break out into the college band/frat-type subgenre of rock, but Jester seems to be doing well for themselves and sounds great. They drew in a big crowd and had a ton of fans in the audience.

Five Eight played next at the side stage up on the bridge at Georgia Theatre, they are another of my local favorites. They’ve been around since 1992 and seem to really love what they do, which is easy to understand when considering they’ve toured with R.E.M., The Ramones, and Cheap Trick!

I had somehow never seen The Whigs before despite living in Athens for much of their career. They’re one of the bigger national acts to come out of Athens over the last few decades, and did not disappoint. I wasn’t a huge fan of lead singer Parker Gispert’s solo act when I saw him at Athfest a few years ago, but he was magnetic when playing with the band and I found myself wishing I had more time to stay and listen. Definitely a group I’d love to catch again in the future.

My last set of Friday night was Black Kids at Flicker. This was their first and set to be only show of 2019–they’ve been around since 2006, but rarely perform live anymore and haven’t released anything in a few years. They had a ton of energy and drew in a big crowd that knew many of their songs, not just 2008’s big hit I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You (which was popular enough to make it on the TV show Glee).

First up on Saturday was The Norm–I love them! I really like bands with two frontmen–these guys are stepbrothers and one typically raps while the other sings. They played last year’s Athfest but got rained out midway through the set–it was great to see them get to actually finish all their songs. They did a cover of summer hit Old Town Road that went over really well with the crowd.

After that, I caught The Orange Constant. The Athens jam band was very popular and attracted a large audience. I dug the Talking Heads cover!

One great thing about Athfest is the wide variety of acts that are attracted. Misnomer played at the small Hull Street stage and absolutely enthralled the crowd. The nine piece brass band group was named 2018’s Flagpole Artist of the Year. They blend a hodgepodge of instrumental styles and play an unique fusion of jazz, rock, hip hop, and funk.

Saturday’s outdoor stage headliner was AFTM, which is crazy to me because it was just last year’s Athfest that I saw them do a tiny little set at Ciné, one of the smaller venues on the Club Crawl. They brought their A game this year as always, and I couldn’t believe how huge of a crowd they drew. They’ve always been big with the UGA students, and this was one of the bigger crowds I’ve ever seen in Athens, with people lined up solidly all the way down the street as far as the eye could see. 

I stopped briefly into Flicker to see Saint Syzygy. Saint Syzygy is Ian Hemerlein’s self-produced side project–he’s better known for Athens punk band Kwazymoto.

The Medium, a Nashville-based punk group, recently signed to YK Records and will soon be releasing their debut album. I caught them at the Georgia Theatre.

I didn’t have to go far for my next act, also at the Georgia Theatre…SLEEPWALKERS, a five piece with a vintage, synth-heavy sound. They sounded great and had fantastic harmonizing.

I briefly caught Daniel Hardin at the Iron Factory–at first glimpse, he mostly made me feel really old (he looks so so young!), but he has a lot of talent and potential. He’s a singer/songwriter influenced by John Mayer who recently came out with his first EP.

My night ended with a bit of a disappointment–I had three acts I really wanted to see (Pinky Doodle Poodle, Yip Deceiver, and of Montreal), but the respective venues had all filled to capacity. Definitely a bummer, but I guess on the flip side it’s good to see people out enjoying live music.