Music is deeply entrenched into Athens, Georgia. Neutral Milk Hotel, Drive By Truckers, Perpetual Groove and even Zach Brown Band all call Athens home or received their start in the small college town. From the well-established and epochal venues to the unsuspecting, these are the five venues to visit in the Classic City. Lace up your walking shoes and get ready to travel through time to explore Athen’s historic music scene.
1. The Georgia Theatre
The facade of the Georgia Theatre is iconic to both Athens and its music scene. Bands and musicians can be seen taking a photo in front of the marquee after their performance to follow in the footsteps influential acts such as the B-52s and R.E.M. The world-famous venue has also served as the set for music videos by R.E.M. and John Mayer.
The Georgia Theatre is a testament to the resilience and unity of the surrounding community. The theatre opened in 1978, but when it burned in 2009 funding for the 2010-2011 renovations came in part from the ticket sales of a benefit concert hosted at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. Since the reopening on August 1, 2011, the stage has hosted acts such as Alabama Shakes, Goo Goo Dolls and Willie Nelson. Though the interior brick walls are slightly charred and the bars are made of salvaged wood, the original spirit and splendor of the theatre remain.
For unique views of Athens, head up the stairs on either side at the back of the first floor room. The second floor offers windows looking out from behind the Georgia Theatre lettering above the marquee. Up one more flight of stairs, the theatre’s rooftop is now a bar that additionally hosts live music in a smaller setting than the main stage.
2. 40 Watt Club
40 Watt Club was jocularly named in 1978 by owner Curtis Crowe after the single 40-watt bulb that hung from the ceiling of Crowe’s loft. Across more than three decades, 40 Watt moved six times into five locations. Before the third move, the venue first hosted The Side Effects on opening night and debuted Pylon on the next evening in the former location on College and Broad streets. In this second location the floors were reinforced with removable beams due to the wild dancing of more raucous nights.
As the premier performance space for bands such as R.E.M., or more recently, of Montreal, 40 Watt was an integral step in the journey of many national acts. From 1991 to present day, the club calls the corner of Washington and Pulaski home in the old Potters House. The final 40 Watt setting hosted a variety of major tours like Cracker, OK Go and Nirvana, and continues to host local and major bands today.
Before the stage, the club holds a spacious but intimate dance floor lined with chairs and couches for a more relaxed listening experience. Grab a beer at the bar under red lights and strands of beads before the show starts. Once the band takes the stage they just might take the bar too- be prepared. R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck’s ex-wife, Barrie Buck, owns and operates 40 Watt.
3. Morton Theatre
In 1910 the Morton Theatre opened, and the building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once at the core of the downtown black business district, the Morton Building holds a significant place in Athens’ African-American community. Acts to have graced the Morton stage include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and Bessie Smith. Today the venue hosts events ranging from film screenings and stand-up comedy acts to lectures and cultural events. Be sure to check the calendar well in advance for tickets.
4. Caledonia Lounge
The Caledonia Lounge was once the fifth home of 40 Watt and the setting of R.E.M.’s “Turn you Inside-Out” video before closing in 1990. A snug space, the indie-rock and alternative concert hall offers both an indoor and an outdoor stage in the beer garden for performance during warmer months. Shows are scheduled throughout each week and include established as well as emerging artists. Acts have included Poliça and Deerhunter as well as several unannounced shows from R.E.M.
Photo:Dino and Ptero, CC-BY
5. The Globe
This English-style pub is located across Clayton Street from the Georgia Theatre. With creaking wooden floors, a fireplace and the weekly specials written on the chalkboard hanging to the right of the horseshoe bar, The Globe is a central Athens hang out. While live music and films are sometimes screened upstairs, professors, students and community musicians alike can be found here every Sunday night for a weekly jam session. Wind down the weekend with a brew, homegrown music and the opportunity to join the fun. Don’t forget your instrument and sheet music, and check The Globe’s events for scheduled jazz nights.
Molly Harris is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.