An Ode to Eddie’s Attic—a Room for Listening

Music Features Billy Pilgrim
An Ode to Eddie’s Attic—a Room for Listening

Just before my 21st birthday, my two best friends went to see my favorite band without me. It was a 21-and-over show, and my lame, law-abiding ass didn’t have a fake ID. And while I was jealous not to get to see Vigilantes of Love for the hundredth or so time, it was the venue, Eddie’s Attic, and the opening act, Kristian and Andrew, they couldn’t stop talking about.

Last Friday night, one of those friends and I saw the same act (long since redubbed Billy Pilgrim) at Eddie’s more than three decades later, this time with our respective wives. It was a gloriously nostalgic evening, and it had me thinking that even though so much has changed—in our lives, in the lives of Kristian Bush and Andrew Hyra, in the world around us—Eddie’s has remained wonderfully unchanged in so many ways.

My first trip to the upstairs music venue in downtown Decatur, Ga. was the day I finally turned 21, just a few months after the show I missed and just a year after Eddie Owen opened the place. Those same two buddies took me to see local singer/songwriter Matt Brown. I purchased my first legal bottle of Rolling Rock and we settled in to games of pool in the back room, where we could hang out and chat (“We encourage a listening atmosphere in our music room,” a fading banner on stage still reads, “but have set up our patio for partying and being rowdy.”) At one point, I left them to go listen to the show.

At one point, Brown asked if anyone had a request. I called out “Vulnerability,” my favorite song from Brown’s band Uncle Green. He said he couldn’t really sing that without backing vocals and, with the crowd’s urging, roped me into joining him on stage. I’ll never forget the looks on my friends’ faces when they walked into the room searching for me before noticing me singing on stage.

Not long after, I’d catch my first Kristian and Andrew show, one of just many favorites I’d see over the years in the roughly 150-cap room. Eddie’s helped launch the careers of Shawn Mullins, John Mayer, Collective Soul and Sugarland, who all played acoustic sets on the small stage before moving on to packing theaters and arenas across the world. But most of the shows I saw were singer/songwriters you’ve undoubtedly never heard of but who delighted the small, appreciative crowds who came for a night out of music and storytelling.

On several occasions, I got to serve as a judge of either the weekly open mic night or the semi-annual Eddie’s Open Mic Shootout, where the past 26 weeks of winners would compete for $1,000 prize. Previous winners included then-unknown John Mayer, Jennifer Nettles and Tyler Childers. If I could have swayed my fellow judges in the final round, that list would also have included a teenaged Faye Webster (seriously, I couldn’t believe it was even a question).

After I got married, moved away and returned to Atlanta to start Paste, one of my favorite Eddie’s shows was when my wife and I took our kids to see a young Brandi Carlile. My youngest slept through most of it, but the older girls listened, as rapt as the rest of the quiet, packed room. The next time we’d all see her in concert would be at the 2,600-capacity Tabernacle.

But the musician I’d see most at Eddie’s would be Kristian Bush—in those early days as Kristian and Andrew, then as Billy Pilgrim, and in his annual Thanksgiving solo shows over the years. Jennifer Nettles opened for one of those Billy Pilgrim shows, and the two would go on to form the multi-platinum-album-selling, Grammy Award-winning, Sesame Street-hosting country duo Sugarland. And it was those shows I was most remembering last Friday.

Because Bush and Hyra are still as entertaining as they’ve always been. “We’ve been talking all week about how we’re old,” Bush joked with the crowd. “But we’re not old. You’re fucking old. We’re still up here playing a show.”

And while their paths diverged after Billy Pilgrim broke up after getting dropped by Atlantic and releasing a handful of independent records—Bush experiencing stardom with Sugarland and writing hits for other country artists, Hyra still playing music solo and with his band Smokin’ Novas, but taking a long break working as a carpenter—there’s something magical about the two of them on stage, this night joined by Kristian’s brother Brandon Bush on keys. Hyra’s voice still roars on tracks like “Hula Hoop” and “Get Me Out of Here.” Kristian is still churning out perfectly crafted songs, and their voices still blend in delicious harmony.

They played so many songs we heard in the same room 31 years ago, adding in a little Grateful Dead and a new Kristian Bush song called “Longneck with Jesus” (“If he don’t like Bud Light, he can turn it into wine,” Bush sings on the “straight-up mother fuckin’ country music” song). At one point Hyra shared that this week marked five years since the death of his younger sister Annie before playing a song that she used to sing on. Many of the songs predated the Atlantic signing, originally released on a CD that the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray put the money up to press. “One of my proudest moments was showing up at Amy’s house with a check a couple years later,” Bush told me after the show.

That’s just one example of what a community Eddie’s Attic has always been for the folk scene in Atlanta and a tribute to founder Eddie Owen. He sold the Attic back in 2002 to Nettles’ then-husband Todd Van Sickle, who has since sold it to longtime Atlanta concert promoter Alex Cooley and his partner. Owen opened another musician-centric venue, the Red Clay Theatre in the northern suburbs. But Eddie’s continues to be a haven for up-and-coming performing songwriters and veteran touring folk musicians alike. Some of the posters on the wall promoting upcoming shows are for artists like Clay Cook, Kim Richey, Jimmy Webb and Angie Aparo, who’ve been playing Eddie’s Attic for decades. Others are for newcomers hoping to be the next John Mayer or Sugarland. And July 19th will mark the 54th edition of the Bi-Annual Open Mic Shootout.

And you’ll still get shushed by your neighbor for talking too loud. Every town should have an Eddie’s Attic.

Watch Billy Pilgrim play a Paste session at the Atlanta Paste HQ in 2020:

Josh Jackson is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Paste Magazine. You can find him on twitter @joshjackson or see his photos of neighborhood birds on Instagram @atl_birds

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin