30 Years of Normaltown Flyers

(Photo/Jordan Stepp)

When I was offered the chance to help Wes Delk at the Normaltown Flyer’s 30th anniversary show, I jumped right at it. The Flyers have been an integral part of the Athens music scene since before the beginning. These are the kinds of things I had read about in “Party Out of Bounds,” old newspapers, and had heard by word of mouth, usually from Wes himself. To say the least, these are the songs and people of legend.

The names and places are written into the psyche of anyone who was there for the shows. Tyrone’s O.C., yes, but it was Allen’s where the Flyers were based. The line-up has changed over the years but has always included Brian Burke. In order to pay tribute to each of the incarnations of the Flyers, it was decided that they would play three different sets at the Melting Point. Each would feature guests and members from a certain time period in the long Flyers career.

The first trio Burke, Mike Cronic, and Greg Veale kicked things off with several country songs that showed off the deep country roots of the group. It was very heartening to see the Point completely sold out. As usual, I was the youngest there, even asked at one point by a certain guitar tech who’s kid I was. It didn’t bother me a bit. When good music is in the mix, I have fun regardless.

While I was watching the pretty lights on the soundboard, one Mr. Peter Buck was watching the show from the hostess podium near the stairs. He sat back, seeming to enjoy the atmosphere, with the occasional interruption from a friend or fan. A short chat with him revealed that he had been in the studio all week, noodling around with the band for (hopefully!) a new record. He later walked downstairs to get ready for the second set featuring himself and John Keane. I couldn’t help but grin when I saw him chatting up Bill Berry on the floor.

Buck had shown up for soundcheck earlier, finally giving me the hint that he was playing with the Flyers. I later learned that it had been announced on remhq.com. It figures that the day I don’t check that site, something like this happens. At least I was there right?

The second group of Flyers took to the stage. These are the guys who got signed to Mercury Records in the 80s. Burke, Veale, David Blackmon, and Cal Hale stepped onstage along with John Keane for two country rock songs. Then Buck got up and started strumming on that twelve string and people were dancing even harder than before. The setup allowed for a much more country/alt rock sound than the trio could produce. It was my personal favorite sound-wise. Country music is a bit hit and miss with me though I do appreciate a good song.

A sunglassed Scott McCaughey appeared to my right, watching the show with a grin on his face and a drink in his hand. It took me about twenty minutes before I saw the white shock of hair behind my shoulder and recognized Bill Rieflin and, a little further back, Michael Stipe. Some outsiders, and for a long time, myself, don’t understand that these guys were all friends waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before anyone got famous, rich, or even got a decent haircut. When they go to a show, sure, heads turn (guilty, your honor) and whispering ensues. But it’s generally understood that when in Athens, these are your neighbors, sometimes good friends. Maybe that’s why they keep coming back. There will always be the starstruck fan (again, been there) but the level of respect and normalcy is amazing.

My ipod was taken hostage in between sets to use as background music. Being the good dj, I put on some Bill Mallonee and the Vigilantes of Love along with Love Tractor and Liz Durrett. The entire time, I took pictures and some video of the events.

The third group resembled what might happen if Strawberry Flats, Randall Bramblett Band and Normaltown Flyers got stuck in a blender. with Burke, Tom Ryan, Davis Causey,and Deane Quinter. Again, a bit heavier on the rock side but plenty of country as well and a few cover tunes.

People danced into the night or talked nonstop to their table mates spread across the Point. I couldn’t help but just be in awe of how a group of friends and family can show up and support such a great band for so long. I’m loving that all these earlier bands are playing around more. I mean, I’ve seen Pylon, Strawberry Flats, Randall Bramblett, R.E.M.,Five Eight and have Dreams So Real coming up at Athfest. Truly incredible. I only hope that some of us can have that same kind of loyalty and friendship 30 years from now too.

1 Comment

  1. very, very cool, jordan. but of course, everything you are involved in is awesome. as i said before, i’ve got some high hopes for athfest. given your luck, we’ll see all four original members of r.e.m. AND a flying pig.

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