Dispatches from Athfest, Day 1, Thursday

The alarm clock went off at the wrong time, leaving me in a bit of a pickle. I had wanted to get off to Athens at 9 a.m. Instead, it was more towards noon by the time I left the hometown for the sights and sounds of Athens.

I put on my special Athens playlist. It’s the stuff that you like to sing really loudly in the car while driving down the highway and the slower, more pensive songs for travel through the small towns and countrysides. I’ve driven this way a lot. The playlist timing is almost perfect.

Getting into town, I parked in the College deck to run some errands. First, off to the office to see if I could get the key from my boss to her apartment. She was busy in a meeting so I hung out for a bit with my other co-workers until my cellphone started buzzing. I needed to get to Flagpole.

It was extremely hot and I hadn’t had the time to change clothes so my pants and dark shirt were sticking to me. Drenched with sweat, I managed to make it into the offices without dying. And then I find out my editor had just stepped out. UGH. So I turned around and headed downtown. I could see the streets practically melting in the heat. And my phone rang again.

It was Tony, a friend from Murmurs.com. He and his girlfriend Rebecca were waiting for me outside The Grill. Seeing as how Tony lives in Massachusetts and Rebecca lives in Pennsylvania, we haven’t met. But I knew them at first sight. What a cool thing the internet can be, bringing together friends and fans! We chatted for a bit and got some smoothies (beyond yummy) and sat down to take a break from the hot sun.

Again, my phone rings. This time it’s the Ice Cream Man wanting to set up an interview. He’ll be at Wuxtry soon so we just agree to meet there. We then set off towards Athensmusic.net headquarters to pick up some stuff for our other friend Ziona. We get up there and enjoy the luxurious air conditioning for a bit while they find our order. Nice to see Troy again. We run back to my car and deposit the goodies along with my newly purchased piece of Murmur vinyl. It’s so shiny…

We wander around a few stores until Tony points out a giant white truck parked outside. It’s the Ice Cream Man! Hooray! We catch up to him and I drag him over to the Transmet tables for a little chat. He’s filming with Dead Confederate and a few other bands during Athfest. He also spent the last night sleeping in a parking lot. Oof. He’s very charismatic though and the chat goes well.

I’m feeling bad about having to leave my pals behind again but we part ways on College and I head off to find the key to the apartment. This time, my boss is in the office and I grab the key from her. After she finishes a sketch of where her place is, I take off and head back down to Flagpole, hoping my editor is there.

And she is! Yay! I get my wristband for the fest as well as a few missed paychecks and we’re ready to go. I rush back to my car and drive to the apartment. I’ve got to get ready for the Flagpole Music Awards.

Well, I’m a mess but I try to fix up as best as I could before I head to the V.I.P. pre-party at Farm. Ken Will Morton’s playing as people are chowing down on various shrimps and cheeses. I think I spy a familiar hat…yup. Jon Bird in the house. It was great to finally meet him in person. We’ve been tweeting back and forth for a good while now.

I also run into my friends Daniel and Steven from MBUS. Beyond thrilled to see them. We’re sitting there talking about the new stickers I made up for the blog when Daniel gets a text. Michael Jackson is dead. Woah. Did not see that one coming at all. I never really cared much for Jackson’s music but there’s no denying we had just lost a powerful force in the music world.

I had to leave and go to the Morton for the presenters/Flagpole pre-party. A little bit quieter than the last party, it had some really good food. Or decent food that tasted really good because I was hungry. Not really sure about that. We were herded backstage and told to wait for our cues.

Backstage was a clusterf*** of different performers, presenters, and people who knew people who wanted to hang out. I had a great chat with a few new musicians and finally met Trent Allen in person after having interviewed him via phone. I kept going over my speech in my head. The original draft had a lot to do with sparks and passionate fire and other flame imagery. I nixed most of it due to the GA Theatre fire. It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal but I didn’t feel comfortable saying all of it.

So I waited in the wings, holding the extremely heavy Flagpole award. My editor Michelle walked out onstage to introduce me. I was so focused on not tripping over the wires that I only caught a few phrases. Something about writing and then “certified Athens Music Junkie, Jordan Stepp.” And then something entirely unexpected happened. There was a loud cheer.

I can’t quite describe what was going through my head at that moment but it was something akin to shock, joy, nervousness, and pure adrenaline. I couldn’t see a damn thing due to those lights but I heard someone yell my name from the back of the theatre. If it was you, thanks so much! I forgot most of my speech and just winged it.

I was presenting a special award to Bruce Burch and the MBUS program at UGA. Being able to do that was very important to me. Not just because I got to get up onstage and all that jazz but because I owe a lot to the program and especially Bruce. Had I had my druthers, I probably would’ve included the fact that very few people get to have a mentor that actually cares about his students. And one that sacrifices a lot of sleep and time and money to make sure they are successful. (Thanks Bruce.) Instead, I made a joke about his blackberry and the gale force winds that couldn’t rip it from his hands.

With the presentation over, I headed back to the balcony in the dark. One thing about the Morton that I dislike is the seating. Those benches are hard and very prone to splintering. Needless to say, I was pulling those splinters out of my hands and legs for a few days. The rest of the awards went well. I was a bit surprised at some of the winners but all in all it seemed fair.

I joined Rebecca and Tony outside where I was pulled aside by a Red & Black reporter, wanting my opinions on Athfest. Since when did I become an authority on this stuff? It’s mind boggling. I answered some questions and then we all went on our merry way to see Supercluster at Little Kings. I managed to stay for a little while but the laptop and sleep were calling. I bade farewell for now to my friends and headed back to the apartment, ending my first day of Athfest 2009.

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