Dispatches from Athfest: Day 4, Sunday

Leaving Athens never easy, I saw the light fading out..

I woke up to the sound of my cell phone alarm blaring U2’s “Vertigo” right into my left ear canal. Sorry Bono. Love you and all that but jeez, not what I needed at 9 a.m. I was due to leave Athens at 8 p.m. sharp, regardless of the show, in order to make it back in time for driving to work in the morning. Which meant I’d probably miss some of my buddy Randall’s show. CRAP.

I didn’t want to leave that couch. I had never known such comfort as that couch! I gathered up all my stuff from around the apartment and had it ready for me to leave. I left behind some cookies and lunchmeat. Took the bread. And the Cokes.

I called myself being on time as I drove back into the Parking Deck. Wait, it’s not monitored on Sundays….SCORE! I did a small free parking cheer and started down the stairs to the kiosk where my friends were waiting to go on the Athens Music History tour.

As I walked into view, they burst into applause, starling the other couple waiting for the tour. I rolled my eyes.

“What?! I’m on time.”

“We know. But you’re famous! So we clapped!”

“Not famous. Have spoken to famous people. Not famous.” I glared.

“Oh come on. Tony was going to have us bow but none of us felt like getting up.”

“Great. So you acknowledge my so-called fame but don’t think it’s enough to get up?”

“Nope.”

The day would only get sillier from there.

Our guide for the tour was none other than Side Effect Paul Butchart. Tony was especially happy about this. His high school teacher had given him a Side Effects album once and he loved it. Paul showed up and began taking roll when I heard him say “Is K.O. here?”

Wait. THE K.O.? Legendary WUOG Dj who instigated the birthday party that launched the Side Effects and R.E.M. into music history K.O.? I had met her at a few WUOG functions and a looong time ago during this “R.E.M. in Perspective” thing at the Chapel where she acted as a panelist. Sure enough, Miss Kathleen O’Brien Layson shows up not long after and we all pile on the bus. Heh. Pile on…Pylon…nevermind.

My brother had questioned why I even bothered going on this tour since I already know a lot about Athens music and the history of it. I knew that I would learn something from it. Even if it was a tiny detail, I would like to know. Plus, I’m hanging out with my friends in an air-conditioned bus listening to Paul and Kathleen talk about my favorite bands. What more could I ask for?

The tour started out with some explaining of the original downtown layout. The original sites of the 40 Watt, 11:11 Koffee Klub, and we saw the parking lot that was once Tyrones, O.C. All the while, we were listening to select songs from past Athens bands. Paul had a bunch of photos and a few R.E.M. books that I’ve never seen before to help demonstrate what was going on. Eventually we came to a stopping point where we all got out of the bus and stepped bravely into the scorching heat: the trestle.

Now, having been on top of that thing (FYI, NOT a good idea), it was nice to see it from the side again. Paul demonstrated the right angle to snap photos from (insert camera noises here) and we moved on. Off to see the place where K.O. used to live…the church. Or, rather, what’s left of it.

Now here’s where having K.O. along gets interesting. Since she had decided to come with the tour, she had a really good idea of where exactly all the rooms were. We watched as she took us through where the fabled closet was. You had to crawl through it and past a hole in the wall to get to the “stage” area. Also of interest, the steeple was haunted. The legend goes that three young children had been buried under the alter. Creepy. And unbelievably cool. I agree with Kathleen. If someone’d offered me a room there, I would’ve jumped at it.

We were all pretty amused by this and hopped back on the bus while Paul and K.O. discussed different amusing things they had done in the past. One of the more interesting things we learned about R.E.M. was a possible name meaning. Seems The Stiper admired an artist that signed his work “R.E.M.” Not one I’d heard before.

We also went into the graveyard and saw the graves of Michael Houser and Ricky Wilson. I didn’t feel quite right going out and taking pictures. I’ve been lost in that graveyard before, a la “Stumble,” and I’ve seen the graves before. I dunno. It just seems like there’s something sacred there that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just my thoughts. I guess just knowing what they had done during their lives and wondering at what might’ve been…

We continued on throughout various parts of Athens, got out at the street of stars and walked around. Saw the ol’ Buck Manor and where K.O. got thrown off the porch during a meeting of the Gentleman’s Club, comprised of some well known male Athens musicians. “I have seen every member of R.E.M. naked and they have seen me,” smirked Paul from the front of the bus. K.O. nodded knowingly while some of the rest of us squirmed in our seats. They say that fandom knows no bounds. Actually, yes. Yes it does. There’s a big fat line of “Didn’t need to know that.” And I’ll leave the mental images to you. Ick.

The tour took a turn to the site where the back of Murmur was shot. Paul had cleared out some of the kudzu so you could compare the album with the real place. Across the track was the location of one of R.E.M.’s photoshoots. “I’ve had people recreate this photo, spend a long time getting in position and all that” he grinned.

I, being the incredibly cool person I am, said “Let’s do that!” NERD! So Rebecca, Ziona, Tony and I spent a bit discussing who would be who in the picture. All I can say is, a resounding “NOT MIKE!” came from us all. Sorry Mills. It’s a long and complicated inside joke…

The rest of the tour went very well with me finally figuring out where the E6 house was. All in all, a great tour. A little lacking on the Widespread and E6 fronts but that’s to be expected. There’s just SO much R.E.M. stuff around, it’s hard to get all of it in. We arrived back at the kiosk and Tony immediately took off sprinting to his car. He had driven all the way from Boston with an album from the Side Effects, hoping to get it signed. Needless to say, Paul was very happy to do so. And even posed for pictures.

We stuck around a while longer, discussing WUOG with K.O. and Paul. I’m hoping to get them both up to the studio at some point for guest dj spots. It would be sweet revenge for K.O. She was one of the many volunteer djs who were fired from the station in the 80s. She even switched her major because of it. This kind of guest dj spot would be an epic middle finger to the administration. We’ll see what comes…

We parted ways with our new friends and walked downtown to get smoothies. It was blistering at this point. Or at least it felt like it since we’d spent the last few hours riding on a nice, cool bus. We grabbed the drinks and headed over to Cine for a brief showing of some R.E.M. clips and Athens, Ga: Inside Out.

Thanks to Tony’s incredible memory of all things R.E.M. and his talent with the youtube search engines, we’d seen most of the 1984 footage before. There were a few clips we could’ve quoted verbatim. For me, it was nice to just be incredibly nerdy about R.E.M. for once without worrying about the creepiness factor. Then began the main attraction. I realized that the last time I had seen this movie, it was with Ort. At Athfest. Wow. I think it’s quickly becoming a tradition.

I also quickly realized that I hadn’t seen the movie since Randy died. It was a bit hard to watch those clips of Pylon and Vanessa and Michael. Knowing that they would get back together (several times). I suppose that I had just tried to keep the idea of “No more Pylon” out of my mind. I didn’t know Randy as well as I would’ve liked but I knew Pylon. They were why I fell in love with this town and its music. And to know that the band is done, that’s just hard for me. I kept coming back to that every time I saw someone else in the movie that I knew was no longer with us. What precious little time we have with our family and friends.

“I can’t walk down the street without 15 people stopping me to say ‘Hello!'” spoke the 1980s Ort from the screen. Naturally, Ziona found this a good time to poke me in the ribs, laughing at how I’d said nearly the same thing last night. It’s a Southern thing. You know someone, you ask them how they’re doing. Even if you don’t rightly care.

The movie ended and Tony and Rebecca were especially happy that we’d seen Time Toy and Love Tractor the night before at the Melting Point. I told them that Dexter was the exact same too. Nothing but hair and voice and untamed musical fury. It was a great show.

By this point, we were starving. The Transmet was looking better and better as we neared it. Pizza! And a long wait. During which time we found it necessary to go over the sightings from the night before. I also had stuffed a bunch of the Athfest Flagpoles in my bag because I wanted to keep them for my own article records. I made sure to tear out a page and run back to the ‘Met where our pizzas were just about to be served. They were so hot and cheesy. Man, that was a good meal.

I was a bit anxious to get up to the Main Stage. Dreams So Real was coming up and I would be utterly crushed if I had to miss it. It was extremely interesting to talk to Trent Allen about the band for Flagpole (and the later Athfest Podcast). Finally got to see and meet the man at the Flagpole awards. Now I was going to get to hear him play! We headed toward the stage and stopped at the Athensmusic.net booth so Rebecca could get the Modern Skirts’ first album.

I headed towards the backstage and ran into the second person I ever interviewed. Mr. Randall Bramblett! He was chilling out and unloading some stuff with his band. I chatted with him for a bit, knowing I wouldn’t get to see all of his show. Twitter Buddy Jon Bird was floating around as were a LOT of people. And many of them clutching DSR vinyl and wearing DSR t-shirts. The anticipation was growing.

I hopped into the media pit and turned on the camera in time to get the very first song, “California.” My god, it’s like the last decade never happened. People were singing every line and from my vantage point, it looked like the guys in the band were having just as much fun!

Randall joined them for a song and then they launched into the rest of their set. I rejoined my friends only to have Ziona roll her eyes when I started singing along with “Jericho.” I can’t help it Z. Do you know how many times I’ve spun that album, waiting to hear it live? We all danced a bit and were blown away at the roar of approval the band received as it left the stage. I ran up to the guys and asked them to sign the article I’d written about them. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I turned and saw Bruce Burch headed our way, ready to announce Randall Bramblett as the closing act of Athfest. I couldn’t really think of a better way for my Athfest to end. My friends and coworkers were all around, watching my favorite songwriter perform an electrifying set. I had to leave then to get back in time to go to work early in the morning. I hugged my dear friends goodbye, so glad to have finally met them all. I saluted Randall who nodded as I passed and made my way to the car. The sounds of Davis’s guitar piercing through the air. I rode home in silence, just trying to remember it all…

If I had to try and describe what I did in the past week at Athfest, I could only say that it was all like a dream. I met friends whose faces I’d never seen, reconnected with some good buddies who I missed terribly, saw incredible performances from bands I hope to one day see make it big, and spent a lot of time falling back in love with the town that I hold close to my heart. Its music is the soundtrack of my life, its people, my family and friends, and its spirit, my goal. Now off we go to dream it all up again…

– Jordan Stepp
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2 comments

  1. i did not roll my eyes when they started playing jericho!!!

    god, i miss athens. i wish i was getting to spend the next four years there.

  2. well written assessment – looking forward to the next installment

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