Debate: Has the Scene Gone South?

A reader named Robb sent me this scanned image of the back of an old Flagpole he had in storage and managed to scan, albeit in two parts. According to his email, this was the last SuperJam held, mainly because most of those bands managed to move to much bigger venues than the Theatre within the next year or so.

Just LOOK at that line up! Seriously, just think of the crowds that Widespread alone can gather. Add in Dave Matthews who was one of the top grossing touring acts of the past decade, old school cred with Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jackopierce, Allgood, and the Athfest 2010 headliners Kinchafoonee Cowboys… All for fifteen bucks.

Now, one point that Robb brought up in his email really caught my eye. There really hasn’t been a massive band to come out of Athens in a good while. We’ve got a lot of up and comers and quite a few indie/underground darlings, but where are the megastars? The Truckers and Whigs are gaining speed but have yet to enter a more mainstream consciousness. I wonder what has changed over the years to make this so.

Perhaps it’s the current cycle of the big music business. Fewer bands are breaking big, therefore, statistically, fewer bands from Athens will hit the mainstream. Or maybe it’s that the underground nature of Athens has taken such a hold that a certain level of fame and fortune is looked at as something that is in direct conflict with the very nature of creativity. OR it could be that the rise of other music cities like Seattle and Austin drew attention away from the Athenian hit machine, leaving incredible artists to just toil in obscurity.

So what is it? If it’s anything at all? We wanna know what you think

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  1. Here's another interesting tidbit of information from back in those days. Most of these bands allowed 'tape trading' of live shows. They frequently allowed tapers to plug directly into the Soundboard to record the show and tapers would record on DATs. From this show, it appears from the etree database of live recordings, that the only known circulated recordings from this festival are from the DMB set, (and you can see those here: ).

    The Widespread Set is known ( see ).

    I can't imagine someone didn't tape the rest of these, but I have not found any tapes of the others. If anybody out there in the blogosphere knows of these, please let us know!

  2. First, to be honest, there isn't a single band on that lineup that I'd pay $15 to see, alone or together. I'd much rather pay $15 just to see the Truckers.

    Second, how “mainstream” is Widespread, really? Yes, they have a large following, but it is mostly a very niche-y one. I wouldn't even put them on the same plateau of common knowledge as the Dave Matthews Band.

    Third, only one popular Athens band is on that list (WSP). DMB may have played Athens a lot in the day, but they weren't an Athens band. The rest are regionally or locally known, but were not “megastars.”

    So what “megastars” are you talking about, exactly? REM and the B-52's are the only two that really come to mind — they've reached “common knowledge” status, known to hipsters and soccer moms alike. I don't know that WSP counts, as I'm not sure they have the “common knowledge” aspect of megastardom.

    So pretty much two Athens bands from 30 years ago at some point attained mass popularity. There wasn't some former wave of mainstream-popular megastar Athens acts that we're missing out on now. (feel free to let me know who I'm forgetting)

    I think you're *really* romanticizing the past here.


  3. A.B., whether one loves or hates the DMB, they have achieved major mainstream success in the 'megastar' realm. They have fallen out of that to some degree, but so has REM and the B-52s. That doesn't change the fact that those bands definitely got there. DMB's latest album was up for album of the year at the Grammys. Now, that's not an indication of true quality, but you do have to be in 'club' to even be considered. As for not being from Athens, I just don't see how that even applies. I think the point is look at who had emerged from being a big part of the Athens scene, and certainly all of these bands apply. Kinchafoonee isn't from Athens either, but the Athens scene was/is obviously a major part of their success.. and that's the case with these bands. DMB even says on the live recording that they took a break from the recording sessions of their first album to come play this festival. That kind of speaks as to how close they were to Athens to come down from NY to play one show.

    Widespread sells out big venues. They're the modern day equivalent of the Dead in that they have incredible success in selling albums and touring for not being on the radio. So they may not be megastars, but they've certainly enjoyed a career few bands get to achieve.

    In looking over this list, who has had the same commercial success as this group of bands? Anybody since? I don't see any. Again, that's not an indication of quality, its the state of the music industry. The 90's was the heyday for these kinds of alternative bands so timing has a lot to do with it. I thought the late 90's/ early 00's is when things started moving back towards pop and all these bands just fell out of favor. A blessing and a curse to be sure. I'd love to see bands like the Truckers break through.. but I just don't know that the industry will let them today.

    This festival was fantastic, and I felt it was sad that it wasn't possible to do it anymore. I was in Athens for 4 more years after this, and I always wished for another event like this. 13,000 people. When was the last time routine Georgia Theater headliners could pull this kind of gathering? I think that speaks for itself. I just wish that it could happen like this again. I'd love for every college student to have an experience like I had that day.

  4. I never said DMB weren't megastars. In fact, I specifically said they were more commonly popular than WSP – meaning even soccer moms know and/or listen to DMB.

    And DMB not actually being from Athens makes a huge difference. Especially w/r/t the context of Jordan's post. I know if feels nice to think that we're so special to DMB, but they played lots of college towns – the breadth of their touring is what made them famous. Athens was just one of many places DMB built their following, and honestly, it's foolish to include them among bands like REM, as “Athens successes.”

    If the question being posed is, “Why haven't more megastars come from Athens,” then you need to talk about Athens bands. Otherwise, where do you draw the line? Any band who plays once a year in Athens? Twice a year? Any band who plays a Georgia Theatre benefit?

    And to be honest, the fact that you would bring up Kinchafoonee as any metric of success shows that in some ways, your view is too narrow. I'm sure among your crowd and friends, Kinchafoonee are quite popular, but they are far, far from being household names. Unless that house is owned by a fraternity.

    Seriously, though, you saw 13,000 people and considered it a huge success. And it was, but in the larger world of music, that's a drop in the bucket. That's not necessarily “megastardom.”

    And you are correct – WSP is a lot like the Dead. And while I'd argue the Dead are more commonly known, at least by name, they are still kind of a niche-y band, whose status remains constant due to a large group of very specific, dedicated fans. Still, you're more likely to hear the Dead on some random (non-Georgia) rock station than you are WSP.

    Personally, I still wouldn't say that WSP are on the same level of recognition as REM. But even if I concede that they are, then you still only have 3 bands in 30 years that reached megastardom. And I still would say that Jordan is romanticizing the past. Statistically, three bands in 30 years is an anomaly, not a trend.


  5. A.B., that's all good.. we can agree to disagree about some things. And for the record, I'm not a Kinchafoonee fan.. not sure where it came from that I was using them as metric for success.. all I said is that they're not an Athens Band, but that doesn't mean that they're not a part of the local scene.

    Also, were you around back then? i can tell you that Athens was DMB's most regular stop outside of their hometown. They sold it out every night. It was the first city where they played a two night stand outside of Charlottesville. Hootie and the Blowfish also had a high level of mainstream success, and were regulars at the GA Theatre. 311 played there quite a few times in the mid 90's. These are all bands that got national airplay on mainatream radio. Again, I'm not debating the quality of any such bands, but it says something about the quality of the music scene in Athens at the time.

    I think the point is being missed here. It's not really about the specific bands. Look at the scene in Athens around this time, and how it has contracted in terms of mass appeal. An event like this could not be held today and be as successful. I hate that.

    I love indie music, and the cool thing about that particular event, is that those were indie bands(at the time) and 13,000 people came out to see them. Could you pull the same kind of festival in Athens today? No. I don't think that's a knock on the scene.. it's just an indication of how music and the industry have changed. it's this way everywhere. The gravitation toward bubblegum pop and hiphop/rap & dance music for young people, and away from live music, and that's a damn shame for a town like Athens.

    How cool would it be to go out to the fairgrounds today and see the Truckers, Whigs, and similar bands on the local scene perform a live show and have that kind of crowd show up? If it were possible, someone would put that show together, I'm sure.

  6. Of course she's romanticizing the past! All this girl writes about is REM/The B-52's/maybe WP. She's the last person in town who knows what's up with local music. Jordan Stepp is so, so, so completely out of touch with Athens.

    But anyway, I agree with you, AB.

  7. Robb, I think you're trying to cram a few disparate things into a cohesive whole, and they just don't fit. You're going from 311 and Hootie, to the Truckers and the Whigs. I really just can't attribute too much value to the fact that Hootie played the Ga Theatre a lot – not in the context of the question that Jordan is asking.

    “Do popular out-of-town bands still have a big draw in Athens” is not the same question as, Why do “fewer bands from Athens […] hit the mainstream?” I don't care how many times Hootie or 311 played the Theatre, they aren't Athens bands.

    Yes, I moved to Athens in 1992. And to be honest, among my entire circle of friends, the idea of going to SuperJam would be laughable. None of those bands appealed to us. Honesty, none of them appeal to me now, either – but hopefully I do a little better at not being a dick about it.

    I hate to sound like I'm ragging on your tastes, especially as you say your comments do not reflect your tastes. But waving off hip-hop as a meaning scene is kind of telling. And by telling, I mean, to be blunt, “ignorant.”

    If you think the hip-hop scene is just people spinning records, you'd be in for a surprise. In fact, let's name Megastar #4 in our discussion: Danger Mouse. Yeah, when my top 40-listening coworkers can sing along to “Crazy,” I'm going to say that you're probably a megastar.

    So there's our most recent megastar, and one that didn't come from the typical circles. Yeah, DM's been a bit nomadic, living in England and elsewhere, but he was an active part of the burgeoning hip-hop scene in Athens back in the '90s, and even worked at Wuxtry, just like Pete Buck used to. So we can claim him as our own.

    Just look to Atlanta's Outkast and tell me that hip-hop is a “shame.” It's not the biggest scene, but Athens has a hip-hop scene, with real live performers. Hell, the next “megastar” just might come from that camp.

    And please let's not ignore the fact that we're doing everything to set the bar too high in this discussion. The Truckers just played TWO popular talk shows recently, they sell out concert halls, and they're about to go on tour with Tom Petty. The Whigs just played Letterman and did a tour with Kings of Leon (not my thing, but that's a pretty good opening slot). Let's give credit where credit is due. I mean, how many “REMs” came out of *anywhere*? Yeah, Nashville, NYC and LA have a high number of popular bands coming out of their environs, but that's because those are major metropolitan areas that are epicenters for music production and distribution. It's like asking why more movies get made in Hollywood than in Athens.

    So what city are we comparing Athens to when we say, where are all the megastars? What bands? How many megastars are there, really, compared to one-hit wonders and bands who we simply hear all the time because they sold their songs to Apple and Nike? Playing Letterman and Fallon is as legitimate a “star experience” as most “popular” bands today get.

    Whoever's doing it, someone here is romanticizing the past. And that person simply can't see the forest for the trees. There have been a surprising number of Athens bands to break through to fair-sized national popularity in the past 20 years, from Of Montreal to DBT. Heck, probably more than have come from Minneapolis or Seattle or Chapel Hill in that same time. To set the bar at “megastardom” is too limiting, as very few scenes can lay claim to numerous megastars.


  8. The Truckers are certainly on the rise as are the Whigs, something I mentioned in the above article but they're not quite there yet. Of Montreal has hit it big in their own way but not quite in the mainstream way I'm thinking.

    I suppose what I'm wondering what has kept these incredible bands (that I apparently don't cover)from breaking through to the main populace? I'm certainly not going to pretend that it didn't take time for REM or WP to reach the levels they currently enjoy but it does make me pause and wonder why someone like of Montreal isn't a household name yet. Perhaps it's the genre boundaries. I dunno. That's what I'm looking for. Not expecting any complete answers here, just musings.

  9. A.B. – Pleae take no offense, to what i'm about to say, but I'm really confused by what point you're making in your last post. I feel you're making assumptions about my statements. I'm not putting down hip hop, but let's face it, the Athens scene has had very little of that element locally, so when it started to become the more dominant music choice for the kids in college, The Athens music scene suffered as a result.. so yeah, that's a shame.

    I think you're focusing on a very specific portion of Jordan's post about what is an 'Athens Band', and its really a minor point.. but the overall point was about the local music scene and its current state vs. what it was then. To me its simple. That type of live music was extremely popular amongst young people in Athens.. therefore the scene was 'bigger'. Not necessarily better.. but bigger. Maybe that was true everywhere (I would think it would be) but in the days before the internet, I wasn't really sure about other places.

    I can tell you that after 1994 it dropped off fairly significantly as many of the bands that frequented Athens prior to then started having commercial success and moved up to playing bigger venues and towns. There was nothing there to really take their place, and the scene doesn't seem to be as big as it was in those days. Perhaps it has been in a slow recovery? Again, that has nothing to do with quality. The tradeoff is you could/can see many more great bands in smaller venues, and that's pretty cool in its own right. Is the scene on a rise again? Being that I don't live there, I don't really know, but I'd love to see it be reinvigorated and be a catalyst for getting some quality music back in the mainstream.

  10. Robb, to be honest, I'm just not sure how else someone is supposed to interpret this statement:

    “The gravitation toward bubblegum pop and hiphop/rap & dance music for young people, and away from live music, and that's a damn shame for a town like Athens.”

    You also say, “Being that I don't live there, I don't really know,” meaning, I presume, that you've haven't lived in Athens for awhile. So how can you make comments about whether or not the Athens music scene has suffered due to hip-hop. Hip-hop is part of the music scene, and its growth means the scene is growing.

    I don't know what exactly you wrote in your email to Jordan, but Jordan's own post here, as well as her subsequent comments, seems to pretty clearly state that she is asking for opinions on the popularity of Athens bands.

    As for festivals, you'd have to ask Gordon Lamb or anyone else who has put together a festival in the past few years – ask them how large the crowds were. I believe that the Popfest brought in attendees from even outside of the US – having an international crowd travel to Athens for a festival is probably just as good an indicator of popularity as drawing a higher number of jamband fans from surrounding Southern states.

    Your focus seems to be incredibly narrow and full of qualifiers – having been in Athens at the time and even active in the music scene in the 90s, I think you are beyond wrong when you say the scene “dropped off.”

    Yes, when bands reach a level where they need a venue bigger than the Ga Theatre, there wasn't really an option. So yes, some bands grew and had to start skipping Athens because there was no venue large enough. But throngs of bands took their places – the Theatre sold out hundreds of shows after DMB or Hootie moved on to other venues.

    You say the scene was bigger before, but I think you're just wearing blinders – maybe the scene you were aware of was getting smaller, but other aspects of the music scene were growing.

    Yeah, I think we have to agree to disagree, and nothing I've said was meant to be personal. But if by your own admission, you don't know what's going on in Athens anymore, I cannot consider you a qualified voice on the state of the music scene.

  11. I also just wanted to reiterate again that nothing I wrote was meant as personal or snide. Reading back, I think it sounds a little more biting than I intended. We can at least agree that the Truckers rock, right? 🙂


  12. Thanks A.B.. I feel the same about my posts. Don't want to come across that way either. I hate that I'm not understanding what you're trying to get across, because it seems plain to me. The scene has changed. I know that it contracted while I was there, and I've seen nothing since to lead me believe that it has reached the same level of popularity and notoriety since, even though I've watched it from afar. Athens will always have a great music scene, no doubt.. but it is not as big as it once was. That's a shame, because there are great bands to be heard from there, I'm sure.. but the mass appeal is not there, and I think its obvious, particulary because I don't live there anymore. But I will be happy to agree to disagree 🙂

  13. Great, Jordan, now you just sound like you're out to cover bands that are gonna 'make it.' You clearly have no idea what it means to be a musician.

  14. Yup. Cause god forbid I give any coverage to anyone who doesn't make it. Because music isn't about feelings or passion, it's about the cold hard cash.

    -for those who can't grasp sarcasm, THAT WAS SARCASM

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