I was reading about Jeff Tobias’s new solo album recently. Jeff was a huge part of the Athens scene for a good while before he moved off to NYC and could probably plaster “I’m from Athens, GA” everywhere if he wanted to and no one would be able to argue with him. He’s undeniably part of the town’s musical history.
But it got me thinking about how I rarely refer to myself as an Athenian despite having lived here in some form or fashion since 2006. Over 15 years now and I still feel a little pull that, eh, I’m a transplant, I can’t say I’m an Athenian. But there are many other folk who have been in this town less time than me and I’d not hesitate to call them Athenian. I’m not sure what my own internal logic tells me about who gets to call themselves “Athenian” and who doesn’t. I’m still unraveling it.
“Hi, we’re (insert weird name here) and we’re from Athens” is a common starting point for a lot of local bands. It’s pretty harmless unless the band is made up of terrible people and they’re giving my town a bad name. But what is “Athens”? According to Mercedes Benz of Athens, that car lot is Athens (except they are located FIRMLY in Bogart). Winterville isn’t Athens but it IS though because it’s literally right there and we share Athens-Clarke County with them. I do not consider Watkinsville to be Athens and they’re fine with that. Good. I don’t like you either.
A friend of mine once pointed out that a lot of bands we love within the confines of town are only loved because they “are from Athens” and that without the name of the town attached they’d be lost in the bottomless dregs of the internet music machine. For several of the bands we were discussing, that’s very true. Which led me to my next question: Does being from Athens even matter?
Being a band from Athens was a big thing once a upon a time but with most of our major bands either retired, semi-retired, or up and LEFT, there’s not so much of a current Athens brand to hang your hat on now. That’s not a knock against the scene, mind you, but an observation from several folks who live very far away from here. “Oh neat, they’re from Athens but I would’ve loved them anyway” was a sentiment.
Ultimately, I’m still up in the air about my own feelings on when you can be “from Athens” and whether or not it helps much at all these days. I can see it both being A THING and also not being anything at all. But that’s what’s going through my head right now as I’m searching for new bands. I’ll always start with my locals though.