I’ve tried my best to not allow nostalgia to take up too much mental space but the weather is teasing autumnal nights and my thoughts naturally turn backwards. I shouldn’t be surprised by this, nor should I be surprised that we are already staring October 2022 dead in the face and yet here I am once again wondering how time has passed. I wasn’t even fully aware that this was what I was doing until I’d heard that the GRIT, staple of Athens food and townie culture, is closing for good. And now I’m back in my little memory groove, wishing I were in some other, less awful timeline.
It’s not so much the GRIT itself but what it represented in my psyche that has me down. It was the de facto “Welcome to Athens” meeting place for me and my pals. I’ve had the fortune to meet so many traveling folk since starting this blog, mostly R.E.M. fans, but others too, and we’ll always grab a meal at the GRIT. I can swing my arm around and gesture at the peeling walls, the uneven floors, the green and purple color scheme and know that this will stay in their minds as shorthand for “Athens.” The food was always good enough for me and with Vegan/Vegetarian options front and center, I never had to worry about food allergies. “See!” I could point, “We can be progressive in the South! We have vegan food!” as though that were all it took to impress upon almost strangers that we were worthy of our music scene, our culture, and their attention.
This somewhat defensive, apologetic Southern trait of mine often rears its head when I’m asked to talk frankly about Athens. Because if I’m being real with all six of you who read this, Athens is a college town beset by the usual college town issues of racism, poverty, and everything else that comes with a large parasite that is also the host suppressing wages but also bringing people into town. Things can get bleak here. Things ARE often bleak here. The magic of Athens and its music scene is the same as it ever was: the people. It’s not the red clay, the sweet tea, hot weather, the oft quoted but not livably true “low cost of living,” it is the PEOPLE. And the people sometimes leave and not come back.
I’ve been here long enough to know what the usual scene churn is like. I’ve seen great venues come and go. The music is still here. There are still people here, trying their damn hardest to make it work. But with every month that passes by, fewer of them can stay. So many of the artists and activists that make Athens what it is can’t afford to live here anymore. So when I see something like the GRIT go, I think of Go Bar, Gyro Wrap, Caledonia, and on and on, these places that I will never again be able to go. And it sucks knowing I can only do so much to stop this from happening again and again.
Anyway, all of this is to say support your locals for as long as you can. Find your favorite local bands and tell others about them. If you don’t have the money to buy merch, word of mouth is free. Post about ’em, talk about ’em, do what you can. And also maybe vote for people who won’t hand the entire town over to greedy landlords and developers? Thanks.