AthFest 10 Reviews

I’ve written in the past about how the first promotional album I ever received and subsequently reviewed was the soundtrack to the film “Athens, GA: Inside/Out”…and it resulted in many firsts for me, actually. For instance, it was officially the first time I talked out of my ass when writing a review; because an acoustic version of R.E.M.’s “Swan Swan H” appeared on the album, I referenced the original version – which, at the time, I didn’t own – and claimed this new version was better because it didn’t have as much orchestration. There was, of course, absolutely no orchestration on the original (and I have no idea why I thought there was), and the embarrassment I felt at being busted for not knowing what the hell I was talking about led me to be a better researcher. What I’ve never really gone into detail about, however, was how listening to the record…and, yes, it was indeed on vinyl, which says much about my age…introduced me to a concept I’d never really been aware of before: the idea of a city having its very own “music scene.”

Not only was Athens home to R.E.M., it also held claim to Dreams So Real, Pylon, Love Tractor, and the Flat Duo Jets; later, I’d come to discover that it was home to the B-52’s as well…but when you get down to brass tacks, it was first and foremost R.E.M. who put the city on the map as the home of some of the best music in America. And since it has since come to be recognized for bringing us the Drive-By Truckers, the Feelies, Kevn Kinney (of Drivin’ ‘N’ Cryin’ fame), Widespread Panic, the Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, Elf Power, Vic Chesnutt, and many others, it’s clear the Athens music scene continues to thrive even 20 years down the road from the film that paid tribute to it. A significant part of that longevity can be attributed to a series of CD compilations that have been coming out on an annual basis: Athfest, released in conjunction with the city’s annual non-profit music and arts festival. This year marks the 10th collection in the series, and, in tribute, the 2006 edition is a 2-disc affair; Disc 1 contains 18 tracks worth of new music, while the second disc features 18 of the best songs to appear on previous Athfest sets.

Hyping the best-of disc is at least partially unnecessary, since the work of folks like the aforementioned Drive-By Truckers and Kevn Kinney is pretty well documented as being worth your while. That first disc, however, includes some tracks that’ll have you heading to MySpace to see if any of these artists have their own pages. (In most cases, they do.) An Epic At Best lead off with the “Weight of Words,” which has a soaring chorus and an even better bridge; they’re followed by Don Chambers + Goat, who offer the alt-country “Pig Luck.” R.E.M. pop up with an alternative take of Around the Sun’s “Wanderlust” – one of the best tracks from a depressingly sub-par album – as do the Modern Skirts, who could easily be argued as one of the best bands to emerge from Athens in recent years. Other highlights include the pedal steel of Ken Will Morton’s “Adelayda” and the old-school twang of the Bearfoot Hookers’ brilliantly-titled “I’d Rather Two-Step (Than Twelve-Step).”

So, basically, in case you were wondering, the music of Athens, GA still rules. Is there another R.E.M. amongst their ranks? It’s all a matter of opinion…but if you want to be well-informed before you make a declaration one way or the other, Athfest 10 is a good place to start.

Will Harris,, October 2006

Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the annual arts & music festival held in Athens, Georgia, each summer, Athfest 10 is a double-disc offering of 18 tracks of new music from local Athenian artists augmented by a second, best-of disc featuring 18 choice selections from past compilations.

Don Chamber & Goat’s “Pig Love” and Ken Will Morton & the Wholly Ghosts’ “Adelayda” exude alt-country excellence, while local kingpins REM deliver a rollicking, previously unreleased version of “Wanderlust.” An Epic At Best, Venice Is Sinking, the Whigs and Elf Power collectively cover the city’s pop sensibilities. Patterson Hood’s “Heavy and Hanging” is as sinister as any of his work with the Drive-By Truckers but is clearly shown up by a classic reading of “The Living Bubba” on the second disc. In the end, Athfest 10 shows the incredible diversity of the music scene in the city known as the Liverpool of the South.

Andy Tennille, Harp Magazine, Jul/Aug 2006

Yes, I talk about Athens a lot. I have a vested interest because it’s within striking distance from where I live. Even so, there sure has been a lot of great music that’s come from there. Athfest 10 is a nice sampler of some of that bands that help make up the current Athens scene. Since I rarely go to shows I have found it to be a great way to check out some of the bands I’ve only read about too.

As with any compilation or mix, and especially on one trying to document the variety of artists and styles coming from one locale, any given track will invariably appeal to some and miss the mark with others. There are a handful, especially on the first disc, that I’m not crazy about. Overall though, it’s nice selection of Athens’ musical offerings.

Disc one is made up of previously unreleased material, including REM doing a live demo of “Wanderlust” and Patterson Hood’s ( Drive-By Truckers) brooding southern rocker, “Heavy and Hanging.” I think The Whigs were a buzz band in at least one national magazine somewhat recently, but I’d never heard anything by them until checking out their nice little slab of alterna-rock with a Cobain-esque chorus, “Can’t Hear You Coming.” Local blogs tout the goodness that comes from power-poppers Nutria and I’m buying into the hype based on “Under the Clay.” There are also solid tracks by Don Chambers + GOAT, Venice Is Sinking, and Summer Hymns. Two of my favorites, though, are by bands I’d never heard of: The Bearfoot Hookers’ country chuckler “I’d Rather Two-Step (Than Twelve Step)” and a breezy but bittersweet song called “Caretaker” by Ginger Envelope.

Disc two, which draws from previous Athfest collections, is the stronger of the two. That probably has a lot to do with Ghostmeat Records being able to select the choice cuts from the earlier releases. In addition, many of the songs are also album tracks by the musicians included, as opposed to leftovers or throwaways. There’s good stuff from artists I knew before, like Drive-By Truckers, Vic Chesnutt, The Glands, Japancakes, Jucifer, and Elf Power. Some new-to-me standouts include the guitar pop of “I Believe In What You Do” by Little Red Rocket, “Hat Trick” from a pre-GOAT Don Chambers band called Vaudeville, and a super catchy indie-rock number called “Como Te Llamas” by Ceiling Fan.

I’m not sure how much interest this comp would generate outside of Athens, although several of the artists are nationally known. For me it’s been nice to hear new and familiar tracks by those I am acquainted with. As a bonus, I now have a list of a few bands whose work I will have to track down.

Andy Caldwell, Candied Pop, July 2006

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