The AthFest 2002 CD: A Taste Of Athens Music

Emerson Dameron, Flagpole, May 2002

All joshing aside, Flagpole believes that every band everywhere has something to be proud of. Playing gigs and putting out records is hard, often soul-sucking work, and our respect goes out to anyone with the nuts to make it happen, even if the results aren·t our personal slice of banana bread. And the Ghostmeat crew clearly did its homework assembling AthFest 2002, this mammoth, double-length, rose anniversary collection of local musical talent circa now. Hats off.

The expanded umbrella makes room for a few previously neglected scene stalwarts (Don Chambers, The Normaltown Flyers, Megaphone Man, Southern Bitch, Michael, and the indestructible Stewart & Winfield), most of whom cash in heartily on the opportunity. Most of the returning champs (Barbara Cue, Five-Eight, Hayride, Lona, Jucifer, Empire State, David Barbe and far too many more to list) are also in fine form. "Amplifier," Jucifer·s previously unreleased opener, introduces a new professionalism to the band·s minimalist crunch, indicating that the ’Fer might finally be ready to accept the bad, nationwide rock star mantle many of us have always thought it deserved. Hayride·s "Move Over" is among its most galvanizing tracks, while retaining its trademark lovable sloppiness. Clay Leverett·s woozy howl is as captivating as ever on Lona·s "Radio Wave." And Dodd Ferrelle·s twangy, Buddy Holly-style "Too Bad You" is a droll, sublime closer.

Of course, Athens remains a close-quartered, fertile petri dish for new sounds, and the unfamiliar names here pitch in some of the most memorable material. Megaphone Man, which I haven·t heard from since it opened for one of Morphine·s last-ever shows, adds a Big Easy-flavored funk breakdown called "Hot Thomas" that had me hitting rewind repeatedly. The Mids play some of Athens· most spirited, least cliched punk. Annaray and The Modfathers· sugary power-pop celebrates the joy of being young, unpretentious, romantically inclined and alive. The earnest, moody, angular guitar rock of Heros Severum and Michael, not to mention the metal-disciplined jazz of SS Puft, the low key acoustic storytelling of Claire And Bain·s Maple Yum-Yum and the globetrotting folk-assimilation of Calliope Fair, hints at the sort of creativity that thrives in insulation from downtown·s cries of "woo-hoo" and smells of hot dog stands and drying puke, in places like Nuçi·s Space, upstairs at The Globe and the lobby at WUOG-FM.

Most of all, in your reporter·s humble opinion, it·s always good to be reminded that the consistently terrific rockabilly unit Rocket 350 is still clocking in. Annaray, Carrie Nations, Chambers, Empire State, The Fountains, Barbe, The Mids, The Drive-By Truckers, The Georgia Guitar Quartet and others could perhaps be docked a few stars for crossposting tracks from their albums, thus denying their fans anything new, but hey, who else gives a damn?

AthFest 2002 is broad enough in scope and consistent enough in quality to maintain confidence in this PBR-soaked oubliette·s concentration of musical skill and ambition. But local compilations, ideally, are as much about the pranks, novelties, experimentalism and closing time revelry that keep things unpredictable and, thus, livable, as they are about "showcasing" as-defined "talent." Only a few of these acts are ever going to "break through" nationally, and this document would·ve benefited from featuring a few that don·t even intend to try. Where are the cleansing drones of The Noisettes and Nipples For Days? Where·s the brash, carefree comedy of Taking Robots To The Prom or the Spaceball Entertainment crowd? Most obviously, where·s any representation from Athens· hardscrabble hip hop scene?

Considering what·s left out, AthFest 2002 arguably contains an unnecessary preponderance of unremarkable, workmanlike guitar rock. According to the liner notes, 160 acts submitted music for consideration. Something had to be more interesting than Kevn Kinney and Kitty Snyder·s sadistic duet on the inexplicably overplayed party-killer "Love Hurts." Perhaps the fringe figures, chance-takers and dope rhyme-sayers couldn·t be bothered to submit, in which case their laziness is everyone·s loss.

Again, though, no disrespect at all to Russ Hallauer, Ghostmeat and the rest of the homeroom organizers that put this whatzis together. By virtue of its length and relative inclusiveness, it·s the most memorable AthFest collection to date, sure to break up mix tapes made for non-Athenians for years to come. Again, hats off to all involved.

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