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Road trip: AthFest

Perhaps more than any similar “scene” in the world of music, the scene in Athens, Ga., stays vibrant by constantly evolving with the times.

From the counterculture art-school vibe of R.E.M. and Pylon to the stylings of Vic Chesnutt and Drive By Truckers to the neo-hippie jam sensibilities of Widespread Panic and Futurebirds, the music emanating from Athens has seemed to ride trend waves over the years while simultaneously defying them.

Since 1997 one of the best ways to sample the Athens scene is at AthFest, a three-day music and arts festival happening in downtown, indoors and outdoors, with many free events.

Several blocks of Pulaski Street – with a side stage on Hull Street -- are blocked off to auto traffic to make room for outdoor stages and vendor booths. The free music starts at 5 p.m. Friday and continues through Sunday night’s closing show by Drivin’ ‘n’ Cryin’ at 7 p.m.

No wristband or ticket is needed to enjoy the outdoor shows, which are completely open to the public.

For Savannah audiences, the highlight of the free shows is probably the headlining turn by Reptar on the Pulaski Street mainstage at 9 p.m. Friday.


But AthFest regulars will tell you that, as at Savannah Stopover, the real action happens inside various clubs and bars during the nightly “Club Crawl” segment of AthFest.

As with Stopover, a reasonably priced wristband -- $20 in the case of AthFest – gets you admittance (space permitting) into the 14 private venues featuring live music all weekend long, into the wee hours.

Participating venues include the 40 Watt Club, the Georgia Theatre, Little Kings, World Famous, and the Caledonia Lounge. Late-night highlights include New Madrid and Dead Confederate at the Georgia Theatre Friday night, and Futurebirds late Saturday night at the 40 Watt.

Atlanta's Coathangers play the 40 Watt late Friday night. Even if you can’t make it this weekend, AthFest issues a compilation album every year. This year’s 2014 edition is pressed exclusively on vinyl for the first time.

Produced as it has been for 17 years by Ghostmeat Records, this year’s compilation features tracks from New Madrid, Ruby the Rabbitfoot, Family and Friends, Faster Circuits, Elf Power, Drive-By Truckers, Cicada Rhythm, Nicholas Mallis, Shade and Ghost Owl.

The album raises funds for AthFest Educates’, which, since 2009 has donated $150,000 to music and arts education for youth in the Athens area.

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