24 June, 2008

AthFest 2008

Last weekend, Athens hosted its annual celebration of the college town's vibrant local music and arts scenes. As in years past, there was a main outdoor stage on Washington Street fronted by a vast array of merchant booths and tents selling everything from beads to wood carvings to Verizon plans. There was also a small side stage under a tent for more intimate, shorter performances. Evening brought the most popular element of the festival: The Club Crawl. A $15 wristband got you unlimited access to Athens' finest and a few of the less than adequate music venues. And might I add that good beer in Athens is still only $3.50 a pop! As you might have guessed, it was fun time in the little city.

It is worth mentioning that I only caught the events that occurred on Saturday after 4PM. A few notable bands that performed on Friday included Electa Villain on the side stage, Five Eight on the outdoor stage, Snowden at The 40 Watt, and Elf Power at The Georgia Theatre. Dubconscious headlined Sunday's portion and culminated the activities.

So, picking up at 4PM, the first band up was Wilx. There is no denying that Wilx are from the South. They are a southern rock and blues band and can be favourably compared to North Mississippi Allstars. Keeping with that same comparison, they leave you with a hint of a jam band flavour, at least in performance. The lead guitarist and vocalist definitely outshines his bandmates in ability, but that isn't to say the other members aren't adequate. He just has a good voice, a good working knowledge of blues guitar, and even a good look. The band has a new album coming out in the fall. To get a taste of the band for yourself, go to http://www.myspace.com/thewilxband.

Ponderosa performed on the main stage at 6PM with a raucous set of good old Southern-flavoured rock and roll. It was at this time that the fledgling crowd began to swell incrementally for the next few hours. Ponderosa probably had a lot to do with that. Their set was fun, well executed, and packed a punch. The band is composed of rhythm guitarist and vocalist Kalen Nash, bassist and vocalist Jonathan Hall, lead guitarist Kris Sampson, drummer Jon Wayne Cole, and keyboardist John Dance. Each and every one of them play a vital role in the finished product. Their performance also marked the end of a tour across the Southeast and Mid Atlantic. They will be back in Atlanta on September 18th as part of the Atlantis Music Conference. To hear a few of their songs and keep tabs on when they are playing, visit http://www.myspace.com/ponderosamusic.

A quick walk to the side stage yielded a delightful performance by King of Prussia. This was my first time seeing this band, and it will unfortunately be my last as the band's lead singer is leaving the country to pursue bigger and better things. He will also be keeping the band name and continue to perform overseas as King of Prussia. The rest of the band will continue on as a new incarnation. The band's sound conjures 60's era British rock and other modern day uber indie bands (i.e. New Pornographers, The Decemberists) that draw inspiration from the same source. The ensemble consisted of two guitars, a bass (being played on right), drums, violin, a designated backing female vocalist, and keyboards. To hear a bit of what the band was, visit http://www.myspace.com/wearekingofprussia. If you like what you hear, the band's studio album Save the Scene is available on iTunes and Amazon.

Back on the main stage, Spring Tigers performed a set of high energy post-punk revival tunes (guitarist pictured at top). This band definitely has a knack for catchy melodies and infectious hooks. The five-piece is fun to watch onstage too; they exude a youthful jovialness which is fitting as they all appear to be barely 20 if that. The crowd responded well to them as well with a few no-doubt fans up front singing along. The band is comprised of drummer Chase Prince, guitarist and vocalist Kris Barratt, bassist and vocalist Eli Barnard, guitarist Shane Davis, and keyboardist Stephen James. To sample a few songs and demos, go to http://www.myspace.com/springtigers. After hearing this band, I can't wait for some recorded material from them.

At just before 9PM, a large crowd suddenly appeared in front of the main stage in anticipation of Modern Skirts. While the band's recorded material is mostly pop rock, the band doesn't shy away from the occassional let-it-all-hang-out moment when performing. The band added humour whenever possible to the performance, evidenced most by the appearance of a giant bunny on stage for a few songs. They even gave a shout-out to the mother of the lead singer before playing her favourite song of theirs (awww). The hometown crowd of course loved it and gave the band a fitting send off as they head over to England for a few weeks of pub shows and festivals across the pond. If you aren't already familiar with the band, you can hear some of their songs at http://www.myspace.com/modernskirts. The band has one album out entitled Catalogue of Generous Men and an EP, Four More Years. A new full length album is also expected by the end of the year.

With the outdoor festivities over for the evening, it was time to head inside for the Club Crawl. Outdoor stage bands and performers are chosen due to their less controversial and more family friendly appeal. While that's great, I hadn't had an opportunity to have my face rocked off yet. So what better remedy to that problem than a metal band? Colossus at the Caledonia Lounge met the requirements admirably. Hailing from Raleigh, this six member sonic attack performed a set of loud, fast, and fun metal tunes. Three guitarists trading galloping guitar riffs, a bassist, a drummer, and a Rob Halford-channeling vocalist give you an idea of the scene. Drawing heavily from the very early years of Metallica, the band and the crowd took themselves with a grain of salt and simply enjoyed the music for the fun venture it undoubtedly is. To see where you may be able to see them yourself and check out some songs, go to http://www.myspace.com/thecolossuswillcrushyou.

With ears ringing and a smile on the face, it was time to visit fellow Atlantans Trances Arc at Tasty World. The four member group performed another fine set of emotional indie pop. The band's low-key sound includes intricate guitar compositions with keyboard accents. Lead singer, guitarist, and keyboardist Eric Toledo has fine voice that captures the passion behind the songwriting. Lead guitarist and backup vocalist Michael Dorio (pictured on right) has a great stage presence to go along with his work on guitar. Bassist Daniel Silvestri and drummer Brad Hagen round out the lineup. The band has two EPs, Buona Fortuna and Save the World, and a full length album entitled XOXO. To sample some of their tunes before buying, go to http://www.myspace.com/trancesarc.

There were plans to see We Vs. the Shark and Cinemechanica at The 40 Watt to conclude the evening, but I grossly underestimated the draw of these bands. Along with The Georgia Theatre, The 40 Watt is Athens largest music venue. It was absolutely packed with a fairly large crowd waiting outside hoping to get in by the time I made my way over at about midnight. Needless to say, admission was not secured. I do recommend familiarizing yourself with these bands however and checking out one of their shows. Their MySpace pages are http://www.myspace.com/weversustheshark and http://www.myspace.com/cinemechanica. Both are heavily experiemental rock bands drawing inspiration from the likes of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, and At the Drive-In.

And if you haven't noticed by now, The Atlanta Rock Blog now has original photo content. This will be a regular addition to the blog from now on. If you would like to see more pictures of these bands and a few more, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/27906473@N03/sets/72157605756266304/.
Overall, AthFest is a wonderful event. It affords just about everyone something to do, and it highlights a slew of great bands that might not have received their due as of yet. If you haven't had the opportunity to enjoy it for yourself, it is highly recommended. AthFest takes place every year in June, so make your plans to attend next year's festival now. You'll not only have a great weekend, but you'll walk away with some new bands from your backyard about which you can be excited.

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