R.E.M. credited for evolution of Athens music scene - CBS46 News


R.E.M. credited for evolution of Athens music scene

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(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)

For decades, the city of Athens has set the stage for some of the biggest bands in the world, helping to launch the B 52’s, R.E.M. and The Black Crowes.  The music scene has been a driving force in the local economy for generations.

There is a vibe you get in the city, which quickly becomes music to your ears. It’s unique spaces and places give creative minds inspiration. And in this college town, artists look to the past as motivation for the future.

“R.E.M was sort of at their height when I was young,” William Kissane said.

Kissane is barista by day and drummer by night, doing it all at a new venue called Hendershot’s. 

“I think half the staff here at Hendershot’s are musicians and you can go around town and I bet half the people you see play music,” Kissane said.

And if there is one person who knows the evolution of the Athens music scene, it’s longtime R.E.M. Manager Bertis Downs. 

Downs recalls when Michael Stipe and the band burst on to the scene in the 80’s, back when there were about 20 local bands in Athens playing original music in two small clubs.

“I guess in the 80’s it was right after the punk explosion. I guess it was called new wave, then it was called alternative. Now it’s all kinds of music being played,” Downs said. 

Now there are nearly 600 local artists and a dozen venues in the classic city. Plus, record labels, booking agents and several studios. 

“It’s still very much a part of the Athens economy and I think people recognize that. When there’s a big show here, or a big festival downtown, the hotels fill up just like for a football game. That’s a big deal in Athens,” Downs said.

Most musicians credit R.E.M. for paving the way for all types of music.

“Just from us doing the Hip-hop Awards, we’re bringing in people from the small towns, from Florida, South Carolina, Atlanta and these are people that wouldn’t even come here,”  Hip Hop Entrepreneur Knowa Johnson said.

Insiders believe the music scene is more relevant now than ever before.

“I think likely there will be people wanting to come out and listen to music and musicians wanting to make it for many years to come,” Downs said.

At Hendershot’s, it’s the talk of the town over a cup of coffee.

Music is more than just a vibe. It’s part of the culture and will forever be the city’s identity. 

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