AthFest

AthFest in Athens, Georgia

Athens: Where Music is Iconic

An artsy college town, Athens is a magnet for live music with numerous clubs, festivals and must-see sites for music fans.

Athens, Georgia, is famous worldwide for the jaw-droppingly impressive catalog of talents who got their start in the Classic City. There’s the subversive, kitschy tongue-in-cheek new wave of the B-52s; the groundbreaking, mysterious-yet-accessible rock ‘n roll poetry of R.E.M.; the steadfast Southern bluesy jams of Widespread Panic – and that’s just scratching the surface.

Although Athens is home to the University of Georgia, the state’s oldest and largest public university, the constant influx of ideas and talent keeps the scene fresh and vibrant. But the city once dubbed “the Liverpool of the South” maintains a respectful reverence for its history.

Where to see live music in Athens

Peter Buck and friends at the 40 Watt Club in Athens
Peter Buck and friends at the 40 Watt Club in Athens

Nowhere in Athens feels as much like a living monument to that history as the Fabulous 40 Watt Club, an iconic rock club with worldwide name recognition. Famous for its role in America’s burgeoning new wave/punk scene, the 40 Watt has hosted the likes of Nirvana, Snoop Dogg and Sonic Youth, and still boasts one of the most dynamic lineups of live music in Athens.

Other venues to check out:

The Foundry in Athens, Georgia
The Foundry in Athens, Georgia

The Foundry, which was once an iron mill, now offers great food, beer, and a multi-tiered concert hall where you can see local and emerging artists alike.

Georgia Theatre in Athens
Georgia Theatre in Athens

Georgia Theatre, built in the late 1800s, was devastated by a fire in 2009 but has since been lovingly rebuilt and restored to its former glory. Go there to check out acts like Run the Jewels, Willie Nelson and Kenny Chesney.

Morton Theatre in Athens, Georgia
Morton Theatre in Athens, Georgia

And the Morton Theatre is a true treasure. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Morton opened in 1910 as a vaudeville theater and is one of the oldest African-American owned and operated venues in the United States. Today, this treasure trove of a restored building hosts a variety of musical acts, theater, dance and other events.

Must-see music landmarks in Athens

Train trestle in Athens from the back cover of R.E.M.'s Murmur album
Historic R.E.M. Murmur Railroad Trestle

Check out the Athens Music History Walking Tour. This self-guided frontline and backstage excursion puts you face to face with all the quintessential spots that helped shape this city into what it is today.

Guided tours are offered by local music historian Paul Butchart, with Classic City Tours happy to assist.

Wuxtry in Athens, Georgia
Wuxtry in Athens, Georgia

While wandering downtown, stop in to browse the stacks at Wuxtry Records or Low Yo Yo Stuff, both longstanding landmarks for vinyl lovers.

Top music festivals in Athens

A town with a history like Athens is pretty much contractually obligated to throw some really good music festivals.

AthFest in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Porter McLeod
AthFest in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Porter McLeod

Athfest, founded in 1997, is a three-day showcase of some of the best talent in the area. Here you’ll find three outdoor stages, an Artist Market, family fun at KidsFest, and more – all to benefit music and arts education.

Spend a fun family-friendly day listening to Americana and blues at the North Georgia Folk Festival, held in Sandy Creek Park.

The Athens Human Rights Festival just celebrated its 41st year of promoting free speech and confronting human rights issues – activism workshops and discussions are center stage here, but there’s plenty of live music to entertain you while you get woke.

Published: September 2019