Athens, Georgia, is known as the Classic City—thanks, for the most part, to its name’s ties to that classical city of old, where knowledge and philosophy grew like poppies on the hillsides. But over the past several decades, this Southern Athens has established itself as a progenitor of a new kind of classic: here, the fertile soil doesn’t breed masterminds of language, but of music.
Rock and hip-hop, country and alternative, artists across genres and sounds have found inspiration in Athens, and in those Georgian streets gave birth to some of the classic songs of their era. Though most folks recognize ’90’s alt-rock progenitors R.E.M as Athenians, it may come as a surprise to hear just how many bands hail from the little Georgia city. Here are five you may not have known were from Athens, Georgia.
- The B-52s
The B-52s found their footing after drinks in a Chinese restaurant in Athens (photo courtesy of Alterna2)
Beloved by karaoke singers and bedazzled party-goers everywhere, the B-52s are self-proclaimedly “The World’s Greatest Party Band.” Their bubble-gum pop anthems have inspired optimistic music listeners for over forty years, and hits like “Love Shack” have propelled boogieing across the country. Though their early days are most often associated with the ’70’s nightlife of New York City and dance halls like CBGB’s, the B-52s did in fact get their start in Athens. Formed in 1976 following a night of cocktails and revelry at a local Athens Chinese restaurant, the B-52s were born, named for the classical Southern hairstyle of big haired bouffants. The B-52s’ unique performance style (more party than professional) earned them loyal followers for decades, right up through their 34th anniversary concert in their hometown in 2011.
- Drive-By Truckers
Drive-by Truckers (Hood and Cooley at center) are a popular Athens mainstay, thanks to their constant touring (photo by Danny Clinch)
Perhaps as divergent from the B-52s as musically possible, Drive-By Truckers also found their feet in the harmonic lands of Athens. Natives of the Shoals, frontmen Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley played together for years in a series of unconventionally named bands (like Adam’s House Cat, for instance). When Hood settled in Athens, he began building Drive-By Truckers with the intention of cajoling Cooley into his new band. Since 1996, the Southern rock band has maintained a devoted fanbase through their uninterrupted tour schedule and powerful online presence. Though membership of the band is far from fixed and its musicians in perpetual flux, Hood and Cooley remain constant.
- of Montreal
Electronic experimentalists of Montreal didn’t earn their popularity until the frontman’s move to Athens
Chock it up to moon cycles or coincidence, but 1996 was a fortuitous year for Athens’ musicians. It was also in that year that Kevin Barnes created the experimental group of Montreal, named for his doomed romance with the woman “of Montreal.” Though Barnes had been performing under the name before 1996, it wasn’t until his move to Athens, and the incorporation of local artists into his group, that he found success. As part of the collective Elephant 6 Recording Company, which included other great Athens groups of the ’90’s like Neutral Milk Hotel, of Montreal found inspiration in the psychedelic pop of the ’60’s. Over the years, the group’s sound has constantly evolved as they embraced musical styles from electronic to funk to country.
- Widespread Panic
Jamband Widespread Panic got their start in a University of Georgia dorm (courtesy of Widespread Panic)
Like many great ideas, Widespread Panic was born in the smoky confines of a college dorm room. John Bell and Michael Houser met in 1981 while attending the University of Georgia in Athens and began collaborating on musical projects. Named for Houser’s previously incessant panic attacks, Widespread Panic got their start in 1986, playing at fraternities and bars around the college town. By 1987, they had signed a contract with Landslide Records and embarked on their journey of becoming one of the most well-known jam bands in America. Oft compared to such iconic acts as the Grateful Dead and Phish, Widespread Panic’s unique Southern twang distinguishes them from other jammers and indicates their Athenian heritage.
- Danger Mouse
Danger Mouse has worked with such incredible and ranging artists as Adele, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, A$AP Rocky, and Portugal. The Man (photo courtesy of musicisentropy)
Better known by his self-designated appellation Danger Mouse, Brian Joseph Burton is a modern musical powerhouse unlike any Athens has ever seen. Though he grew up in New York, Burton refined his musical style while in Athens, remixing songs by local artists (Neutral Milk Hotel again) and DJ’ing for the university’s radio station. Danger Mouse’s rise to fame came in 2004 with the release of The Grey Album, a mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album. The album worked as spark to flame, and his career catapulted into superstardom. He collaborated with Ceelo Green to form chirpy hip-hop duo Gnarls Barkley in 2006, then with James Mercer of the Shins in 2009 to create indie-alt group Broken Bells. More recently Danger Mouse has delved into production, working alongside world-renowned artists across literally every genre, like the Gorillaz, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nora Jones, Adele, A$AP Rocky, and Portugal. The Man. Nominated for eighteen Grammys and recipient of five, Burton is undoubtedly one of the most influential musical artists of the past decade—quite the feat for a musician who chose the name Danger Mouse based on a British cartoon and the costume he wore during performances to hide his rosy-cheeked apprehension.
HEAR WIDESPREAD PANIC PERFORM “PORCH SONG” HERE