Over two decades since Athens burst on the music scene with the legendary B-52's and R.E.M., "the density and diversity of bands still teeming in downtown Athens keep it the alpha and omega of the college music scene" (Rolling Stone, 2/20/03). That Athens took top honors in Rolling Stone's music scene ranking should come as no surprise to the countless number of visitors from across America and Europe that have traveled to Athens for years, drawn by the music.
By night, Athens is alive with a variety of music clubs that offer entertainment suited to every taste. World-famous venues such as the 40 Watt Club and the Georgia Theatre attract up-and-coming musical acts as well as established headliners. Both the 40 Watt Club and The Melting Point were named Top 40 Music Venues in America by Paste magazine in 2007. There are literally hundreds of bands that currently call Athens home. To keep on top of the music scene -- new bands in town and which bands are playing where -- Athens visitors need only pick up a free copy of Flagpole.
While Athens' clubs are pulsing with the current sounds by night, Athens' musical heritage is alive by daylight through self-guided Music History Tours, available online or at the Athens Welcome Center (280 E. Dougherty St.). Visitors can explore the roots of Athens music at such spots as the railroad trestle featured on the cover of R.E.M.'s album Murmur and various incarnations of the 40 Watt Club.
Downtown Athens is teeming with restored historic buildings that house an eclectic collection of boutiques, galleries, restaurants and cafes, in addition to performance spaces. Visitors to Athens can spend hours browsing through the collections of music at local retailers such as SchoolKids Records and Wuxtry Records & CD Exchange.
Even dining can be infused with the music scene. Weaver D's Fine Foods serves up soul food under the slogan "Automatic for the People," the inspiration for the title of R.E.M.'s 1992 album. Nouveau Southern cuisine that satisfies all the senses is at The Last Resort Grill, in a building noted for memorable performances from the B-52's, Jimmy Buffett, Guadalcanal Diary, and Steve Martin. The Grit has gained fame for its vegetarian fare, best-selling cookbook, and its loyal following among musicians.
Athens' music scene extends beyond the nightclubs. Long before R.E.M. and the B-52's, America's top jazz and blues performers played at The Morton Theatre in the early 1900s. A National Historic Landmark, The Morton is fully restored and is open for tours as well as hosting a full calendar of performances. World-class classical performances can be seen at the University of Georgia Performing Arts Center, while The Classic Center hosts national touring acts from country and rock to Broadway and beyond.
The annual showcase for Athens' music and arts scene is AthFest in late June. Over 175 bands play a wide variety of musical styles night and day on indoor and outdoor stages, making it a perfect opportunity for music fans from all walks of life to enjoy this renowned music scene. An artists' market and Kids Fest activities complete the festival's offerings. AthFest attracts over 20,000 fans annually.