AthFest gets the party started

Athens DJs bring back the spirit of the city's musical golden age

THIS YEAR'S the sixth annual AthFest, downtown Athens' celebration of music and art, features performances by more than 125 bands and musicians. "Like the city of Athens, the festival is pretty laid back," says festival promotions chairman Jeff Montgomery. "Unlike bigger music-related events, AthFest is still comfortable for families to enjoy together."

This year, the otherwise mild-mannered Montgomery will be getting in on the fun himself, with his own act playing the 40 Watt Thursday, June 20. Das Cowboys U.K., the DJ duo featuring Montgomery and Nelson Wells (head of Athens radio promotions company Team Clermont), is a just-for-fun unit that will play a late-night set after the Athens Music awards.

"It's fun to make folks dance," Montgomery says. "The so-called golden age of Athens' music was based on people dancing and having fun. Hopefully, we can help bring that spirit back."

Like the early '80s heyday of arty new-wave music, the DJ scene is a familiar clique. "We all know each other, swap gigs and recommend others, and go dance at each others' shows. There isn't any competition, really." While there's some overlap of tunes between popular Athens DJ acts Krush Girls, DJ Twin Powers and the Baxter Street Boys, Montgomery says the groups all have their own styles and signature songs.

"Our motto — 'Giddy the fuck up' — was actually coined by DJ Ass Money (Chris Bilheimer of the Krush Girls)," says Montgomery. "We all play stuff to get people moving. Everything from Aretha Franklin's 'Think' to Pink's 'Get the Party Started.'"

The current Athens DJ scene is charmingly reminiscent of the days when Pylon's Michael Lachowski and others would host late-night dance parties at the 40 Watt and Georgia Theatre. The late hours and loss of inhibitions on the dance floor lets even the most hardcore indie-rock fan let go and dance. "The concept of throwing down and having fun dancing is still here in Athens," Montgomery says. "When we play ELO's 'Don't Bring Me Down' at 2 a.m., everybody's singing along and having fun. And that's the spirit of Athens music, right there.

"People don't dance as much to bands anymore — they think they're too cool," he continues, "So nowadays, they need a good excuse to get some exercise instead of looking morose and sucking on a PBR in the corner. It's like the early '80s scene when the party is really going."

Athens, of course, is full of history, and in anticipation of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame's 25 Years of Athens Music exhibit, opening June 29 in Macon, the city is decked out in displays of its music history. The "Scene Seen Music Memorabilia Tour" features 15 tableaus of Athens music artifacts — album covers, vintage rock photos, classic posters, musical instruments and other artifacts — displayed in downtown storefronts through June 23.

The tour builds upon a smaller music-history exhibit held at the Morton Theater during last year's AthFest. Organizers hope to find a permanent home for all the memorabilia in the future.

When he's not spinning records or promoting AthFest, Montgomery, with fellow festival organizer Troy Aubrey, also runs Athensmusic.com, a website that sells Athens-related CDs and LPs. "After Japancakes played last year," Montgomery says. "The Athensmusic.com booth sold a bunch of CDs to folks who had obviously never heard the band, or even their name, before. But they stuck around, watched the show, and loved what they heard. And that's why we do AthFest."

AthFest 2002 runs June 20-23 in downtown Athens. 706-548-1973. www.athfest.com.??