AthFest: inside / out, past / present

Athens veterans keep it burnin' at home

"We have always tried to tie Athens' music scenes of the past to the present," says Jeff Montgomery, promotion chairman of AthFest, the annual summer celebration of all things Athenian. He says that Athens now boasts over 460 bands, making the scene much more diverse now than it was two decades ago, when a mere handful of bands ruled the city's music scene. With over 150 bands featured in the three-day festival, music lovers can sample a wide variety of music and art while checking out a number of downtown storefront displays containing vintage flyers, photos and memorabilia.

Several founders of Athens' so-called golden age will participate this year, including Cindy Wilson, Bob Hay and Dexter Romweber, who will perform with their new projects. All were featured prominently in director Tony Gayton's 1987 documentary Athens Ga.: Inside / Out, a movie that indirectly led to the creation of AthFest. "It prompted me to move to Athens in 1988," says AthFest booker Troy Aubrey. "The music was original and the artists and |musicians in the film made Athens seem almost 'magical' in a weird sort of way. I wanted to be a part of it." Athens, Ga.: Inside / Out and a host of rare video footage will be shown at Low Yo Yo Stuff, 285 W. Washington St., at dusk, Friday and Saturday.

One of the first bands Aubrey saw when he arrived in '88 was the folksy-new wave, (then) massively popular Squalls. Squalls singer/ songwriter Bob Hay has enlisted former bandmates Diana Torell and Ken Starratt for a new project that celebrates the music of Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796). In addition to Burns' songs, Hay and company also perform old-time bluegrass. Bob Hay and the Jolly Beggars play the outdoor stage at 4 p.m. Saturday.

The B-52's continue to rock love shacks all over the world, but singer and Athens native Cindy Wilson's new soulful, groove-oriented band will be making their Classic City debut at AthFest. Her band contains a busy beehive of Athens history. Keyboardist Keith Bennett (Wilson's husband) is the designer of the B-52's logo. Paul Scales, who also plays keyboards in the band, founded the first location of Athens' famed 40 Watt Club. The Cindy Wilson Band plays the outdoor stage at 9:20 p.m. Saturday.

Based in Athens briefly, garage-rockabilly wildmen the Flat Duo Jets were actually a North Carolina band. Guitarist Romweber — currently joined by former Athens-area resident C.S. LaResh on drums — will revisit some of the old Jets songs during his set. The White Stripes have often cited the Flat Duo Jets as a major influence on their style and sound. The Dexter Romweber Duo plays the outdoor stage at 9 p.m. Friday.

Noah Ray remembers the Inside/Out era of Athens from a different perspective. As a teenager, Ray saw tons of historic music before he was even legally supposed to set foot in a club. Through pal Michael Lachowski, bassist of first-wave Athens band Pylon, Ray met the members of R.E.M. and art professor-filmmaker Jim Herbert, all of whom appeared in the film. When Ray appeared in R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World" video in '87, he instantly went from being "the trashy kid who wore the same clothes every day to being the kid on MTV. Maybe that's why I have to get on stage and scream at people now," he laughs.

Now 30, Ray fronts the aggressive rock band called Music Hates You. Heir to the abrasive spirit of such mid-'80s bands as Jack-O-Nuts and Porn Orchard, Ray's hard-rocking trio have been banned from several area clubs due to their uninhibited antics. Music Hates You plays at Element, 120 E. Clayton St., at 11:15 p.m. Saturday.

"The scene is so much bigger now," concludes Ray. "There are sub-genres of sub-genres. When I started seeing shows, there were probably 25 or so bands, total. Athens is very cliquey and its size makes it easy to be self-centered. But, you know what? Athens is a town you stick to, through thick and thin."