Athens is one of the country’s most beloved music towns, so it’s no surprise that its annual music festival, AthFest, which also has a strong focus on film and arts, consistently ranks as one of the best. For nearly 20 years, AthFest has been proudly promoting local music and education by transforming downtown Athens into a mélange of musicians, art vendors, and tens of thousands of attendees who brave the dog days of summer to hear some of the city’s best local talent, as well as nationally recognized names, perform live.
The festival requires that more than half the bands must be from the Athens Area, keeping AthFest true to its name. For the 2015 festival, which runs from June 24-28, the lineup features headline artists including New Madrid, The Whigs, The Baseball Project, and of Montreal. Headliners from the past have included Drive-By Truckers, The Glands, Perpetual Groove, Reptar, Cracker, Modern Skirts, and Cindy Wilson of the B-52’s, which got their start right in Athens.
Many downtown streets are closed off to promote a safe playground amongst the outdoor stages, merchants, bars, and restaurants. Two outdoor stages offer free music, while club venues at historic Athens hotspots like Georgia Theatre , The Foundry , and 40 Watt Club require paid admission. An AthFest compilation album is also produced every year as a way to feature local musicians from the festival.
Sponsored by the nonprofit AthFest Educates, the festival also has an altruistic focus, as proceeds from AthFest and the AthHalf Half Marathon enable the organization to serve more than 3,000 students in elementary schools and community-based programs, according to director Jill Helme. AthFest funds help kick-start youth music and arts programs, provide professional development opportunities for music educators, and purchase instruments and equipment for schools.
“It’s inspiring to hear how much passion and history the festival brings to Athens and its residents,” says Helme. “If people could see what I see when I visit these programs, they’d understand just how much impact their contributions to the festival have on these kids and our community.”
Reflecting its commitment to student music programs, AthFest even has a kid-centric offering: KidsFest, with has its own stage and lineup of children’s bands. There are also demonstrations from karate teachers, craft stands, and more. Kids can take part in a wide array of fun activities, like making their own musical instruments, climbing the rock wall, or playing on inflatable slides.
And then, there’s the art. The AthFest art market encompasses more than 40 vendors from the surrounding region, with awards and recognition to outstanding artists from a range of different craftwork categories.
The variety of events and offerings, from musical performances from up-and-coming bands to kids’ activities, makes AthFest appealing for all attendees of all ages. “It has a very nice vibe,” publicist Rachel Allen says. “It really is such a great celebration of all the things that make Athens great from the artists, to the musicians, to the collaborative creative culture.”