The University of Georgia has provided the town of Athens with one of the southeast’s greatest sports empires — and a built-in audience for up-and-coming music acts. Starting in the late ’70s, Athens became known as the launch pad for now household names like R.E.M. and The B-52 and helped give birth to the “college rock” genre.
Since that initial wave, Athens has continued to support a thriving indie music scene, while also hosting national touring acts. Located on College Avenue, the Hotel Indigo Athens Downtown-Univ Area is just a short walk from some of Athens’ most popular music venues and annual events:
The Legendary 40 Watt
Perhaps the most well-known club in town is The 40 Watt Club. Although it has changed locations a handful of times since first opening in 1978, The 40 Watt has remained an iconic and integral presence on the Athens music scene.
The venue that helped launch acts like R.E.M., Pylon and The B-52s today hosts an eclectic mix of big-name touring brands and rising local talent in its 500- capacity room.
The Historic Georgia Theatre
The Georgia Theatre has occupied an important place in the heart of local music lovers since it began hosting music acts in the late 1970s. In 2009, fire destroyed its Depression-era interior, causing its roof to collapse. Thankfully, a series of fundraisers allowed the venue to be completely renovated and reopen.
While its concert hall can hold more than 1,000 people, the best seats are ones on the balcony directly overlooking the stage. The Georgia regularly hosts major touring artists, such as former Drive-By-Trucker Jason Isbell to local jam heroes Widespread Panic. If you’re looking for something more low-key, check out the rooftop bar, which offers free shows almost every night of the week.
Small Venues, Big Dreams
Outside of the larger venues, Athens is home to a series of small clubs that attract a range of talented acts.
The Caledonia Lounge is known for hosting some of the best up-and-coming hardcore and punk bands in the country — just make sure you bring earplugs.
The Foundry is another historic venue located just a five-minute walk from Hotel Indigo. The century-old, former iron foundry programs a mix of smooth jazz and Latin fusion acts, and also is a lower-key spot for a burger and a cocktail.
Little Kings, The World Famous and Go Bar are all bite-sized venues with cheap beer, inexpensive shows and great under-the-radar bands. These places are also well-known for hosting various DJ nights that are usually packed out with townies and visitors alike getting their groove on.
Notable Annual Events
In late June, downtown Athens closes itself to traffic for one weekend to hold Athfest Music and Arts Festival. Headlined in the past by acts like Of Montreal, Patterson Hood of the Drive-By-Truckers and Arrested Development, the free event hosts two stages full of local (and close-by) artists. Athfest also features a kid’s stage, beer tent and a host of food trucks.
Also held in June, The Hot Corner Festival celebrates hip-hop, R&B, gospel — and soul food. The name comes from its location at “the hot corner” of Washington and Hull streets.
Athens Popfest, held in August, and Slingshot Festival, held in late March/early April, are two annual events worth putting in your Athens calendar. Both festivals typically offer a series of “super shows” at venues that include a mix of major acts and local bands under one banner.