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AthFests humble beginnings grows to almost 200 bands
Artists who will be showing their works at this year’s AthFest range from small portrait artists, above, to potters to large-scale painters. - photo by JOHN MCDONALD

AthFest 2009 schedule

AthFest 2009
When: 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Washington Street, Athens
How much: Free outdoor shows, $15 for Club Crawl wristband, $20 at door

Jared Bailey had a plan 13 years ago to bring more music to downtown Athens.

As part owner of the 40 Watt, a longtime music venue, and Flagpole magazine, Bailey had the contacts and set the plan into motion.

The first year of AthFest, a summer music festival, in downtown Athens was planned in 10 weeks, with 60 bands performing for free.

“I started out as a student at UGA. I was writing entertainment articles for The Red & Black (student newspaper) so I was going to the local venues and reviewing bands,” said Bailey, the Small Business Resource Center Coordinator for the Athens Clarke County Economic Development Foundation. “I got to know the people that worked in the clubs and I ended up being a doorman at one of the clubs, the 40 Watt, and then I ended up being the manager of the 40 Watt and then the owner of the 40 Watt.”

Bailey owned three different nightclubs at once and had a passion for promoting the local Athens music scene.

“I always tried to be kind of a voice for the music scene here and started Flagpole,” he said. “So it could be the outlet because the local papers did not really cover the local scene back then. And then the next step was creating this festival, which is an organized effort to promote music and arts in Athens.

“There was nobody doing it. I tried to get individuals to do it and finally just did it myself — I don’t do it myself (today), don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people and volunteers.”

Now, in its 13th year, the annual roster is up to about 200 bands.

“Every year since then, partly because we had more time to plan and partly because it’s a natural progression, the event has grown a little bit every year and we’ve included different types of events and arts,” said Bailey of the non-profit annual music and arts festival.

AthFest begins Friday, with two outdoor stages on Washington Street and a “club crawl” after dark with special concerts at most downtown venues. There is also a KidsFest with activities for children and an artist’s market.

“One of the out-of-the-blue things that I think is going to be really popular ... is the Nappy Roots are playing,” he said of the Milledgeville hip-hop group made famous for their song “AwNaw.” “We don’t do that much hip hop at AthFest and it’s not because we have anything against hip hop but there’s not a big hip hop scene in Athens.”

AthFest typically stays true to its college rock roots.

“There’s people like the Dead Confederates playing, Black Lips, those are great bands,” he said. “We’re having a band (Dreams So Real) from the ’80s that was a pretty big band back then.”

During the past decade AthFest has seen acts such as John Mayer and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland.

“John Mayer played AthFest twice before he was known; his family actually lived in Athens,” Bailey said. “If you average it out, it’s been around 200 bands for 13 years. There’s been a lot of great performances.”

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