Culture + Style

A Smorgasbord of Tunes: 7 Ways to Delve into the Athens Music Scene

Walk in the footsteps of musical greats like the B-52s and R.E.M. when you visit Athens and retrace the history that’s made the city a modern music mecca. The bands were among those that brought the city’s music scene to national attention in the 1970s and 1980s, but Athens’ musical roots date back to jazz musicians that played the city in the early 1900s.

The vibrant music scene features hundreds of bands that continue to make history. Here’s where to immerse yourself in Athens’ thriving musical culture.

Music Tours

Dive deep into the city’s musical roots by booking a guided music history tour through the Athens Welcome Center. If you prefer to see the sights on your own timetable, download a walking guide from their website.

Discover two dozen musical points of interest, including the iconic railroad trestle featured on the back cover of R.E.M.’s “Murmur” album and the house where the B-52’s played their first gig.

Music Festivals

Discover up-and-coming talent and listen to local record-label favorites at one of Athens’ annual summer music festivals. The summer season kicks off with AthFest in June, featuring more than 100 bands playing at a dozen indoor and outdoor venues throughout the weekend.

Buy a wristband to access every show; sales proceeds go to funding music education for kindergarten through eighth grade students. August’s Athens PopFest is another summer festival showcasing the hottest new bands and legendary favorites.

athens ga music venues
Meet your favorite bands at Wuxtry Records. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Historic Morton Theatre

Restored in 1987, the Historic Morton Theatre is one of the country’s oldest Vaudeville theaters still operating today. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and other noted musicians of the Jazz Age played in the “shoe-string splendid” theater, which seated 700 people on wooden seats and bleachers.

Bands including the B-52s used the building’s basement for rehearsal space in the 1970s. The theater hosts concerts, musicals, theater performances and other events, including several free concerts each year.

The Georgia Theatre

Enjoy dinner and a show in style when you plan a night out at the Georgia Theatre. The venue’s rooftop restaurant offers panoramic views looking out toward downtown and the University of Georgia campus.

The historic building dates back to 1889, when it began life as a YMCA, and went through several incarnations before reopening as the Elite Theatre — later renamed the Georgia Theatre — in 1935. Rebuilt in 2009, the venue is fully equipped for standing-room-only concerts for up to 1,000 people.

The 40 Watt Club

athens ga music venues
Alt-rock fan? 40 Watt is your go-to. (Photo: Getty Images)

The city’s premier alternative-rock nightspot, the 40 Watt Club, is a can’t-miss venue of international renown. The club got its name from its original dim space on the third floor of the 1892 Myers Building on College Avenue, which was lit by a single 40-watt bulb.

The wildly successful club outgrew four venues since its inception in 1979, hosting music styles ranging from punk rock to country. Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, Run-D.M.C. and the Black Crowes are just a few of the artists that have graced the 40-Watt Club stage.

The Foundry

Enjoy live local music nearly every night of the week at The Foundry, set in one of the city’s oldest buildings. Now one of the city’s most notable music venues, The Foundry’s high-beamed ceilings and exposed brick walls roll out a rustic backdrop for up-and-coming acts like Strawberry Flats and Carl Lindberg Jazz, as well as national acts like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Nappy Roots.

Treat your tastebuds to The Foundry’s fresh, handmade Southern cooking featuring locally sourced ingredients.

Hire a Musician

Whether you’re planning an Athens wedding, business convention or romantic proposal, incorporate the city’s musical vibe by hiring a local musician. Contact the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau to get in touch with a musician or band perfect for your event and budget. Remember to take the music home with you.

Stop by Wuxtry Records and browse the “local” section to find albums and CDs of the bands you’ve come to love during your visit.