By: Lauren Leising | Photos Contributed by: AthFest
What comes to mind when you think of Athens, Ga? The ever-expanding, bustling, beautiful city we call home is known for great food and drink, an incredibly diverse population, a tight-knit community and, of course, music. One of the most defining characteristics of Athens is its booming music and art scene. It it known for producing and hosting up-and-coming artists from around the country in its iconic venues, such as the 40 Watt Club and the Georgia Theatre. The profound emphasis on music and art is felt throughout the city and has given rise to concerts and festivals year-round, including the annual AthFest festival that takes place each June and draws the community together to celebrate after the school year has come to a close.
According to Jill Helme, the current AthFest Executive Director, “[AthFest] started 19 years ago as a small festival on the steps of the courthouse with a few hundred people in attendance,” and has since “grown to a multi-day festival that spans four blocks and welcomes over 30,000 people to the city of Athens.” The festival celebrates musical and artistic talent from people across the country and includes several days of live music, artist booths and a two-night Club Crawl around Athens.
AthFest is organized and put on by AthFest Educates, which is dedicated to supporting music and art education for youth in the Athens area and to encouraging students to pursue their creative passions. All proceeds from the festival go directly to providing schools and organizations, such as Barrow Elementary School and the Lyndon House Arts Center, with funding for arts programs for young students and children.
At Barrow Elementary School, Leslie Sokal-Berg was able to purchase new instruments for her students and says that the school is “able to completely transform what [they] offer [their] students.” At the Lyndon House Arts Center, Didi Dunphy, the program supervisor, says that the arts center is using their first grant from AthFest Educates to purchase the equipment needed for a stop-motion animation program for fourth- and fifth-graders and to expand their program offerings.
Each year the Lyndon House Arts Center organizes week-long summer camps for the youth of Athens and is dedicated to showcasing the talent of young artists and to showing students the joys of art. The value that AthFest Educates places on the arts resonates with both Sokal-Berg and Dunphy, who believe that the arts offer students opportunities to excel in life by seeing the beauty and possibilities in art.
“Kids that struggle with reading, math or general studies can find success in the arts,”Sokal-Berg says. Didi Dunphy believes that art “is integrated into life” and that creativity is necessary for success in the future. Studying the arts allows students to fully express themselves and take pride in the things they have made, and that is something to be valued.
When discussing AthFest, one cannot forget the outstanding and diverse range of musical performances featured on the festivals’ stages. The festival has played host to local, regional and national performers and has offered many up-and-coming bands the opportunity to gain traction and expand their fan base. One such band is Seven Handle Circus. Shawn Spencer, a member of the band, has performed in three AthFest celebrations and will be opening the festival on the main stage this year. He explained that he enjoys coming back to the festival because of the enthusiastic audience, diverse crowds and the overall “culture of it.”
Noah Adams, member of Dirty Bourbon River Show, will also be returning to the festival this year and says that he enjoys playing AthFest because “they host a great range of acts in a wonderful setting.” He says that one of the best things about the festival from the perspective of a performer is “looking out from the stage and not being able to tell where the crowd stops.”
Ryan Price, a junior at UGA, was standing in the crowd at last year’s festival and loved it. “There was a very diverse crowd,” Price says. “Everyone finds their place and enjoys themselves.” He agrees that the festival truly offers something for everyone and that “AthFest epitomizes the college and music scene [Athens] has. It is a true Classic City event.”
Whether you stay in Athens for summer or not, coming downtown for AthFest is truly worth it, and you will be sure to leave enthused and excited. By fusing the art, music and culture of Athens, AthFest makes the crowd come alive. The festival offers each person something that stirs them, makes their heart beat fast and brings them into community with those around them. With the intention of furthering music and art education for students, AthFest succeeds in bringing people together to celebrate and educates us all on how to have a good time.