Athens music history demolished with urban development

On February 17, 2018, Flowerland stands at 653 North Milledge Avenue, which once held a private residence in which the B-52’s would hold its first show in 1977. (Photo/Maycee Dukes)

ATHENS, GEORGIA — Many critical places for  Athens’ music history have been damaged  in the last 50 years by urban development projects in the city that prides itself as a music monolith of the Southeast.

Experts explained that with the last half of the 20th century came the Federal Urban Renewal and Model Cities programs, along with other plans for urban development that would remove landmarks of Athenian music.

“As far as the overall scene here goes, we cover a lot of ground…We’re really lucky in a town of this size,” said Christian Lopez, a librarian in the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Library at the University of Georgia. “Athens is smaller…you can drive from one side of town to the other in fifteen minutes.”

Despite its small size, Athens holds over 25 venues to see live music, most located in the downtown area. In the early 20th century, venues existed across Athens-Clarke County, and in places one wouldn’t normally expect.

“If I want to see a band or something, I go downtown,” said Allison Whited, a junior at the University of Georgia studying early childhood education. “Anything outside of there I don’t think of much; it’s not really near anywhere I go.”

Post-segregation Athens would see the demolition of many of these outskirt venues; for example, a pool hall owned by Athens bluesman Neal Pattman, which was destroyed in the late 1960s to make room for Bethel Midtown Village.

R.E.M and Divine Destruction

One of the most famous musical demolitions is that of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, also known as “the Church.” The Church serves as a major landmark for the birthplace of American alternative music; Athens legend R.E.M. was known to practice here often and even played its first gig in the church, a birthday party in 1980.

The Church was demolished in 1990 to make room for the condos that stand today. All that is left of the Church is “the Steeple,” lying in its’ original spot next door to what is now Nuci’s Space on Oconee Street.

B-52’s Pushing Daisies

The B-52’s is another world-renowned group with origins in Athens and are credited with putting Athens music on the national radar. The group played its first concert in 1977 at 653 North Milledge Avenue, which, at the time, was a private residence. Today the home has been demolished and replaced with a floral shop and an adjoining parking lot.

While pieces of Athens history have been replaced with modern structures, the Athens music scene is still vibrant and thriving.

“The most striking characteristic actually for me of the scene right now is how diverse it is, and how vibrant in different areas it is,” said Susan Thomas, a professor at the University of Georgia Hugh Hodgson School of Music. “It’s a mixture, and sometimes those groups overlap in interesting ways.”

Even though the music scene may not be as internationally prominent as it was thirty years ago, its history has led to the development of a culture that is inseparable from the identity of the city of Athens.

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