Road Trip: University of Georgia
The home of the Dawgs is no one-note town. Athens loves its football, but its music scene rocks like no other
By John Walters
All I want is the Glands CD. Should that be so hard?!?
The Glands are the hottest band in Athens, Ga., which is the ancestral home of alternative music. So why can't I find their eponymous CD here in their hometown? Hell, I've run into two of the Glands themselves in the past 24 hours -- the streets of Athens are swollen with Glands -- and neither of them had a copy. I took the advice of my guide, former Georgia kicker Billy Bennett, and visited Schoolkids Records in hopes of finding one. A week earlier Bennett had purchased his Glands CD at Schoolkids and, as he describes it, "The guy who rang me up at the cash register was their lead singer [Ross Shapiro]."
Alas, neither Shapiro, who manages the store, nor his band's disc is to be found at Schoolkids on this day. But that's just Athens, where you're more likely to find a rock star working at a record store than his record.
Speaking of records, Bennett, an Athens native, holds nine NCAA kicking marks, including most field goals in a season (31 in 2003) and career (87 from '00 to '03). The SEC's alltime leading scorer (409 points), the 5'8" Bennett also plays guitar in a band called Whole Lotta Angus (a nod to AC/DC guitarist Angus Young and his band's kick-ass tune Whole Lotta Rosie).
Whole Lotta Angus, a four-man band, has been playing locally for three years. Thus far their Bonnaroo moment, if you will, occurred when they were asked to play a set before a Georgia basketball game. "When we finished playing, everyone started booing," Bennett recalls. "I looked over my shoulder, and I realized that it was because the visiting team was running onto the court."
It is a sultry Southern summer evening, a Wednesday, and yet no fewer than five live acts are playing along the three-block stretch of Broad Street that abuts the northern border of the Georgia campus. Ever it has been this way here, or at least since the B-52's, based in Athens, dropped Rock Lobster on a disco-drunk nation 25 years ago. Fellow townies R.E.M. arrived a few years later, and "alternative music" had its own address.
"A lot of good acts feel like they should come through here," Bennett says. "Whether they actually do or not isn't the point. It's that they feel they need to make a, well...."
What was the word that R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe once used? Pilgrimage?
"Exactly," agrees Bennett.
Our pilgrimage begins at J.R.'s Bait Shack, near the corner of Broad and North Jackson, where Bennett is setting up and doing a sound check for two friends -- an acoustic duo who call themselves Major Tom and Jerry. Then we head half a block south to Tasty World, a refrigerator store turned two-level club on Broad that can accommodate acts playing simultaneously on its first and second floors. The third, top floor houses a nondenominational church, which is to say that the good Lord loathes feedback.
Bennett leads us one block north of Broad to North Lumpkin Street and the Georgia Theater, where John Mayer's No Such Thing video was shot. Just up the street is one of Bennett's favorite haunts, Nowhere Bar, which is owned by former Bulldogs lineman Craig "Sky" (because he looks eight feet tall) Hertwig.
"The bar's name came from when I was in college," says the 6'8" Hertwig, who played for the Dawgs from 1972 to '74. "'Where y'all headed?' 'S---, we ain't headed nowhere.'"
Hertwig is a real Nowhere man, all right, but that suits him fine. "I love my bar," he says. "It's the only bar in town I can't get kicked out of."
We head to the windowless catacomb that is Caledonia Lounge, where we listen to the best band of the night, Timber. Lead singer Dan Nolte provides self-deprecating intros such as "this song is another one of those Bob Dylan rip-offs," but his hooks have more bite than Uga VI. At one point Nolte asks, "Are we too loud? Are we hurting anybody?"
"You're hurting us with your rock!" a lone voice replies.
Just before closing time (2 a.m.) we finally enter 40 Watt, the epicenter of alternative music, where everyone from the B-52's to R.E.M. to Nirvana to Weezer cut their teeth. Stylish it is not, but like everything musical in Athens, it reeks of integrity. Doug Stanley, who plays keyboard and guitar for the Glands, sits on a couch, alone except for a Bud and a smoke. He appears taciturn, brooding, until we ask him about being a musician here.
"The thing about Athens," Stanley says, "is that you can be a f---up at 32. Everyone else is. It's the Island of Misfit Toys of musicians."
Does Stanley know where I can find a Glands disc, or will I just have to beg Bennett to burn one for me? "Oh, wow," laughs Stanley, whose band tours nationwide out of a van. "I dunno, you know? I just play."
Depending upon how you pronounce the i, the term "live music" can either be a magnet or a maxim. In Athens, it is both.
The 48 Hour Guide to Athens
Issue date: September 30, 2004