AthFest Is Back

A view of the AthFest crowd during the 2013 event. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. 
Courtesy of AthFest Educates

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A view of the AthFest crowd during the 2013 event. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates

After two pandemic-delayed years, the music and art festival is ready to rock, inspire and educate.

The return of AthFest is being welcomed with “pure excitement,” by the entire staff and participants of the annual music and arts festival, says Director Jill Helme. “We’re ready. Especially after last year, when it was canceled with only two weeks to go. We’d done all the hard work — we just didn’t get to reap the rewards. So for the 2022 edition, we’re prepared to have a good time in downtown Athens.”

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A view of the AthFest main stage during the 2014 event. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates/Connelly Crowe

Credit: Handout

A view of the AthFest main stage during the 2014 event. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. 
Courtesy of AthFest Educates/Connelly Crowe

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
A view of the AthFest main stage during the 2014 event. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates/Connelly Crowe

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

After two COVID-19-cancelled installments, AthFest is currently back on track for three full days of music and art for all ages. But Helme is quick to note that even though the live event experienced an unfortunate downtime, parent organization AthFest Educates certainly wasn’t idle. “We didn’t skip a beat. We continued to administer all our programs from 2020 through 2022.”

To the casual observer, AthFest is merely another annual gathering of live performances, art markets and food vendors. But the benevolent group offers essential support of music and arts education for Athens-area youth throughout the year. “Our grants can go to any of our public schools, nonprofits or government programs who support art education within the community,” Helme says.

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Jill Helme is Executive Director of AthFest Educates, parent organization of AthFest. The festival runs Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

Jill Helme is Executive Director of AthFest Educates, parent organization of AthFest. The festival runs Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. 
Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

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Jill Helme is Executive Director of AthFest Educates, parent organization of AthFest. The festival runs Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

During the recent 2022 academic year, AthFest Educates awarded a variety of fine arts initiatives. It funded wall mural programs, enabled students to attend live theater performances, purchased musical instruments and supported various photography and instruction projects, including a unique after-school violin course at a local elementary school.

The worthy recipients are selected by committee and according to Helme, the association is typically able to honor over half of the requests it receives. Of course, Athens has a long history of support for young artists but the chairs and volunteers of AthFest Educates are taking it to a new level of hands-on societal interaction.

Subsidized by profits from AthFest weekend in June and the AthHalf Marathon and 5K in October, the charitable fund has grown from a modest music showcase to world-class endowment group. “We have a long-term strategic plan,” says Helme, who joined the team in 2014. “Our goal is to build up the financials in a way that regardless of what happens with the festival or the race, we will be able to provide the donations in perpetuity. We’re currently working toward the level of financial stability to assure the grants will never be in question.”

As AthFest prepares for its 24th year, it continues to mirror the growth and change of the scene it represents. The first one was decidedly low-key, recalls AthFest booking chair Troy Aubrey. “The bands played on the Courthouse steps and the acoustic shows were in a 10-by-10-foot tent with a chair and a vocal PA. The second year, I became stage manager, and then I started booking the bands. It’s really grown every year. We’ve done it so many times now, we know how to do it professionally and logically.”

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Troy Aubrey is the Music Booking Chair of AthFest. The festival runs from this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

Troy Aubrey is the Music Booking Chair of AthFest. The festival runs from this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. 
Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

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Troy Aubrey is the Music Booking Chair of AthFest. The festival runs from this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Yet as AthFest has expanded, Aubrey says one constant remains. “The focus has always been on presenting the current trends and sounds. We’ve certainly peppered in those classic Athens bands that everyone knows about, but we really enjoy showing what’s happening at that moment.”

This year there’s a special emphasis on the younger generation of acts. “Being away for two years, we really wanted to focus on what’s going on right now so people can get an overview of how quickly things are evolving here. As I grow older, it makes my heart happy to see all these young bands sprout up and start playing out. It’s just wonderful to work with them and witness their exuberance and excitement of playing music.”

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ISHUES performs at 4 p.m. on the AthFest Wicked Weed Stage. The 2022 edition of the festival runs Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

ISHUES performs at 4 p.m. on the AthFest Wicked Weed Stage. The 2022 edition of the festival runs Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. 
Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

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ISHUES performs at 4 p.m. on the AthFest Wicked Weed Stage. The 2022 edition of the festival runs Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In addition to the free outdoor attractions, the diverse sampler of music also includes a concentrated “club crawl” feature which includes ticketed VIP seating at two historic venues, for fans of a certain age who might not want to stand through several hours of live music. Both the Georgia Theater and 40 Watt Club are offering a varied slate of performers on Friday and Saturday night. The acts include everything from the classic art rock of Pylon Reenactment Society to the crucial hip-hop of Linqua Franqa.

With the diversity of sounds, visual art is equally distinct and fresh at AthFest. “We have a ton of new faces this year,” says artist market chair Stephanie Hall. “There are a number of returning favorites, but it’s especially exciting to see all the new art emerging each year. We have a nice mix of styles and approaches. For every Jamie Calkin, who everyone knows, there are some really talented new people who are just starting out, so the market is really well balanced for every possible taste and age group.”

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Jamie Culkin is among the creatives featured in the 2022 AthFest Artist Market. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates/Jamie Culkin Art

Credit: Handout

Jamie Culkin is among the creatives featured in the 2022 AthFest Artist Market. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. 
Courtesy of AthFest Educates/Jamie Culkin Art

Credit: Handout

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Jamie Culkin is among the creatives featured in the 2022 AthFest Artist Market. The festival runs this Friday, June 24 through Sunday, June 26. Courtesy of AthFest Educates/Jamie Culkin Art

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

In keeping with the spirit of the scene, originality is key. “We have two main vendor areas, the artist market and the commercial vending area. Our criteria is simple. The art has to be handmade and it all needs to be unique.” Thus, fans of practically any medium can find treasures to simply admire in passing or purchase for home display.

“Like Athens itself, AthFest is all over the spectrum of art,” concludes Hall. “There’s so much artistic history in this town, from R.E.M. to the Drive-By Truckers and all the music to all the painters, craftspeople and everything in between. I think people can just feel the energy of it all again. We’ve stuck it out through the bad times, now we’re eager to show Athens as the magical art and music city it’s always been. This is not just a concert or an art show or even a nonprofit — it’s really all of that, within the awesome footprint of one big festival.”


FESTIVAL PREVIEW

AthFest

June 24-26. Outdoor stages and art markets are free admission. Tickets for Friday and Saturday night club shows are available at the Georgia Theater and the 40 Watt Club and via AthFest.com. $15 (advance) and $20 (door). VIP tickets are $80. 706-548-1973, AthFest.com, athfesteducates.org.