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Commentary: Shrinking Scene

By Jillian Mapes, Editorial Director

I would never be so delusional as to think that everyone who cares one iota about the Athens music scene flocks to The Union or Casa Nueva as much as I do to see local rock’n’roll bands. What I have to say does not hinge on this assumption. It does, however, function under the belief that local music matters.

For those who let it, local music becomes a part of our lives in a way that’s different from the other music we enjoy. It becomes deeply personal when the physical presence of the musicians behind the songs is almost as important as the songs themselves. The wall that seems to exist between musicians and fans is broken, and suddenly they’re just people, sitting at a table at Donkey or three sheets to the wind at some party. Or they’re your close friends, and you know the stories behind the songs they play to strangers every weekend. Both distinctions are meaningful on a local level. You notice when these musicians take an exit from the scene, and maybe even an exit from your life.

<img src="" alt="Photo by: Erica McKeehen">

<img src="" alt="Photo by: Erica McKeehen">

The Athens music scene has taken a few hard blows in last four months. It seems much of the music in a college town has to be on a three or four-year cycle, which I realize is nothing new. But the dissolution of four of the local scene’s most popular rock bands – Russenorsk, the Sad Bastards, Casual Future and Kaslo – has left holes. It started with Casual Future and Kaslo, who both played their last shows, respectively, on June 5 and June 6. The epidemic lasted through the summer, with Russenorsk announcing in July that September 11 would be its final show and Sad Bastards playing its last two shows the first weekend of September.

Not only did all of these final shows bring out large crowds, but they brought out large crowds that really seemed to care. Some of the crowd members had seen the bands form, perhaps not knowing that they’d someday become major players in the local scene, and now knowing the words to their songs (I’m remembering the sing-along at Kaslo’s last show). As I stood among a packed crowd of loyal fans at the last Russenorsk show, I knew this was the case. I recognized many faces from Washington Hall, the dorm I – and Tim Race and Jack Martin of Russenorsk – lived in freshmen year.

This isn’t to say that a band’s biggest fans are necessarily its closest friends, but it does illustrate a point that people feel more of a motivation to participate in local music if it’s personal. Although the dissolution of established acts could leave the music community feeling slightly unrecognizable, I view the departures as a chance for Athens local rock scene to grow. While a location change of band members is the cause of some of the break-ups, many musicians will remain in Athens and undoubtedly go on to form new musical projects over the next several months. I expect solo albums in the works from some, while others will join forces with already existing acts. The most exciting part, however, is emergence of new leaders in our small scene over the next several months. Athens, despite its lack of metropolitan edge, has a history of musicality. I am certain this will never change.

Music can define a location and even a time period in someone’s life. For those not involved, these bands whose dissolution I mourn might just seem like four-piece bar rock to make swigging PBR at The Union feel more enjoyable. But for some folks, the music represents the eccentricity of Athens and the four years most of us spend here – growing up, changing, and reminiscing over. They’re memories worth recalling, just like the music made here is worth listening to – even after the bands are long-gone.

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