Crowds of all ages and American and bluegrass sound bands gathered at the Southern Brewing Company on Saturday for the annual Classic City American music festival held over the July 4 weekend.
The annual festival made its return to Athens and featured several local bluegrass, Americana and roots bands playing throughout the day beginning at 1 p.m. Athens band String Theory kicked off the festival.
The festival slowly gathered an audience as people came to the venue with tents, lawn chairs and umbrellas to stay out of the heat. Skies remained mostly sunny, but that didn’t deter attendees from enjoying the live music. Many attendees kept cool and refreshed by drinking water and beer sold inside the Southern Brewing Company.
Troy Aubrey, Founder and President of Aubrey Entertainment, has worked in the Athens music industry for decades and started the company in 2019 to help promote concerts, work with local bands and help people in all aspects of the entertainment industry.
Aubrey brought back the Classic City American Music Festival last summer after the COVID-19 pandemic, but the festival celebrating the 4th of July has been around for more than a decade. Aubrey brought the festival to Southern Brewing Company due to its growing popularity as a post-pandemic venue.
“During COVID-19 when everything was shut down, some of the bands popped up with touring times to play breweries and breweries started hosting bands outside of the pods,” Aubrey said. Aubrey approached the owners of the Southern Brewing Company to start hosting shows and Aubrey held his first show there in April 2021.
In addition to live music performing at the venue, a few local vendors were present at the event to sell merchandise to attendees during the live performances. A constant smell of barbecue pervaded the festival during the day as BentWilly’s barbecue sold its food to festival-goers.
The crowd kept growing throughout the afternoon with the Red Oak Strings Band at 2 p.m., A. Lee Edwards Trio at 3 p.m. and MrJordanMrTonks at 4 p.m.
The festival featured more bluegrass, folk, and Americana bands, which drew an older, folk crowd to the site, but the festival still had people of all ages. Children under the age of 12 were able to enter the festival for free, which made it possible for many parents to bring their children to enjoy the live music.
“I wanted it to be diverse. I didn’t want it all to be bluegrass, so there’s Americana, bluegrass, roots rock, and a singer-songwriter with Don Flemons. Aubrey said, “Americana and bluegrass music isn’t really the best music in town, but it’s music that’s been around for ages and there’s always new generations of bands coming along.”
After 5 p.m., the venue reached its highest attendance for the day with the Hibbs Family Band, a local bluegrass band, performing on stage with several different instruments. Crowds spread all over the venue grounds with groups socializing, playing games and enjoying live music.
Throughout the day, festival attendees hunted the shady areas as much as they could under the tents, inside the brewery and even under the trees. As the sun moved, many festival-goers grabbed their chairs and took to the shade formed by the stage ceiling, which had spread over much of the crowd in front for the next performance at 6 p.m. .
Grammy Award-winning Don Flemons took to the stage in suspenders and his signature hat to perform folk songs in front of the excited crowd. Many spectators had come just to see Flemons play live.
Flemons performed solo for the audience and changed instruments from song to song. Flemons started out with a guitar and harmonica, but moved on to instruments such as quills, banjo, and even acapella for one song. The crowd remained silent, impressed by Flemon’s ability to play each instrument, and clapped loudly at the conclusion of each song.
Athenian Patrick Phelps came to the festival to enjoy the live music, and came specifically to see Flemons perform. Phelps believes that having festivals in Athens gives great visibility to local artists while providing the city of Athens with all types of music to enjoy.
“We have festivals like AthFest, we have this American music festival, we have Wildwood Revival coming up,” Phelps said. “[Festivals] help people get out and get away from daily routine and news to just relax, listen to good music and leave your worries behind.
After Flemons’ set, clouds began to roll over the setting sun, prompting many attendees to tear down their tents for the rest of the evening. The next band to take the stage was Norma Rae around 7:10 p.m. Norma Rae played many original songs which provided an American sound, but also performed a Southern-style cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries.
Darker clouds hovered over the festival just before the last group and many attendees looked up at the sky to see a rainbow that formed as a result. Those dark clouds brought rain to most of Athens, but the festival remained untouched until its conclusion as the Grassland String Band played the last set of the night at 8:15 p.m.
The rain continued as stage lights shone on the band playing original songs as well as bluegrass-style covers of songs like Grateful Dead’s “Friend of The Devil.”
As the band’s concert ended, the audience began to pack up their lawn chairs, pay their bills, and head to their cars after a long day of live music.