From the yard behind Southern Brewing Company, the sounds of fiddles and Southern twanged vocals spilled over into the parking lot on July 3. Walking into the backyard, people were met with food trucks, a variety of beers and American flags.
The Classic City American Music Festival hosted nine local bands ranging from Americana to bluegrass to country music. Held a day before Independence Day, the event was in celebration of unapologetically American music.
“Nobody in Athens would do anything for the Fourth of July because everybody thinks it’s dead,” said event organizer Troy Aubrey of Aubrey Entertainment. “People are still looking for stuff to do — I mean, look around.”
Aubrey referenced the crowd of people sitting on blankets and chairs in the Georgia heat, waiting in line for beers or eating food from the local food trucks. At the front of the yard stood the stage where the musicians performed.
The festival started with the Hibbs Family Band, a family quartet local to Athens. The group was a perfect introduction to the event, combining bluegrass and folk music with an alternative rock flair. The fiddle threaded its way into each song, rooted in bluegrass themes between ballads and upbeat tunes alike.
Though the festival followed the general theme of American music, each act was starkly different from the next. The Valley Below demonstrated angst with significant electric guitar and bass presences and rugged, raspy vocals. The Atlanta-based duo Andrea & Mud performed music that was an approximation of blues and country, self-described as the niche genre of “surf-western.”
The Broken String Band, originally formed in Athens, was excited to be back in the city.
“Athens, it’s good to be back!” the band said to the audience. “It’s been a while. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
While watching the show, most of the audience also enjoyed some beer and food from one of the vendors. Food trucks Wrapped Wright and Uncle Ernie’s Pub n’ Grub served at the festival. Wrapped Wright advertises itself as a Spanish and soul-infused food truck, serving tacos at the event. Uncle Ernie’s was originally located in downtown Athens but will be moving to Hawthorne Avenue in addition to its food truck pursuits, according to owner Daniel Battinelli.
Athens resident Maria Baxter attended the festival with her mother and said she loved the family atmosphere.
“I always thought that this place was just an inside bar for people that wanted to come and drink way too much, and it was probably not a very family environment,” Baxter said. “I’m so surprised that it’s just a really sweet environment for families.”
Indeed, families made up the majority of the audience. Children blew bubbles, people walked their dogs and couples hid together from the blazing sun. In the typical spirit of the Fourth of July, everyone celebrated with their loved ones.
Coming towards the end of the pandemic, couple Tori and Reggie Brooks were excited to see live music again as lovers of music festivals. They said they would be more than happy to attend a local festival like the Classic City American again.
“It’s one of those things where you can just kind of show up and do your own thing,” Reggie Brooks said. “And there’s not a lot of pressure or anything.”
There were several more performances from MrJordanMrTonks, Packway Handle, Grassland String Band, Heart of Pine and Parts & Labor. As the night went on, more and more people showed up.
Aubrey said he was happy to have hosted the event in an open space where, even towards the end of COVID-19, people could be as safe as possible. Brian Roth, co-owner of the Southern Brewing Company, said he was more than willing to provide a space to make that happen — especially to support local musicians who struggled during the pandemic.
The night ended with celebratory fireworks and the buzz of excitement that came with enjoying live music again.