Athens, GA is a town that I’ve had conflicted feelings about for a long time. I’ve never spent too much time there but I do make the 90-ish minute drive over for shows for the right band, most recently to see Alabama Shakes at the Classic Center. I’ve been to shows at 40 Watts and record shopped at Wuxtry and had deep fried delicacies at Clocked, but I’ve not done or seen much more of the city. Given the musical history of Athens I set out on a musical road trip to key landmarks in town, specifically for the B-52s.
In case you hadn’t picked up on it, I really love the B-52s. I don’t consider them my favorite band, but I know that I wouldn’t be me without them. “Love Shack” was the first piece of music that I went into a store and bought. It’s a part of me, so when I saw them live for the first time a few years ago I cried like a baby. I’ve also had the luck of meeting Kate, Fred, and Cindy at their show, an autograph signing, and a chance meeting at a bar in Athens. For me, there is no one more glamorous and fabulous than Kate and Cindy.
Depending on who you talk to Athens is either too proud or not proud enough of its musical history. I feel like the shows are frequently (not always!) overshadowed with a certain air of music cred superiority that comes with being the home of REM, Neutral Milk Hotel, B-52s, Widespread Panic, and more. There is lots of discussion among locals about the progress downtown that is overtaking the local musical landmarks. I’m not going to argue either way since I don’t have a dog in that fight.
I will say that in my research it was much harder to find landmarks that I found interesting than I had expected. The Athens Convention and Visitor’s Bureau does have an official musical tour with an itinerary that you can download from their site, but it felt a bit lacking for my taste, so I was trying to piece together something just for me.
- Ricky Wilson’s GraveRicky Wilson is Cindy Wilson’s brother and a founder member of the group. He passed away in 1985 due to AIDs related complications and the band almost didn’t continue on after his death.
I know he is buried at the Oconee Hills Cemetery in Athens and had a pyramid shaped headstone, but I had no luck finding him. I couldn’t find anything online to give any indication to the location within the cemetery. If it had been a cooler day I could have wandered around more, but it was pushing 90 and I just didn’t have it in me. I’m still conflicted about going to people’s graves. Something about it feels unseemly, so I didn’t have the nerve to ask anyone at the cemetery. I may go back one day in the fall when it isn’t 900 degrees in the shade.
- The “Love Shack”Legend has it that “Love Shack” was inspired by the house that Kate Pierson lived in out on Jefferson River Road. The house itself burned more than 10 years ago under suspicious circumstances. Even with all of the accounts of the fire I could only find vague descriptions of the location, as “just north of Vincent Road”. I reached out to the Athens Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to see if they could help me with the location. I heard they were forwarding it to someone else to answer, but it’s been 10 days with no response. I did some poking around on Google Maps and didn’t see anything that looked promising, but given that it was more than 10 years ago that isn’t at all surprising. Once I was there my solution was to just drive that stretch of Jefferson River Road and see what I found. Ultimately this is the best that I did, a picture out of my passenger window of what I think is a nearby field, because “it’s set way back in the middle of a field.”
Feeling unaccomplished I opted to head over to Weaver D’s, a site I knew I could find, and the inspiration for the title of REM’s 1992 album Automatic for the People.
At the end of the trip I did at least listing to a lot of B-52s and have a new found love for “Mesopotamia,” “Good Stuff,” and “Is That You Mo-Dean”… and I listened to “Love Shack” while “headin’ down the Atlanta Highway.”