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Flagpole, Athens’ arts and entertainment weekly.
Athens is a very Southern town. You can find the usual soul food fare: finger-licking fried chicken, barbecue, sweet tea and un-sweet tea. Folks are so charming they’ve perfected the art of saying 'no' while sounding as if they’re saying ‘yes.’
At the downtown core is the old university campus with its bone white buildings surrounded by meandering footpaths. There's the walkable downtown with such a variety of restaurants and shops I challenge you to get bored.
Small and rural this town is in so many respects, but it’s got big-city culture, especially when it comes to music. It may have a measly population of 100,000, but it’s home to over 400 bands of assorted varieties and lots of places for them to play in.
Around every corner there's a music venue. From small holes in the wall to refined symphony halls. The most famous venue is 40-Watt, a club that started out in someone’s studio with nothing more than a 40-watt bulb as the stage lighting system. The club opened and closed multiple spaces all over town until it found its current home on Washington.
The music of Athens skips from genre to genre, as naturally as the kudzu leaves flapping in the breeze. There's far out, gut-wrenching metal on metal, the rhapsodic lilt of violin, combinations of accordion with steel drums, and the down home friendliness of a singer songwriter with a plain-old guitar on a barstool on a patio on a gorgeous sunny day.
Music festivals are timed throughout the year much like the flowers of the South. If it’s March it’s Slingshot. If it’s June, it must be the magnolia of all festivals, AthFest.
There was music before the 1980s, of course. Lots of music. But then three special things happened. The B-52s got the world dancing to Rock Lobster. Pylon inspired bands everywhere (the least known band that influenced so many others. REM launched a career that still resonates.
The Forty Watt Flowers attempts to capture the spirit of this town. The spirit of funky. Of DIY. Of making something out of nothing with the hope that you can make someone somewhere feel some of your passion.
I made the band all girls because I see the South as a very feminine place. But also, I was interested in exploring why it is that when a guy has a goal it’s seen as noble, but when a girl has a goal, it’s treated like a passing phase. It’s “cute” or “flighty” or roll your eyes ridiculous. Men are forgiven so many responsibilities of life when they have something they want to do, but a woman is still expected to do the laundry. Like… what’s up with that? For women, the hurdles are always higher (and sometimes we make those hurdles ourselves).
The spirit of Athens keeps on jiggling, bouncing and jiving into the future. Here’s a video of current Athens musical wizard, Kishi Bashi and his song Philosophize in it! Chemicalize With it! His music is effervescent, addictive super-pop. It will brighten your mood and replay in your thoughts for days.
Enjoy an excerpt:
First Rehearsal, Aline & Trisha
Trisha sat on the curb beside her. "Aline, I’m not an experienced musician or anything. I have no idea what we’re doing. I’m just—"
"You’re going to do very well at this, I can tell," Aline said.
"I just can, that’s all."
Their gazes met. Aline’s smile was so open, like a warm bath.
Trisha asked, "When you write a poem, how do you do it?"
Aline bit her lip. "A poem for me …" She shook her head, started again, "The first thing I do is I get all quiet and I listen."
Aline nodded. "I start with something that resonates with me," she said. "It’s like I’m looking for the seed. That seed has to shake, like all of inside me is just going B-O-I-N-G-! B-O-I-N-G-!"
Trisha repeated, "Boing."
Aline sang, drawing it out, "B-O-I-N-G —I-N-G!"
Trisha repeated, "B-O-I-N-G —I-N-G!"
Aline smiled. "You got it." Then with eyes intent on that interior space of hers, she continued, "Well, that boing gives me a beat. Some days, there’s nothing there. Other days, there’s ten or twelve ideas screaming and it scares me. And then I—"
A thought rang like a chord, high and clear in Trisha’s thoughts. She wasn’t sure if it was because of what Aline had said, or if she’d just needed the space to let it appear. But there it was. She jumped up.
"Aline?" she said.
"We need to get back in there."
About the Author:
Her plays include Back Alley Boys about the hardcore punk scene in Toronto, Eye am Hear which tells the tale of a luddite teenage squatters at some undetermined punkish time in the future, A Brief Case of Crack Addicted Cockroaches about the relationship between the media and politics featuring a city councillor who smokes crack (which was never produced because it was too off the wall) and Interbastation about the beauty in ugliness and the ugliness in beauty. Her novel Public Image tied for second in the Anvil Press International 3-day Novel competition.
In addition to her work as a playwright, Colleen puts on the dramaturgy, editor and script doctor hats for a range of publishers, producers and writer clients. She has a Master in Creative Writing from the prestigious UBC Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing and has taught play writing at the university level. She's also done the Board of Directors thing with the Playwrights Guild of Canada, The Playwrights Theatre Centre in Vancouver and other arts organizations.
She was managing editor of Taking the Stage: Selections from plays by Canadian Women which was selected as the "most saleable dramatic publication of the year" by the Canadian Booksellers' Association. She has also been awarded Arts Council grants by the province of Ontario and Nova Scotia. She has served on the judging panel of several internationl novel awards. Her one-person play Interbastation was selected as one of the top-10 best shows by CBC Winnipeg in 1998.
She lived in Athens from 1999 to 2001 and, while there, reviewed and edited manuscripts for Hill Street Press.
Colleen currently resides in her birthplace, Toronto, with three grey cats and a drawer full of lint brushes.
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