Southern Theatre Rises from the Ashes

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Georgia Theatre Sign_FIX copyThe Georgia Theatre will be rebuilt. Last summer the downtown Athens landmark and iconic independent music venue was gutted by a fire. The cause is still listed by authorities as “undetermined.” Built in the late 1800s, the historic space was once a YMCA and a movie theatre before being turned into a music venue in the late 1970s. It went on to hold over 10,000 bands on its stage and become the centerpiece of Athens’ influential indie music scene—a hallowed haunt that helped launch the careers of R.E.M., The B-52s, and Widespread Panic. In addition to being a breeding ground for Southern grassroots acts on the rise, the theatre’s stage has hosted a lengthy list of additional legends from The Ramones and The Police to Dave Matthews, Tom Waits, David Byrne, and B.B. King.

Since the venue has a special place in the hearts of so many musicians, benefit shows to save the venue have been swift and steady. Zac Brown—who cut his teeth with many wild nights at the theatre on his way to becoming one of rebel country’s new stars with a hit single (“Chicken Fried”)—played a huge show at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre in the fall with help from Little Big Town, Oliver Wood, and Shawn Mullins. More shows will be organized throughout the year to help offset the $3 million needed to complete the venue.

Theatre owner Wilmot Greene has vowed to restore the theatre with the same art deco style that provided the rustic character musicians and fans loved about the venue. After the City of Athens approved plans to rebuild, The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation stepped in to collect tax-deductible donations for the hefty project. With high-profile help on his side, Greene has slated this New Year’s Eve as a tentative date for re-opening. Fortunately it appears one of the South’s greatest music rooms will be reborn and live on for years to come. As Daniel Hutchens—front man for the Athens’ band Bloodkin—said, without the Georgia Theatre “the Classic City will suddenly seem a lot less classic.”

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