On a recent HeadCount outing, I had the pleasure to be among the nearly 1,000 happy and adoring fans joyously singing along with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes ‘Home, let me come home-o-ome, Home is wherever I’m with you.’ And while most people were probably thinking of their significant others, it occurred to me that I was singing to the Georgia Theatre itself, because that is absolutely how I feel every time I walk through her doors.
Anyone who knows Athens, Georgia knows the place has a way of getting in your system and never letting go. We have many icons that are a source of pride for those connected to Athens, including the Tree that Owns Itself, the University of Georgia with the Arch and our ever-precious Bulldogs, the music scene and its revered forerunners – R.E.M., the B-52s and Widespread Panic and there is no denying that the Georgia Theatre has cemented itself as an institution among these greats. There is a palpable energy this venue holds that makes it a very special place, not just for music nerds like me, but for the staff, the thousands of fans who’ve crowded up to its stage and the thousands of artists who have played there.
This was never more apparent than after the ‘Great Fire’ of 2009, which gutted the interior and literally brought down the roof. I was out of town the weekend of the fire, but an old college friend called me that morning to let me know what had happened. It is hard to explain the emotion I felt because I only knew the venue as a music fan, but I was affected by the news. I felt like I needed to get back to Athens, like an old friend was dying. Imagining the fire brought tears. It was sad. It hurt.
For many Athenians, the Georgia Theatre was an old friend. Originally built as a home for the YMCA in 1889, the building had several incarnations — as a music store, furniture store, movie house, Masonic Temple and department store before becoming a performance venue in the 1930s. It became the Georgia Theatre in 1978 and operated as a music venue for a few years, hosting legendary shows by The Police and B.B. King. It’s a little hazy, but as I remember it, my first experience at the Theatre was in the late 80s during its relatively short stint as a movie theatre, where I attended a midnight screening of the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ Just a year later in 1989, it once again became a music venue as it remains today. Before as a UGA student and since I moved back to Athens in 2005, I have stood in its crowds many, many nights seeing all kinds of amazing shows. In the wake of the fire in 2009, much was written chronicling the Theatre’s storied past. To say the Georgia Theatre is adored and loved by many is an understatement.
Thankfully, through the fundraising efforts and sheer will of former owners Wilmot Greene & Scott Orvold and a myriad of contributors throughout Athens and beyond, including a benefit held by the Zac Brown Band among others, the Theatre reopened in 2011, modernized and more glorious than ever. The venue continues to attract the best artists of many different genres from indie, funk, rock, electronic, pop to country. With the renovation, the rebuilt venue’s capacity nearly doubled with two levels of balconies and a rooftop bar/restaurant that hosts free live shows featuring up and coming artists and local favorites most nights of the week.
And so it was that in 2012, I found HeadCount through my slight obsession with the Disco Biscuits, became a volunteer team leader for Athens and immediately initiated a partnership with the Georgia Theatre. The ever-amazing and super-supportive artist relations rep Katie Carmody championed our cause and we never looked back. The recent Edward Sharpe show marked our 64th show tabling at the Georgia Theatre since I started with HeadCount, representing nearly 1,000 registered voters, many registering for the first time.
The Theatre has treated us like family, giving us an awesome space on the second floor balcony level to set up our table and engage audience members. We even recruited one of their security guards, Walter, or as he is more commonly known, Big Momma, as a regular volunteer! So whether you remember this space as the long, grungy black hallway that used to house the restrooms or only know it in its current form, an art gallery displaying works by local artists, beautifully situated behind the famous red Georgia Theatre marquee, you can expect to see us there on pretty much any given night, clipboards-a-ready, asking, “Are you registered to vote at your current address?”
And to be sure, I will likely be there, with a big fat grin on my face and probably still humming, “la, la, la, I am home!”