In the wake of the recent economic downturn during the past couple of years, many notable music festivals have been forced to close their gates and shut down operations. The crisis has affected both large festivals like Langerado and Rothbury as well as smaller ones like Athens Popfest—one which reached dire straits in 2009 when they were forced to cancel their festival. Fortunately, however, Athens Popfest managed to overcome its financial struggles by triumphantly returning this past August 10th-14th with a solid lineup featuring headliners Mission of Burma, Apples in Stereo and The Wedding Present.
For a five day festival featuring over 60 bands, Athens Popfest arguably provided one of the best values of the 2010 festival season, with full festival wristbands costing only $45—less than a dollar per band! While the headliners themselves were worth the money alone, one of the best parts about Athens Popfest came through the multitude of talented pop artists gracing the stages of the 40 Watt and Caledonia Lounge.
Among these flat-out impressive support acts were Cleveland’s Afternoon Naps, San Francisco’s Eux Autres and U.K. troubadour John Keith Adams. The biggest surprise, however, came in the form of Japanese pop group Elekibass, who captivated the seemingly unfamiliar crowd with their endearing showmanship and 60’s-laced pop revival. Gracing the stage in elaborate costumes most comparable to that of Athens natives Of Montreal, frontman Sakamoto Youichi engaged and interacted Popfest attendees at a higher level than any other act despite speaking little to no English.
Although festivals often provide opportunity for artists to invite their friends and colleagues onstage for collaborative moments, Athens Popfest took this to an entirely new level. With nearly every band performing during the festival’s three main nights, artists were seen inviting fellow performers from other groups to join their own act onstage at seemingly every possible moment. This was done to the point that for many of the musicians, it was hard to tell which group certain individuals were permanently associated with. At times the festival seemed more like a rotating collective of musicians instead of isolated acts. St. Louis trio Bunnygrunt took the cake in this department as they quadrupled their size at one point by inviting the better portion of the musicians performing on Saturday night onstage for an extended portion of their set.
While Athens Popfest predictably provided its share of pop music, the lineup also included several notable acts from outside genres. The Wedding Present and Mission of Burma led the way in this regard as festival headliners. Both groups, largely known for their influential imprints on alternative rock and post-punk respectively, demonstrated their seasoned crafts as they each efficiently made their way through impressive sets. Add on to that local psych-rockers Circulatory System and St. Louis post-punk band Raymilland, and festival organizers successfully were able to infuse the festival with some particularly compelling variety.
The main highlight, however, came on Friday night, as hometown favorites and original Elephant 6 members Apples in Stereo showcased true Athens pop music at its finest. Approaching their now 20th anniversary, the band settled in right at home as frontman Rob Schneider led the band through an lively and energetic 18-song set including hits such as “Energy,” “Go!” and “Can You Feel It?” Donning shiny silver jumpsuits in lieu of their Travelers in Space and Time tour, Apples in Stereo looked every bit the futuristic part despite playing song after song of glorious retro-pop.
As three and four chord pop songs floated in and out of Athens throughout five-day festival, a resounding bliss seemed to hang over the onlooking crowd. There was never any artistic pretension or stylistic qualms—just simple chord changes and indulgent harmonies. Nothing could have been better than that weekend’s pure pop simplicity, because quite frankly genuine pop riddled with all its beautiful imperfection is truly difficult to beat.