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Kate Wakefield of Cincinnati's "Lung" plays electric cello and sings grungy rock originals at Casa Nueva for Benefest on Nov. 29, 2018.

How the Athens music scene has evolved over the years

Technology and social media have forced the music scene in Athens to evolve to accommodate new genres and compete with bigger acts. 

"We must cater to who is selling tickets in our area,” Brandon Thompson, executive director of Ohio Brew Week and the Halloween Block Party, said. “Athens is a melting pot of people from Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. The cream always rises to the top.” 

Country music, for example, is the quietest genre in Athens despite the city’s rural location. 

"Local fairs had a lot of country music in the late 90's and Courtside used to do a country music night. Country Night Lights played in the same venue as Numbers Fest and had high attendance because Sam Hunt played,” Thompson said. 

Thompson said he thinks that electronic music has taken a foothold in Athens and across the country. 

Technology has helped artists, like Bobby Fleck, a senior studying music production, to create pop-up shows because the cost of equipment is less. Fleck’s DJ style is a mixture of rap, EDM and rock music. This semester, he can be found DJing at the Overhang in Athens. He has also DJed in Cleveland at The Ivy, Magnolia Cleveland and FWD Day + Nightclub in Cleveland.

"Marshmallow, an EDM and pop artist, was the biggest artist to play in Athens. They drew a pretty decent crowd at 16Fest," Fleck said. 

Fleck also played Numbers Fest last year.

"Playing Numbers Fest and have the title of playing right before all of the main acts was amazing,” Fleck said. 

He thinks that the most popular genre being played in Athens right now is rap because that is what is played to students at the bars. Though rap and EDM remain the most listened to genre right now, technology has changed the landscape for music production and marketing. 

There is more competition for your money to be spent at events outside of Athens, like Coachella. Social has made marketing regional and national events easier. 

"The 1990's and early 2000's were crazy. It was a street takeover, you had to walk through wall to wall (crowds) to get from Wendy's to Valero. Now there is more law enforcement, and the music is more important,” Thompson said.

There was one stage at the Halloween Block Party this year. Thompson said not having a DJ changed the energy of the crowd compared to the last 40 years. 

People have also realized they cannot be as unruly because there are immediate consequences for their actions with the rise of social media. 

Some artists that have achieved greater fame after Numbers Fest are the Chainsmokers, Migos and Diplo. Artists use a venue like Numbers Fest, technology and marketing to their advantage.

"Numbers Fest has done a great job of booking artists that haven't blown up quite yet but are about to. Numbers Fest exists to expose people to something new," Thompson said. 

The Nelsonville Music Festival has used creativity to outlast technological advancements and draw larger crowds every year. 

At the festival, a skate ramp is used as both a stage and a place for kids to learn to skate, and a rustic cabin where bands play acoustic sets without electricity. 

The Nelsonville Music Festival began 15 years ago as a fundraiser for Stuart's Opera House for the Athens residents to enjoy. In the first year, 750 people came to the festival. Now, there is approximately 7,000 people in the crowd and over 40 bands playing. People of all ages come to the show because it supports the Opera House, which is a nonprofit.

Brian Koscho, Marketing Director of Stuart's Opera House and the Nelsonville Music Festival, said people are eager to come the festival because they are eager to camp and buy a beer and that is supports a greater cause.

“This changes the way people take (the festival) in. Even as it grows, the festival never loses sight of the community," Koscho said. 


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