Joey Aich, a familiar face in Athens, is suiting up for his fourth performance in the bricked city. During a tumultuous year and a half which most spent isolated in their homes, the hip-hop artist continued to create, desperately waiting for the moment he could return to the stage and connect with audiences again. 

Now that the time is finally here, it feels surreal, Aich said.

Aich is set to perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at The Union, 18 W. Union St, with Jeremiah Hayes and other special guests. Admission is $8.

Aich has been waiting for this tour. In June 2020, Aich released an album that he spent 2019 and early 2020 working on. Once the pandemic struck, there were days he didn’t want to create anything. Since this past year and a half has featured more than just a deadly disease, including Black Lives Matter protests, Aich said he was uncertain as to what he should be actively pursuing.

“On one hand, it’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m a Black artist,’ and I want to push my music and everything,” Aich said, “But it’s also like, ‘Yeah, there’s also civil unrest, and is this the time to be promoting music, or is this the time to be stepping up for a bigger cause?’”

He also said he didn’t want to write about solitude and the mundane times COVID-19 brought because everyone already knew that all too well. At the end of 2020 is when the creative juices started flowing again.

Aich, a self-proclaimed “big ball of energy,” encourages those who want a night of excitement to come to his show.

“I have this thing where I say, ‘Every show is Coachella,’” Aich says. “It doesn’t matter if there’s five people there, 50,000 people there. I’m going to give my all every single time.”

Wisconsin native D.B. Rouse is set to play the next night, Friday, Sept. 17, at The Smiling Skull Saloon, 108 W. Union St. The Americana artist, who has five different sets he rotates through, promises there’ll be plenty of soul and kazoos. Tickets cost $4.

D.B. Rouse pictured above. Photo provided by Darin Dubinsky.

During the pandemic, besides doing a lot of fishing, Rouse hosted several livestream shows. He said, however, nothing compares to the thrill of live, in-person concerts.

“It’s a different ballgame than the live shows,” Rouse said. “You don’t get the direct feedback and the energy.”

In fact, Rouse said he and his wife set up an audience track so he doesn’t feel as awkward, and it improved his energy levels.

Rouse started doing live shows again in May and said his return has culminated in a whirlwind of vigor.

“Those first couple shows, it was ridiculous just to be able to get out there and do my thing with an actual audience,” Rouse said. “The audience was just as excited as I was.”

To round out the third weekend of September, DANA and The Bobby Lees will be performing at The Union on Saturday, Sept. 18, with doors opening at 7 p.m. Admission is $10.

The Bobby Lees pictured

The Bobby Lees’ frontwoman and guitarist, Sam Quartin, say the band’s sound is “open to interpretation,” though listeners can find dollops of garage punk all over its discography. 

The group came together after Quartin met fellow bandmates Kendall Wind and Macky Bowman at The Rock Academy in Saugerties, New York. Guitarist Nick Casa, joined the band through Wind, and their parents are getting married.

“Technically, we will be a family band,” Quartin said.

When the pandemic began its reign, the band quarantined together before and wrote a lot. Since The Bobby Lees couldn’t tour to promote its newly released album, Skin Suit, the quartet decided to write another one, which will be finished later this year and released in 2022.

The Bobby Lees just performed at The Union on Aug. 7, a day Quartin said they’ll never forget.

“It was one of the best crowds we’ve ever played for,” Quartin said. “We had an open date on our way heading out West in a couple weeks, so we got another show there.”

Now that artists are allowed to play shows again, The Bobby Lees is not going to take the moment for granted. To Quartin, nothing replaces the feeling of being on stage.

“It feels really good,” Quartin said. “We’re very, very happy that we’re back playing. I think all of us love to do it because we need to have a place to put our energy, so we’re very grateful we have a place to do that.”