National influences spark Athens’ folk music revival

he native Athens folk-rock band, The Ridges, pose for a portrait at Strouds Run State Park. The band from left to right, percussionist Johnny Barton, cellist Talor Smith and lead singer Victor Rasgaitis often return to Athens to play their folk-inspired music at Uptown venues (Dustin Lennert | Director of Photography)


In the 1960s, national folk artist Jonathan Edwards started school at Ohio University, picked up a $29 guitar and immediately started a band. Edwards would later drop out of OU to take his music to the city of Boston.

Now, during the 2000s, folk has been on the rise from bluegrass, to singer-songwriter and now a resurgence of bands.

“Music comes in and out of favor with people,” said Steven Fox, who plays multiple instruments and sings backup vocals for local folk rock group The Spikedrivers. “It’s like when ‘O’Brother Where Art Thou‘ came out you saw bluegrass everywhere.”

The Spikedrivers themselves have gone through changes over their decade-long career, starting with deep roots in country, folk and bluegrass but in more recent years moving more toward rock and roll.

Fox said that national trends in music have some influence over the music created in Athens, especially for new bands looking to get a leg up.

Victor Rasgaitis, lead singer and guitarist for The Ridges said he has noticed a national influence on local folk from big name bands such as Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Decemberists and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

This national influence has led many musicians to move away from a solo career in Athens.

“In 2005, when I was a freshman, it was crawling with singer-songwriters,” Rasgaitis said. “Now it seems like a lot of people are really getting the spirit of collaboration, the idea of bigger sound and that folk doesn’t have to be a hushed, bedroom sound.”

And while bars such as the Smiling Skull Saloon, 108 W. Union St., are known for playing host to the metal scene, several venues in Athens have become the go-to for folk musicians. Coffee shops such as Donkey Coffee and Espresso, 17 1/2 W. State St., and The Front Room have been known for being some of the best venues in town for the genre.

“Whatever Donkey lacks in sheer capacity, it makes up for in atmosphere,” said Troy Gregorino, booking agent and open stage manager for Donkey. “It’s a great place for music on the quieter side to be heard and appreciated.”

But Rasgaitis said Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery, 24 W. Union St., and Casa Nueva, 4 W. State St., have also done well in supporting the growing number of folk bands.

Gregorino added that folk music is a large field because it encompasses nearly all acoustic music, and there is no better place to play acoustic music than the daily open stages in Athens.

“There’s outlets for acoustic music every day of the week,” said Junebug, the booking agent for Jackie O’s. “Here anyone can wander into an open stage on any given day, just on accident — who knows what might happen to them.”


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