Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood discusses his efforts to save Athens, GA

By Laura Ferreiro

Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood has joined forces with R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and several fellow Athens-based musicians to call attention to a development plan they believe would jeopardize their city’s historic downtown district if it gets passed.

The group came together to form Patterson Hood and the Downtown 13, and recently released the single “After It’s Gone,” a mellow, twangy tune that paints a picture of what it would be like if downtown Athens became an overdeveloped “strip mall town.”

“I approached the song as a love song for Athens,” Hood tells Music for Good, explaining that members of Widespread Panic, Futurebirds, Drive-By Truckers and Hope For Agoldensummer all donated their time and talent to the track.

Rather than preaching, Hood and his cohorts want to educate people about the proposal that would create an 8.3 acre mixed-use development anchored by a 94,000 square-foot Walmart, which they believe would harm downtown Athens’ small businesses and its riverside greenbelt. “The development as it’s planned right now is vastly out of scale for where it’s going,” explains Hood. “It poses a severe risk to a lot of things that I and other people hold very near and dear to our hearts about this town.”

Downtown Athens' Jittery Joe's Coffee, frequented by local musicians including R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe

Hood emphasizes that the goal of his group, Protect Downtown Athens,  is to inform people about what’s really going on and to get them involved. “There’s been so much hype and misinformation about the project,” he says. “To be fair there have been exaggerations by both sides that cause people to shut down. Our group has made it our goal to make sure anything that’s put on the site is vetted and backed up. I think it’s done a lot of good and cut through some of the noise. Hopefully it will enable people to rally and come together and at least know what they’re standing for.”

Athens has long been a hot-bed of music, birthing bands like R.E.M., the B-52s, of Montreal, Widespread Panic, and Hood’s own Drive-By Truckers. Hood says that Athens’ musical future is just as vibrant as its past. “I love Athens music history and I’m even more excited about Athens music future,” he says. “There are so many great young bands and artists here that are incredible. Futurebirds are poised to become a national band. Grass Giraffes, a punky three-piece, have really good songs. Claire that played banjo for us (on “After It’s Gone’) has a band Hope for Agoldensummer. They’re great and their harmonies are ridiculous. There’s a whole lot happening here.”

Hood fears that the proposed development could have a tremendously negative impact on Athens’ vibrant indie music scene. “It could lead to downturn of whole downtown scene,” he says. “It’s a fragile economy and it’s hard to keep a club open. If it gets to where getting downtown is a pain because of all the sprawl against it, it isn’t good for business. The fact that we have a downtown that’s a mostly local-owned entity is amazing—that’s part of what drew me here.”

Hood explains that he saw his hometown, Mussel Shoals, Alabama go into tremendous economic decline when a large mall opened up. He fears that something similar could happen to Athens. “Moving here in ‘94 was a life-changing for the better event in my life,” he says. “I’ve been giving so much by living here and I want to preserve that for my daughter and my son.”

Finally, Hood points out that although this is a local issue, it has the potential to have wide-ranging effects that could reverberate much further. “All politics start on a local level,” he says. “It’s hard to change the world but you can make a real difference in your town. And if enough people make a difference in their town, it does change the world.”

Video: Patterson Hood & The Downtown 13 “After It’s Gone”

Download “After It’s Gone” here.

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