Using Newspapers to Track Dates and Locations: The Georgia Theatre (1978-1982)

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Written by our friends at Athens Heritage Room.

For much of its pre-1989 history, the Georgia Theatre was one of several movie theaters in downtown Athens. While two cinemas, the Ritz and the Strand, had long since closed, competition among these downtown businesses in the early 1970s was still tough. The Palace Theatre, the Classic Triple, and the Paris Adult Theatre all drew potential customers away from the Georgia Theatre. The Classic Triple was relatively new and had all the amenities expected of a up-to-date cinema. The Palace had been completely rebuilt in 1970: what had been a classic theater with a standard marquee was utterly transformed via a unique modernist design (some call it Brutalist) that sadly went unappreciated by many Athenians: the structure was later replaced by a parking deck. Perhaps the Georgia Theatre could not keep up, as it closed in 1976.

Not too long after, the dawn of 1978, the Theatre returned, not as a cinema, but as a music venue. The articles below, from the Athens Observer of January 5, 1978, and the Red and Black of January 6, 1978, provide the details. (Note that, for images like this that contain most or all of a single newspaper page, you can open the image in a new tab to view it at its original, larger size and thus more easily read the text.)

One would be hard-pressed to pick a better band to inaugurate the music version of the Theatre than Sea Level, a Macon-based group that developed out of the Allman Brothers Band. They had released their debut album in 1977; they were beginning a national tour with this Athens date. (The opening concert prompted dual reviews in the Red and Black.) Music of a similar style, concocted by “jam bands,” while perhaps not as innovative, would become the bread and butter of a later version of the Georgia Theatre that lasted from another re-opening as a music venue, in 1989, until a fire destroyed much of the building’s interior in 2009.

Other visitors in 1978 included Earl Scruggs, John Prine, John Hartford, Vasar Clements, and of course David Allan Coe, who (having already played the Last Resort the previous year) made at least two appearances at the Theatre that year, on Saturday, April 29, as reviewed in the Red and Black of the following Wednesday, May 3, followed by an engagement on Saturday, October 7, as mentioned in a brief note found in the Red and Black of the following Tuesday, October 10. Coe would become a Theatre regular. The review of the April concert is shown below.

Arguably the new venue’s biggest attraction that year was blues legend Muddy Waters, on tour promoting his late-career successes Hard Again and I’m Ready, released in 1977 and 1978, respectively. The clipping below, from the April 6, 1978, Red and Black, provides an example of what Georgia Theatre advertisements looked like in these early months. Especially important for researchers, as we have seen from other ads in this series, is the listing of places where tickets were sold, in this case one local record shop (Chapter Three), one franchise record shop (Record Bar), the offices of the Athens Observer, two stereo shops (one local, Custom Sound; one franchise, HiFi Buys), and the venue’s box office. A few upcoming gigs are also listed.

Note that the Woody Shaw performance listed in the ad would end up taking place at the Last Resort. The performance by Waters was reviewed in the April 11, 1978, Red and Black, as seen below.

In 1979, the Georgia Theatre continued to host big attractions, including Jerry Jeff Walker, the Police, the Ohio Players, Leo Kottke, B. B. King, J. J. Cale, and returning champions Scruggs, Prine, and Coe. The ad shown below, from the April 4, 1979, Red and Black, lists some of these concerts and notes a special deal on ticket prices just for students.

An ad for the Police gig found in the April 26, 1979, Red and Black appears below. Local band, the Tone Tones, opened for them. This is an example of the style of advertisement that the Theatre ran that year and into 1980.

In the Athens Observer, the Georgia Theatre was listed under the “concerts” section of its weekly schedule, alongside large Atlanta venues and classical music and other performances at the University. An example from the September 20, 1979, issue is seen below.

Moreover, those associated with the “new music” scene began promoting shows at the Theatre, the kind of music that you would not expect to happen in a town the size or location of Athens: the playful avant-garde jazz masters the Art Ensemble of Chicago, punk rockers the Cramps, and, on two occasions, former Velvet Underground member John Cale. Having visited May 25, 1979, Cale returned February 29, 1980. Local band Pylon opened for the second show (and opened for the Cramps as well). Things seemed to be going well at the start of the new year. Besides Cale, blues musician B. B. King also returned. A brief note about his second show at the Theatre ran in the Athens Observer published on January 17, 1980.

The John Cale concert won a rave review in the Red and Black, as seen here.

This phase of the Theatre’s history, however, would prove almost as short-lived as the “i and i” club. By April, 1980, the venue seems to have closed. Based on concert listings in both the Red and Black and the Athens Observer, the Cale show may have been the last. In the May 28, 1980, issue of the Red and Black, the entertainment editor, Bobby Byrd, mentioned the “apparently defunct Georgia Theatre.”

Newly renovated, the Theatre briefly reopened a year later, apparently only for a single concert. The article below (from March 10, 1981) is the last of several that the Red and Black ran explaining the situation; it leaves the reader wondering if the concert actually took place. The article says that the building’s owners already have different plans for its future. Those plans, it turns out, would entail making it again a movie theater.

An article in the April 9, 1982, edition of the Red and Black announced this latest reopening. The full page provides an enriched context, with advertisements for two theatrical productions happening on campus and the Cole Bros. Circus “under the big top” set up in the parking lot of the still-new Georgia Square Mall.

An example of the advertisements run by this new cinema version of the Theatre is provided below, pulled from the September 17, 1982, Red and Black. Notice the “Carafe & Draft” appended to the venue’s name. Often the theater would be referred to as the Georgia Carafe and Draft. Later, its official name became the Carafe and Draft.

As a bonus feature of this post, below we have a poster advertising the second John Cale concert. As noted previously, Chapter Three Records was responsible for bringing Cale to town, made clear on this poster; it was one of several shows the shop’s owners organized during this important phase of Athens music history. We also see noted another local record shop, Flip Side. This poster was previously displayed at the Paper Covers Rock exhibition held at the Lyndon House Arts Center in 2014.

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