Over the course of the past three years, several of the world's most renowned and influential improvisational jazz musicians have found in Athens a haven for their forays into uncharted sonic territory.
Appropriately enough, it all started on an open-minded whim. In 2000, local musicians Julie Powell and Erik Hinds attended a concert performance in Atlanta of the Vandermark 5 featuring preeminent saxophonist and clarinettist Ken Vandermark, a new-school free jazz luminary and the 1999 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur ''Genius'' grant.
''I had no idea who the Vandermark 5 were, but Erik suggested we go see the show in Atlanta,'' says Powell, a correspondent for Marquee and the Athens Banner-Herald. ''I think I had some sort of awakening that night, and the one thing I was sure of was that what Ken and his ensemble were doing was the answer I had been looking for - not so much the style of music, but the passion with which they were innovators.'' After seeing that performance in Atlanta, Powell invited Vandermark to do a residency at the University of Georgia School of Music in Athens. He brought his DKV Trio for three days of workshops and concerts which were a great success, Powell says.
''Although Athens had not been a stop on the avant-garde circuit up to that point, the enthusiastic reception of the attendees led to a veritable who's who of free jazz players coming to Athens over the next two years,'' Powell says. In fact, Vandermark himself returned to play the 40 Watt a year later. At that point, Powell says she met with Vandermark and the idea of a doing a larger scale festival in Athens was born. ''The discussion started with the Black Mountain residencies in which Merce Cunnigham, John Cage, Martha Graham and a ton of other artists from all disciplines gathered to create new art. The whole idea was that Americans were just copying the Europeans as far as 'high' art went,'' she explains. ''When you look at how American art changed after Black Mountain, you can really see the value of bringing all these artists together for synergy. Basically, we just thought it was time to try to do something like that again. Athens is such a creative place with so much support for new art, it really seemed like a logical place to do it.''
And so the Athens Creative Media Encounter Festival was born.
For the first time in the U.S., ACME, under the guidance of Vandermark, brings together 22 international musicians and two journalists for a week of collaboration and dialogue. Starting today, the inaugural ACME Festival will include concerts, lectures, workshops and seminars and bring its lineup of world class performers to the 40 Watt Club and ATHICA: Athens Institute for Contemporary Art.
Although the festival this year features only music and journalism, the goal in the future, Powell says, is for the festival to be multi-disciplinary with artists collaborating over a longer period of time, hence the name Athens Creative Media Encounter. Meanwhile, through ACME, Hinds, Powell and Vandermark hope to attract not just free jazz die-hards, but anyone interested in exploring a form and approach to music that challenges preconceptions and never promises to be mainstream-palatable, but also holds infinite rewards for those willing to make the leap.
Sure, the obstacles to overcome might seem intimidating at first.
[Athens [GA] Creative Media Encounter Festival April 1-5, 2004]
Concert Program Day 2:
Friday, April 2
8 p.m. - Joe Morris solo
9:30 p.m. - The Thing & Joe McPhee
11 p.m. Atomic/School Days