Since opening in 1979, 40 Watt Club has served live music to locals and University of Georgia students in Athens for the past 35 years. Despite its 500-person venue capacity, this humble music venue hosted some very large acts like Iggy Pop, Sonic Youth, Against Me!, and The Strokes.
The 40 Watt Club is a music venue in Athens, Georgia. Along with CBGB’s, the Whisky a Go Go, and selected others, it was instrumental in launching American punk rock and “new wave music.”
The 40 Watt Club had its origins as Curtis Crowe’s College Avenue loft back in 1978. Bill Tabor and Curtis joked that it was a 40 Watt Club due to the single 40 Watt bulb which hung from the ceiling. Curtis’ first party in his space featured his band Strictly American a group of friends from Marietta, Georgia, which included members of the future Guadalcanal Diary. Curtis and Bill would hang out in his loft upstairs and listen to Michael Lachowski and Randy Bewley practice the same riff over and over again in the space directly below. Curtis eventually knocked on their practice space and asked if they could use a drummer and Pylon was born. During Pylon’s subsequent tours of the Northeast, Curtis theorized that opening a real club on a shoestring was possible. Crowe and his partner Paul Scales then moved the “club” across the street to a space above a sandwich shop at the corner of College and Broad Streets. It opened with Curtis still making last minute additions to the bar and stage. The Side Effects played that first night and Pylon on the second. It was an instant smash with the local youth of Athens. The floors had to be reinforced with removable beams due to the intense dancing that took place. Later, with new partner Steve Allen, Scales migrated the club to a larger space on West Clayton Street. Amenities such as a stage and hot water were added, as was a second bathroom. True to the 40 Watt method it was assembled with found materials (including toilet and sink) and volunteer labor. Local artist and musician David Hannon Pierce created the first iteration of the club’s famous logo, as well as all the updated variations still in use.
Doug Hoechst bought the club from Allen and Scales and moved it to 382 E. Broad Street and renamed it “40 Watt Club Uptown”. The 40 Watt Uptown was large and professional, and it was a major stop for underground independent music acts in the 1980s. When rents increased on the space, the club moved back to its West Clayton Street location (“the new old new 40 Watt”). At the same time, the formerly small, spare competing club, The Uptown Lounge, expanded to a much larger space (the Georgia Theater). Therefore, with Uptown Lounge taking over as the high-capacity venue there was again a market for a small club that would focus on local acts. The Club later moved to its current location on Washington Street, the former Potter’s House Thrift store building. The 40 Watt Club is currently owned and operated by Barrie Buck, the former wife of R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, who has managed the club since 1987.
R.E.M. LIVE AT 40 WATT CLUB
The 40 Watt Club was the primary performance space for numerous “Athens bands”, including Pylon, R.E.M., Love Tractor, Dreams So Real, Drivin N Cryin, Guadalcanal Diary, The Primates, Indigo Girls, Modern Skirts, and others. Its DIY ethos and informality were instrumental in the fostering of punk rock and a “scene” in Athens, GA. In more recent years, the club has been the home-base for such nationally renowned local bands as of Montreal, Drive-By Truckers, and The Whigs.