Athens loses more than a bar

Maybe it was R.E.M. Maybe the B-52s.

It could've been someone who didn't make it quite so big. Or maybe you actually saw a movie there.

If you lived in Athens in the past 80 years, and especially if you went to the University of Georgia, chances are at some point you paid a visit to the Georgia Theatre.

A landmark - maybe the landmark - of the Athens music scene, the Georgia Theatre has played host to hundreds of bands and thousands of college kids and music lovers over the years, all looking for a little entertainment, a cold beer and a good groove.

But the good times are over, for now, at least.

The Georgia Theatre was gutted by fire Friday morning, and that fire punched anyone who'd ever been there right in the gut.

The Georgia Theatre was a constant in Athens since the Great Depression. For decades it hosted movies before being turned into a music venue in the 1970s. It continued to show movies, but for the past 30 years the focus has been on the music.

Walking downtown to wait in line with your friends underneath the old marquis was a part of your coming of age as a UGA student. It didn't matter if it was a national act or a band you'd seen once at a frat party, it was bound to be a good time.

You could sit in the old theater seats, stand down by the stage or venture up to the balcony. Wherever you were, you soaked up the atmosphere, the music, and yeah, probably a little alcohol, too. And you made memories.

Two come to mind immediately for me. The first was going with a big group of guys to see a Led Zeppelin cover band. One of the idiots in our group kept yelling "Play some real Zeppelin songs!" until the bouncers finally threw him out. (No, the idiot was not me.)

The second was a trip to watch George Foreman fight Tommy Morrison for the WBO heavyweight title on pay-per-view. After 12 rounds of boxing, and God only knows how many rounds of Miller Lite, the crowd was in no mood for the decision and didn't take Foreman losing very well. But man, did we have a good time anyway.

We had a lot of good times there.

Bars come and go in college towns, but the Georgia Theatre was so much more. And the fire may have taken the building, but it can't destroy the memories.

I hope owner Wilmot Greene rebuilds, but we'll miss forever what used to be, because like Greene says, they just don't make 'em like that anymore.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His regular column appears on Fridays.