Why Don’t “Big Bands” Come To Athens?

What is a “Big Band?”

“When I think of (a big band) I think of a band that can sell out an arena.” That’s Chris Pyle. He’s a band member and the owner of Donkey Coffee.  Pyle has lived in Athens for more than two decades and has seen a shift in big bands coming to Athens.  

Athens lacks the infrastructure to support thousands of fans, he said.  The largest venue in Athens is the Convocation Center at Ohio University and that can only hold 13,080 attendees.  Arenas like U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati can hold up to 17,556 people, and Nationwide Arena can hold up to 20,000. Big bands will see these two venues and completely overlook Athens.

The city of Athens isn’t built to host thousands of screaming fans.  It’s a quaint city where indie bands can come and add their music to a melting pot of culture.  

That’s not to say popular bands never came to Athens.  Back in 2009, the Grammy award-winning band Wilco played at Ohio University.  The sold-out show was in Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.  Even with the show selling out, there were only 2,000 seats available. 

Donkey Coffee has an Open Stage night every Thursday.  Sure, Wilco probably won’t be there, but you’ll catch the next up-and-coming superstars’ first performances.     

A senior at Ohio University has some interesting insight into why a smaller concert could be a good thing.  Dakota Jarrell is a history education major in the CARE program at Ohio University. 

“Big bands could use smaller venues to seem more exclusive,” said Jarrell. With an intimate setting like Memorial Auditorium, bands could connect more with their fans. 

Grace Zaher, another senior in the CARE history education program, counters that point by saying, “a lot of big bands revolve around a big arena and having a pit.”   Zaher has been to six large concerts in her life;  Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Fall Out Boy, Panic! At the Disco, and Paramore.  Her reason behind why big bands don’t come to Athens is there’s a lack of a venue.

What are some concerts Ohio University Students have gone to?

However, Athens County does attract large music gatherings like Numberfest and the Nelsonville Music Festival.  Big names like Machine Gun Kelly, Wiz Khalifa, and G-Eazy have been to Numberfest. 

On the other hand, Nelsonville Music Festival offers a larger number of indie bands.  Both play a big role in keeping Athens on the map as a music hotspot.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and see if Athens will become the birthplace of some new music.  With its music history, maybe a musician here will pioneer a new fusion of rap and folk.        

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