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ATHENS: After fire, Georgia Theatre plots rebirth in July

7:12 PM, Jun 24, 2011   |    comments
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The marquee of the Georgia Theater in Athens. (CNN)

ATHENS, Ga. -- The festival known as Athfest will draw thousands of music lovers this weekend, as it has done for years.

Hardy Morris is on the bill, playing without his usual bandmates in Dead Confederate. Yet this year's Athfest will feature an unofficial attraction, a curiosity on the fringes of the festival.

The Georgia Theatre will reopen next month. And Morris is among those looking beyond the festival, to the revival of Athens' most historic music venue.

"Just seen a multitude of shows at the Georgia Theatre over the years," said Morris. "It's an Athens institution."

The Georgia Theatre will reopen a little more than two years after a fire all but destroyed it.

The reconstruction of the the 122-year old building has been an epic effort - involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. The project has cost some $4.4 million.

"The real challenge of this project was being modern and safe while keeping it historic," said Wilmot Greene, co-owner of the theater. "So the exterior walls, we didn't change anyhthing. But the interior, we had to and did change everything."

The Georgia theatre has added a rooftop restaurant, and other amenities. The interior walls retain the soot from the fire that nearly finished the theatre - forever sealed in polyurethane.

"The whole idea has been to let the building tell its own story and show its scars," said Greene. "And let you know this old lady has been through a lot."

Dead Confederate will be among the first to play here.

Although it hasn't been scheduled yet, the owners of the Georgia Theatre are hoping that the first band to perform on its new stage will be a modest Athens band called Perpetual Groove. The scheduling would be symbolic of the theater's rebirth; Perpetual Groove was scheduled to play there June 20, 2009. The fire cancelled the band's performance.

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