All Four Members of R.E.M. Reunite in Athens

Though they didn't all perform, Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry reunited at the 40 Watt Club, thanks in part to fellow musician Kevn Kinney.

Photo by: Jason Thrasher On November 14, 2013, all the original members of R.E.M. were at the 40 Watt Club in Athens. Mills, Berry and Buck were joined by Bill Rieflin and Scott McCaughey for "Don't Go Back to Rockville" as lead singer Michael Stipe looked on. 

When R.E.M. called it a day in September of 2011, a perfect circle of acquaintances and friends all across the globe came together to share the stories of what the Athens band’s music meant to them via Facebook, Twitter and fan message boards. For the folks in the Georgia music scene who were raised on “Rockville,” knew that “Nightswimming” was a real thing and went to all three Thanksgiving homecoming shows at the Fox Theatre in the late '80s, the announcement was especially hard to swallow. So many memories and connections were made via the lyrics and melodies of four unique Georgia gentlemen. It was as if the world let out one collective melancholy sigh. 

Photo by: Mike White Peter Buck played guitar and a mandolin in his own set and finally a dulcimer on Drivin’ N’ Cryin’s “With the People."

A couple of months ago, R.E.M.’s former guitarist Peter Buck announced a solo show opening for Kevn Kinney and the Roamin’ Countrymen and folks sensed an Athens homecoming. Just like the old days, it was scheduled at the 40 Watt Club; it cost only $5 and, naturally, the show sold out. Kinney is best known as the frontman for Drivin’ N Cryin’ and Buck recently embarked on a solo career. Buck would do his set and then join Kinney with the Countrymen. 

As show time rolled around, that old familiar electricity hung in the air. But even the most optimistic fan couldn’t have predicted the magic that occurred on Thursday, November 14, 2013. Guitarist and sometimes bassist Scott McCaughey, drummer Bill Rieflin (who toured extensively with R.E.M.) and Kurt Bloch (Young Fresh Fellows) accompanied Buck for his set of songs from his current record along with a couple of new tracks. Patterson Hood of the Drive By Truckers sat in for a spoken word performance. 

Photo by: Mike White The former R.E.M. drummer sat in on "Don't Go Back to Rockville" with Buck and Mills and then joined Kevn Kinney for “Gotta Get out of Here,” “Chico & Maria” and “Not Afraid to Die.” The crowd went nuts. 

The packed crowd went nuts when R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills joined Buck for a rousing rendition of “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” along with former R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry, Athens own version of the unicorn. 

“So many great old memories came flooding back that are hard to list, but also impossible to ignore,” said Bryan Cook, a fixture on the Athens music scene. “This was music that meant a lot to me back in the day and for it to be happening right now in 2013 in my backyard was just a great moment.” 

And then it was Kinney’s turn to take the stage whose vocals and lyrics sounded as powerful as ever. The old friends floated through a set of beautifully written songs, Buck plucking on his mandolin or breaking the audiences’ collective hearts with his dulcimer. DNC’s drummer Dave Johnson sat in for a few until Berry reappeared for a few more songs. 

Photo by: Mike White Kinney, frontman of Atlanta's Drivin' N Cryin' sang songs from MacDougal Blues, his 1990 collaboration with his friend and fellow musician Peter Buck at the 40 Watt Club in Athens on November 14, 2013.

“Seeing Peter Buck and Kevn Kinney at the 40 Watt was like taking a time machine to a very happy place. Both played an integral part of my life and times at the Watt and seeing them play again -- with so many different generations of Athenians in the room  -- was pretty special,” said former nightclub owner Tony Eubanks of Athens. “I think Peter defined what so many of us felt with his first words from the stage, ‘It's great to be home.’ There were a bunch of folks who heartily agreed.” 

Buck and Kinney recorded the folksy MacDougal Blues together in 1990 which begat a mini tour. Prior to that in 1988/89, Kinney’s DNC opened for R.E.M. on the Green Tour. Even guitarist Buren Fowler, who played and toured with both bands, joined in for DNC’s anthem “Straight to Hell.” 

Photo by: Jason Thrasher Mills belted out "Don't Go Back to Rockville" in front of a hometown crowd on November 14, 2013 with R.E.M. bandmates Buck and Berry accompanying him. Lead singer Michael Stipe looked on.  

“It was great to see Kevn and Peter onstage with John Keane, who recorded the original album MacDougal Blues,” said record producer and longtime DNC manager Jim Barber. “It's amazing how well these songs hold up after 24 years. That was probably the best version of 'Not Afraid to Die' I've ever heard.”

There just simply wasn’t an audience member that wasn’t swept up or taken by the moment. Even the normally reserved Michael Stipe smiled from ear-to-ear as his fellow Athenians sang along at the tops of their lungs. He also mingled backstage with old friends such as Love Tractor's Armistead Wellford, Pylon's Curtis Crowe, Bertis and Katherine Downs and Dewitt Burton. 

"Peter, Kevn and Friends were great as expected, but there were also lots of unexpected reconnections with old friends,” said music producer/musician/Director University of Georgia’s Music Business Certificate Program David Barbe. “The whole evening was magically delicious." 

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