In this corner, from Athens, Georgia... 

Indie-pop darlings Modern Skirts play the SMF

Local success came quickly for the Modern Skirts. Though the Athens, Ga.-based indie-pop quartet had played together informally for quite a while, within six months of choosing a name and making a public debut they began racking up all sorts of acclaim from local club-goers and print media in that college town famed as the birthplace of such seminal alternative bands as The B-52’s, R.E.M. and Love Tractor.

Flagpole named them “Best Pop Act” and “Best Up & Coming Band” at their 2004 Music Awards, and before long, they were booked to play Atlanta’s high-profile Music Midtown festival, saw their debut DIY album Catalogue of Generous Men named as one of the “Best of 2005” by trendsetting music mag Paste, and watched their hometown fanbase swell enough to regularly fill the legendary 40 Watt Club to its 700-person capacity.

Not bad for a group whose sound —a mix of piano-based pop, British Invasion rave-ups, Brian Wilson-esque vocal harmonies and vaguely psychedelic Americana— doesn’t scream “Athens.”

“When that (critical success) finally happened,” says singing pianist and bassist JoJo Glidewell, “we all had the same ambitions, even though we never expected we’d be so well received.”

When asked if, a few years into their upwards trajectory, the band is finally feeling a bit of backlash in their local music scene, Glidewell chuckles.

“Actually, the backlash has kind of subsided. It happened pretty much immediately! In Athens, there’s a lot of hardcore indie music, and among those folks, it’s considered selling out to tune your guitar (laughs). For something as palatable as we are, some folks would actually come up and mock us openly in the street. You know, like, ‘Look at that famous guy,’” he says.

“On the flip side, we’ve had people say, ‘I used to think you guys were bullshit, until I saw you play, and it turns out you’re really good (laughs).’ In reality, 100 miles outside Athens, we still often play to nobody.”

That likely won’t be the case at their upcoming Savannah Music Fest appearance. The show, held in the new Charles H. Morris Center (a 200+ seat venue featuring the closest thing this annual event has to a nightclub atmosphere) is one of the only rock-oriented shows in this year’s SMF, and the first concert they’ve ever offered which starts at midnight. It’s obviously designed to appeal to a younger crowd than can be reasonably expected at many of the festival’s more staid offerings.

The band’s set will include material from their past releases, plus new tunes written since their last local show, and perhaps, a taste of their forthcoming CD (due in August). That record was co-produced by R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and Cracker’s David Lowery, both avowed fans of the band.

In fact, the group will open for R.E.M. at a major gig in Amsterdam. “The pressure at that gig will be intense,” admits Glidewell. “It’s gonna be crazy, but we’ll just have to get out there and do what we do.”

Modern Skirts
Where: Charles H. Morris CenterWhen: 11:55 pm, March 28Cost: $10 at www.savannahmusicfestival.org or by calling 525-5050.Info: www.modernskirts.com

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Jim Reed

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