By Griffin Nelson | Photos By Sara Wise Photography
Accolades and awards have been heaped upon Wuxtry Records over the years. It has been on lists of top national record stores in publications like Rolling Stone and USA Today, and most recently it was named the top record store in the state of Georgia in the 2019 Vinyl Me, Please survey of national stores, aptly published under the title “The Best Record Stores in the United States.”
Many people have written and more have read about music legends like Peter Buck of R.E.M., Kate Pierson of The B-52s, and Brian Burton, also known as Danger Mouse, all of whom worked at Wuxtry at some point early in their careers, before they became household names. It’s almost a job requirement to have an appreciation not just for music, but for the Athens music scene and its history specifically – bonus points if you play an instrument ... or five.
The fact that hard work and dedication to the music industry are important to owners Dan Wall and Mark Methe, and to their employees, is clear as I interview Nate Mitchell, part of the small staff at Wuxtry. As he tells me about how he came to live in Athens, I pick up on pieces of other musicians’ stories as well – some of whom became famous, and many who didn’t, over the past 50 years. Each one seemed to have tales of dedication to the idea of the “starving artist,” a passion for music that eclipsed all else, a willingness to think outside the box and go against the mainstream, a drive to practice their craft until their fingers bled and play for friends in hopes of maybe one day playing for crowds.
The quest for fame isn’t necessarily a requirement, though. The love for music and that indescribable feeling of creativity and camaraderie that comes in the form of a perfect harmony, cord progression or lyric is, in my opinion, what makes the musicians of Athens and, by default, the staff at Wuxtry, special. Mitchell himself landed in Athens as the result of his band having to call it quits halfway through a coast-to-coast tour when their van, running on recycled vegetable oil, kept breaking down.
Like every good story, the adventure landed the band in the middle of nowhere in Texas, living out of the van and working to get it fixed so they could get home and regroup. Well, they got to Athens first. It was a city Mitchell had visited a few times, and since he had a few connections, he decided to stay for a while. Over a decade later, his passion for music doesn’t seem to have ebbed one bit. His six-days-a-week job at Wuxtry doesn’t keep him from playing drums or guitar with his current band.
Mitchell introduces me to John Kiran Fernandes, another full-time employee of over 20 years, who plays bass guitar, the saxophone, clarinet and violin. And though the big names get mentioned in our conversation – after all, they’ve made great music – I also hear names that are new to me, like Fablefactory, The Gerbils and Olivia Tremor Control. Mitchell’s and Fernandes’ enthusiasm is contagious as they talk about Big Elephant 6, the history of the 40 Watt, DJs and record collections, and what makes Athens music special.
It all makes me want to put on a record, sit down and just revel in the creativity of the human race. Athens has been contributing to the music industry in so many ways for decades, and Wuxtry has been an integral part of that push.
But the store wouldn’t be what it is without the passionate people behind the counter like Mitchell, the talented musicians in their own right who know the Athens music scene like the back of their hand and champion their fellow local artists. Since the doors first opened in 1976, the record store has been a haven for those who work hard and are dedicated to creating quality sound. These people are the ones who kept it alive during the “Age of the iPod,” who keep the shop organized by genre and in alphabetical order, and who can find almost anything you’re looking for. They’re the ones who truly make Wuxtry Records an Athens staple.