Futurebirds Are Keeping Athens, Georgia’s Music Legacy Alive

It’s set break for the Futurebirds during the first of the band’s two sold-out hometown gigs at the Georgia Theatre in the college town of Athens, Georgia, and guitarist Daniel Womack is backstage ruminating on the camaraderie that defines the band.

“To find a crew that you can trust and stick with you to go through the wringer with,” Womack tells Rolling Stone, “it’s almost impossible in this life.”

Together for nearly 15 years, Futurebirds are finally becoming a household name, at least to loyal fans of psychedelic rock and alt-country. Their mix of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street with My Morning Jacket’s Circuital and Drive-By Truckers’ The Dirty South has helped them create a sound that’s at once legacy familiar and indie fresh. The foundation of that soundtrack resides in the band’s three songwriters — Womack and guitarists Thomas Johnson and Carter King.

“Welcome to the experiment,” Johnson says. “It’s about cultivating being different and weird. This doesn’t have to be a fully-realized idea, it’s that exploration of finding the weird and going for it.”

Over the last few years, another musical avenue has emerged for Futurebirds, thanks to their ongoing collaboration with My Morning Jacket guitarist Carl Broemel. The partnership began when Broemel was brought onboard to produce the group’s 2021 EP Bloomin’. The kismet of the relationship led to the 2022 follow-up, Bloomin’ Too.

“It goes back to the Beatles, of having a healthy competition and fostering the best music instead of having just one person in front,” Broemel says. “There’s an argument to be made for having three people showing up with their best songs. These guys are wonderful at stepping back when it’s time to step back and let someone else lead.”

Beyond the studio work, the ‘Birds and Broemel have embarked on short tours together, which helped spawn the group’s new live release …Thanks Y’all. At 22 songs and running almost two hours, it’s a snapshot of one of the most intriguing and innovative rock acts on the scene today, as they tear apart the stage with their mentor Broemel.

“We were due for a live record,” Womack says. “A lot of these songs are older songs and naturally we’ve evolved, we’ve gotten better; the way we play them, the way we’ve seen them grow.”

Formed in 2008 while students at the nearby University of Georgia, Futurebirds were merely a group of young musicians in search of others to jam with at off-campus house parties or fraternities around Athens, where the influence of local bands like R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and Drive-By Truckers was everywhere. The Futurebirds’ core — Womack, Johnson, King and bassist Brannen Miles — remains the same as it was then.

“Athens is a small town. But because of [its music] history, it’s on the national map,” Johnson says. “If you have success here, you get to be a big fish in a small pond. You get to kind of learn the ropes of the music industry before the stakes are high.”

In those early days, the ‘Birds would play local dive bars like the Nowhere Bar, a small venue that doesn’t leave much room for a crowd after the pool tables, booths, and barstools are taken into account. But the group was both courageous and ambitious and began to branch out from Athens toward similar spaces in Savannah, Atlanta, and Nashville.

“It’s more of a vibe in how you carry yourself, how you run your business as a band,” Womack says. “And for something like that to translate, it just takes longer. We’re lucky that we stuck to it and made it through so many crazy low times.”

Those low points were the same that most successful bands first encounter, and then overcome. The Futurebirds were often far from home with more members onstage than in the audience, making just enough pay to get from one gig to the next. Maybe there was a late-night Domino’s pizza for dinner; often there were flat tires and stolen gear.

“Our challenge was always getting in front of people,” Johnson says. “We’ve always felt the music we made is awesome, and not in a cocky way, but if we get this in front of people, they’re going to like it.”

The group cut their own path to build an audience by skirting small venue shows in new markets for better paying, better attended backyard parties. They wrote regularly on the road, and then hit the studio to record what they came up with.

It’s paid off. Along with high points like the Georgia Theatre homecoming, the ‘Birds sold out their Ryman Auditorium debut in Nashville last year and recently inked a global recording deal with Dualtone Records. The band are also currently in the midst of a nationwide tour with the Nude Party and are playing some of the biggest venues of their career — Denver’s Mission Ballroom, the Fillmore in San Francisco, Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin.


But few rooms connect the dots of Futurebirds’ journey quite like the Georgia Theatre.

“You come back to your hometown for a show where the kids are almost 20 years younger than us now,” Johnson says of the audience at the Athens gigs. “Once you’re an Athens band, people get into it, and it goes down through the generations.”

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