When college application season rolled around during my senior year of high school, I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to spend my four years of undergrad frolicking on the scrappy campus of Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta. Thirty minutes away from the suburb where I’d grown up, Atlanta’s chicken-wing littered streets and darkened DIY venues represented the kind of freedom my pseudo-repressed high school self couldn’t wait to dig into. And just as certainly as I knew I’d find the funniest, most creative people I’ve met to-date in this strangely sticky city, I also felt sure that there was nothing worth my time in the small-town streets of Athens, home to the University of Georgia (and a much more prestigious journalism program).
To me, Athens was the stomping grounds for white, loud, obnoxious fraternity boys and their bleach-blonde,pierced belly-button counterparts. It was where the kids who made fun of me in middle school were pledging Greek, and I was set on running in the opposite direction. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that Athens is the center of an ever-expanding creative community that’s been blossoming out of Wuxtry Records for more than 40 years — and one that continues to be a hot-spot for local as well as nationally touring acts.
Sitting in the heart of downtown, on East Clayton Street, Wuxtry has the unassuming presence of a small-town record store from a movie. It doesn’t look like the kind of place that’s fostered Grammy-winning artists and internationally renowned bands, but that’s exactly why it has. It’s not necessarily the store you go to when you have a specific record in mind (though it’s good for that, too), as much as it’s the kind of place where you lose yourself in the endless possibilities of music, each album cover more interesting than the last. Its electric blue walls are lined with framed band posters — unevenly hung — and crates upon crates of wax and CDs fill up the tiny interior, divided by markers like “Dude,Bro Jam” (a personal favorite of mine) and “I Listen to All Kinds of Music,” which includes anything from Rihanna to Jason Isbell.
And since opening its doors in 1976, the independent store doesn’t just support Athens’ music scene by selling albums; it’s also employed and nurtured the artistic endeavors of some of the city’s most prominent acts. Kate Pierson of the B-52’s, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Danger Mouse all worked behind Wuxtry’s register at some point in time, helping decide what the store should stock and discovering genres that would eventually influence their own sound.
That personalized feeling still distinguishes Wuxtry from other larger record stores today. On a recent visit, I spend almost an hour thumbing through each employee’s individualized picks for best albums to end the year with, which are neatly lined up at the front and include handwritten sticky notes with comments like “If you want to go to outer space, don’t bother giving all your money to Elon Musk. Just buy this Sun Ra record instead!”
Then, in accordance with my test for a truly great record store, I make my way over to the “International” section, thinking maybe I’ll stumble upon an old Celia Cruz or Ruben Blades record. Instead, I’m shocked to instantly find the kind of gem only a hand-curated place like Wuxtry can unearth: “Venezuela 70 Volume 2: Cosmic Visions of a Latin American Earth,” experimental rock and fusion from the 1970s. Having lived in Venezuela for the first seven years of my life, I excitedly flip over the album, curious as to who this would include, and find myself unable to recognize a single song or artist listed. I’m surprised, considering this is straight from the underground scenes that were developing during my dad’s teenage years, but that’s the beauty of a place like Wuxtry: just when you think you know music, it humbles you by presenting sounds you weren’t even sure existed.
That’s why now, four years after deciding I could never live in Athens, I find myself making the 90-minute drive out from Atlanta on a rainy day. The city’s got its own record stores, sure, but they’re ones where I tend to buy albums that are already in my Spotify rotation. At Wuxtry, I’m taken back to the authentic experience of discovering new music and taking risks — just like the owners did by opening a store in a town that had no music scene whatsoever, and helping build one from the ground up that still hosts some of the best shows in Georgia.