East Atlanta Is ‘Just Trying To Keep Rocking’

Country Westerns play at The Earl in East Atlanta. The neighborhood is a safe haven of sorts for artistic people of all kind.(Photo by Evey Wilson)

East Atlanta is a hotbed for creatives coming up in Atlanta’s music scene. Playing the stages on Flat Shoals Avenue is a rite of passage for local musicians.

Musicians like the Pussywillows, a local alt rock duet. Last month, the duo, comprised of Hannah Zale and Carly Gibson, took the stage at the club, “529.” They set up a table selling their merch before the show, then kicked it in the green room.

The venue hosts shows like this six days a week. At 529, there’s an emphasis on local and penchant for rock, but really: anything goes. Which, not coincidentally, is kind of the story of East Atlanta writ large.

“You can be weird, you can be freaky, you can really be provocative. And I think you’ll be accepted in East Atlanta." — Hannah Zale
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East Atlanta is a safe haven for artistic people of all kinds. That’s what first brought Van Bassman to the neighborhood.

“It’s all about music, everything that we do here is built around that part of the scene,” said Bassman, 529’s social media manager.

That scene grew here because of East Atlanta’s affordability. The neighborhood is south of Interstate-20, which used to be a dividing line for developers. But as is true throughout the city, things are changing.

You can see that from 529’s patio where Bassman sits. Across the street, a condo development is under construction. The new condos loom over the one-story businesses on Flat Shoals Avenue.

Bassman said despite change, he’s confident the neighborhood will keep its edge well into the future.

Anthony Driver sits at 529 in East Atlanta Village. He is here writing jokes for his comedy routine. The venue has a comedy show every Saturday afternoon, and Driver didn’t miss a Saturday for almost two years. Now this is one of his favorite places to write. (Photo by Evey Wilson)

Brock Scott, the front man for the local rock band Little Tybee, is one of the many Atlanta musicians to cut his teeth in East Atlanta. Now, they regularly tour nationwide.

But 10 years ago, they were 20-somethings with a dream. And the venues in East Atlanta gave them a shot.

Scott is hopeful it will continue to provide chances for musicians well into the future. But he says, even if things change: the energy that East Atlanta represents will always live on.

“I know that the weirdos will be here. Even if that ball has to bounce to another neighborhood,” Scott said. “East Atlanta is like less of a place and more of a home for this strange, I would say.”

Trey Griffin and Brittany Baker talk in East Atlanta. (Photo by Evey Wilson)

East Atlanta is no stranger to change. The neighborhood became a predominately white suburb following the Civil War, and it only started to integrate during the height of the civil rights movement.

By the 1980s, East Atlanta had become a mostly black neighborhood. Then in the mid-90s, the scene known today really began to emerge.

As things start to change again, locals are coming together. Like the long dormant neighborhood business association that’s in the process of rebooting.

“We need to get our voice together so that we can retain the character of what makes us special in the first place,” said Vicki Park, owner of Park Pet Supply

The business group hopes to fight for longtime residents. But it’s also a chance to unite with newer businesses on the block.

Like, Gaja, a Korean restaurant that opened in 2015.

Danny Song and his brother, Tim, are the owners. Danny said they grew up going to concerts in the neighborhood.

Their family restaurant is a fusion of their Korean upbringing and their love for punk rock and skateboarding.

“I feel like East Atlanta is like the hub for for music and arts and like, you know, any kind of alternative lifestyle … So it just, it just felt like the right spot. And we luckily found this location that’s right in the middle of it. So we had to take it.” — Danny Song
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Just across the street from Gaja is the granddaddy of Flat Shoals Avenue. The East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge – better known as the EARL.

Owner John Searson first opened the doors here in 1999. His vision was pretty simple: live music in the back, but also a space up front for people not interested in paying to see the band.

Searson said owning a music venue is a tough gig. And despite the EARL’s strong reputation, he isn’t sure what the future holds.

“I mean, they’re trying to build condos all over the place,” Searson said. “And I don’t see how that’s going to be good for my business or some of the later night places, it’s probably going to be the beginning of the end.”

But in the meantime, Searson is determined to carry on.

"I guess I'm just an old man, I just wanted to stay the same, and it's not gonna. We’re just trying to keep rocking." — John Searson
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