Union Street fire damage
photo: WOUB Public Media

Unity for Union Street: Athens Musicians Come Together to Aid Fire Victims

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If you’ve been in Athens recently, you’ve heard the questions: What’s going to happen to West Union Street? What are they going to do about The Union?

Many residents feel a strong connection with businesses along the street, particularly the legendary watering hole/music venue at 18 West Union. Josh Brown, local musician and booking coordinator for Casa Nueva, is one of those people.

“It’s been a home base of mine since I started at Ohio University in ’91,” he said.

Brown, who played his first Union show in the early ’90s, met his future wife there. They would later host their wedding reception at their much loved “home base.” When he heard about the fire on Nov. 16, Brown was in utter disbelief.

“My wife woke me up and said, ‘There’s a fire uptown, I think it’s The Union,'” he said. “Really, it took all day to sink in. We kept looking up reports all day.”

And the reports kept coming. The fire raged on through the morning with local media posting photos of smoke and ashes, tired firefighters and shocked onlookers gazing up at the flames. It was a terrible blow to the community.

But it didn’t take long for local residents to step up. According to the GoFundMe page for the Union Street Fire Employee Relief, more than $44,000 has been raised by 750 people in just eight days.

“It has been amazing and inspiring to watch this community, which spans decades and generations and is spread out across the U.S. and internationally, come together to support and help however possible,” said Tim Peacock, executive director at Stuart’s Opera House. “Further, the sharing of stories and photographs on social media has been incredible to watch. People are connecting with old friends and demonstrating how a small bar in a small college town has uniquely and positively changed people’s lives…it can make the most cynical rock-and-roller have a little hope.”

Now local musicians are ready to do their part. The first of three benefits has been scheduled for this Saturday at Casa Cantina, with 100% of the proceeds going to West Union Street employees affected by the fire. Future shows are being planned to replace musical instruments and equipment lost in the fire and construction costs.

Saturday’s show, organized by Brown and Peacock, features many of Athens’ top acts, including Kyle & Jess, The Night Sweats, Unmonumental, Supernobody, Hex Net, The Heartlanders, Weird Science, Dead Hand of Man, The Blam Blams and The D-Rays.

The benefit came together very quickly, according to Peacock, who contacted Brown soon after the fire.

“Almost everyone I know, my friends, all want to help however possible,” he said. “These friends all play in local bands and they all wanted to play. In fact, the slots for the benefit filled up on their own and we had to keep packing more bands on the bill. We are going to have to work some magic to pull off 10 bands playing in five hours, but it will be a super-fun night.”

Even though this is a holiday weekend, both Peacock and Brown are expecting a good turnout.

“I suspect Casa will be packed,” said Peacock. “This town is really driven to help out our friends and extended family who are now out of work as a result of this fire. Attending this benefit is one of several ways people can help. Plus they get to hear great local music and hang out with old and new friends.”

The music lineup will kick off at 8:45 p.m. this Saturday. For more information on the show, visit the benefit’s event page on Facebook.