Today was a sad day in Athens, Ohio. In the early morning hours of Sunday, November 16th a fire broke out somewhere on West Union Street between Court Street and Congress. Extensive fire, smoke, and water has damaged buildings including The Union Bar and Grill, Jackie O’s Public House, Jack Neal Florists, Kismet, Campus Sundry, and Smoke Zone Smoke Shop. The Union and Jackie O’s both received considerable damage, as of now it appears that Jackie O’s kitchen and Public House will be closed indefinitely though the hope is the Brewery side will open soon. The Union received significant damage and more details will be known in the coming weeks. Aquabear Legion stands in full support of all of the business owners and people who lost their homes, a GoFundMe donation site is already up to help Union Street employees during this difficult time and more benefits and work is already in planning. You can read about all of the events here over at WOUB Public Media.
Simply put, the Aquabear Legion would not exist without the Union. It is an essential part of the Athens music community. It has hosted countless Aquabear shows and 6 of our County Fairs, not to mention served as the place for all underground rock and roll existing in our town and all that passed through.
When I came to Athens in 2001 as a Freshman at Ohio University I felt as I imagine a lot of kids feel: excited and confused to be out on my own and in general a little out of place. That feeling was short lived because I set foot in the Union after only being in town for a couple weeks. Instantly I felt at home. In the 13 years since then I have since graduated and made Athens my home that place has become a central location for some of the most important events in my life and led to countless friendships, creative collaborations, amazing shows, and even eventually to my own wedding. The Union is an institution. Having a space like that is essential to a vibrant community, for over 90 years people who were looking for all of the other folks who didn’t fit in found them by looking there.
The Union has been a central location to my life for the last 13 years and I cannot imagine where I would be without it. In terms of firsts alone: I had my first beer (at a bar) there and played music in front of people for the first time, and it was the first place I went to after graduating college and marrying my wife Sherri who would be found the night of our wedding in her wedding dress downstairs surrounded by all our friends. The list of great bands I saw there is endless, some from far away towns and cities and some from right down the street. I had the privilege to play shows there in every band and project I have been in and believe that I still will play on a stage at that building again. I feel honored to be a part of that family and the Athens music community, and I believe that with the support of that community we will be able to rebuild the home base for Athens rock and roll and make sure that institution is there for generations to come.
My thoughts are with all of those affected at this time, especially those whose homes and businesses were destroyed and all of the wonderful people who will be dealing with the loss of work as a result of the damage. The damage to all of the businesses and housing is unbelievable, and the loss of The Union and Jackie O’s Public House in the immediate future will be huge for the Athens music community and the Athens community members who work in those places.