There are performers we’ve come to expect at The 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia—Kishi Bashi, Cracker, even, of late, a coterie of townie burlesque dancers. But on a recent Saturday night, a sold-out crowd gathered around a wrestling ring inside the iconic music venue. Around 8 p.m. Cole Taylor, the longtime tour manager of the Drive-By Truckers, climbed into the ring with a mic. “You can yell at the wrestlers all you want,” he said to a swell of cheers. “No racial comments. No homophobic comments. No transphobic comments. Because we believe in a better Georgia! Are y’all ready to get down at Classic City Wrestling?!”
Live on stage above the ring, the Dexateens launched into the twang-rock “Makers Mound.” Soon after, luchador Quatro Cabezas salsa-shuffled his way to the ring, stopping to high-five fans in the front row. “We’re here at the 40 Watt Club, but right now it should be called the 40,000 Watt Club, it’s so electrifying in here!” commentator Josh Deal howled.
The shift from rock band tour manager to professional wrestling ring announcer seems unlikely only to those who don’t know Taylor, who moved to Athens in 2002 and toured with the Truckers for thirteen years. When he parted with the band in 2021, a fan group, the HeAthens, presented him with a gilded title belt engraved by Truckers album artist Wes Freed with the words Athens World Champion. It’s displayed in Taylor’s kitchen, not far from the autographed Hulk Hogan photo above his stove.
Taylor can’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t watch wrestling. “When Sergeant Slaughter defeated the Ultimate Warrior and the title went to the Iraqis, I just lost my mind in the middle of a Captain D’s when my babysitter told me about it,” he recalls of the 1991 Royal Rumble. “I grew up with it.”
His dream of running a wrestling show came into focus when the pandemic paused live music. Taylor asked local wrestler Justin Burnham, who ran a show at Southern Brewing Company in Athens, how he could get involved. Justin brought him on as a ring announcer.
Soon their shared vision came to life: pro wrestling backed by live music.
“I always believed pro wrestling deserved to be in the conversation of great art forms, and the band helps contribute to that,” Taylor says. CCW debuted last April at Southern Brewing Company with the cover band Classic City Jukebox. In November, the show moved to The 40 Watt.
A band at a wrestling show is a thoughtful next line in the story of this progressive live-music city, and the show’s inclusive roster reflects Athens as much as the concept itself. “We try to present wrestlers from all different types of backgrounds,” Burnham says. “Because that’s what fans relate to. They want to see somebody they see themselves in.”
“Visibility is super important,” nonbinary wrestler Andey Ripley, who opened the latest show in a triple-threat match against Quatro Cabezas and Marvelous Michael Stevens, says. “I’m way more out in wrestling than I am in my regular life.”
Taylor reflected on the event a week later in his living room in the city’s Normaltown neighborhood. “It’s not the wrestling. It’s not the band. It’s this thing that’s bigger than both of them,” he says. “I see us performing at Bonnaroo. I’d like to tour with it.”
Classic City Wrestling takes over the 40 Watt again on May 13.