The house on North Milledge Avenue in Athens, Georgia, quaked. Books thumped off shelves and floorboards creaked. “I’m surprised it didn’t just fall down,” singer Kate Pierson says. “The shack was shimmying so much.”
It was Valentine’s evening in 1977, and the now-world-famous band, the B-52’s, made its concert debut at a friend’s house party. Fitting, for a band whose biggest hit is titled “Love Shack.” The crew of friends donned bright wigs, wore all black clothing, hung Barbie dolls from the ceiling, and played a couple jams they had thrown together.
“We only had six songs, so we had to play them all twice,” Pierson says. “We didn’t know if people would like it, but people in Athens love to dance. All our friends started dancing wildly, and we thought, ‘Wow, we might have something here.’”
They did. The band started trekking to Atlanta and New York City for live gigs. “Rock Lobster” became a wacky, fun garage-rock classic. Now, after forty years, seven albums, and worldwide tours galore—to perform such favorites as “Roam,” “Mesopotamia,” and “Strobe Light”—the B-52’s have cemented their place in Southern history as the ultimate party band, all while helping elevate Athens to music-mecca status.
“When I moved to Athens, there were two feed-and-seed stores, a hardware store, and no place to play music,” says Pierson, whose first solo album, Guitars and Microphones, is out February 17. “There wasn’t a breeding ground for new music yet.”
This spring and summer, Pierson will tour with her new album, and the B-52’s have several shows lined up around the country. Until then, shake your cosmic thing with the band’s favorite get-down party tracks, hand-picked by Pierson, along with fellow 52s Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson, and Keith Strickland.