History Lives at the Hot Corner Celebration

April 30, 2008
Flagpole Magazine
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History Lives at the Hot Corner Celebration
This Year’s Edition of the Annual Downtown Festival Kicks Off the New Athens Heritage Project

by Ben Emanuel

Athens’ annual Hot Corner Celebration – a festival highlighting the historic center of African-American business and culture at the corner of Washington and Hull streets – kicks off its ninth edition this Friday at the Morton Theatre. That night’s main event is a gospel concert at the Morton, with Huntsville, AL’s Gospel Imperials and local groups Devyne Inspiration and The Walker Brothers. Tickets are $14 in advance (available at Wilson’s Styling Shop, Wilson’s Hair World and Brown’s Barber Shop) and $18 at the door. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m.

Saturday is the day for the outdoor festival, held literally on the corner and beginning at noon, with speakers, food and entertainment throughout the day until 9 p.m. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the Morton plays host to a different type of performance – this one free of charge (though donations are appreciated) and put on by Rose of Athens Theatre company.

Over its last two installments, the Hot Corner Celebration has had a relationship with the new local non-profit professional theatre company, and this year’s Rose of Athens production will largely serve to anchor the event. In an effort termed the Athens Heritage Project, company members have been conducting oral history interviews with Athens residents of all ages. In what company founder Lisa Cesnik hopes will be an ongoing event far into the future, the troupe will present staged readings of transcribed oral histories; this first “sneak preview” will focus on the history of the Hot Corner and related topics, but over the coming years Rose of Athens plans to expand the project to all manner of subjects.

“The neat thing about the Athens Heritage Project is, because of it, Rose of Athens Theatre has the honor of hearing all these fascinating stories and bringing them to life in theatre,” Cesnik says. The cast for the show includes “core members” of Rose of Athens – contributing music, dance and displays of historic photos in addition to acting – as well as some new faces for the group, like local rapper Elite tha Showstoppa and Dr. Freda Scott Giles of UGA’s drama department.

Rose of Athens will have a booth set up at the festival for attendees to contribute their own stories to the project (“This is a script in progress,” Cesnik says with a smile), and over time all of the stories it collects will be archived in the Heritage Room at the Athens-Clarke County library. “What appeals to me about it is that these stories are going to – if we do our work right – that they will continue to live on,” Cesnik says.

And, says celebration organizer Homer Wilson, the festival is making a return visit this year to the 40 Watt Club, where it hasn’t had a formal presence since the late local blues musician Neal Pattman played a show there as part of Hot Corner in 2003. This year, the 40 Watt plays host to an after-party on Saturday night.