Blair Dorminey, Vice President of the Athens Historical Society and organizer of Sunday’s R.E.M. in Perspective symposium at Seney-Stovall Chapel wrote the following exclusive report for remhq.com on yesterday’s events:

Athens Historical Society’s program “R.E.M. in Perspective: An Athens History” brought a big turnout to Athens’ historic Seney-Stovall Chapel. Fans from Texas, Chicago, Wisconsin and Switzerland joined the area community to watch two remarkable early videos that had even seasoned R.E.M. fans and biographer Tony Fletcher enthralled. Eric Zimmerman at remring.com was in awe of Michael’s dancing – “whirling dervish” was the phrase we heard. The first vid, shot by Dan Wall and Mark Methe, of Wuxtry Records, was a mesmerizing betamax of the guys practicing in the Atlanta Wuxtry store, and probably the earliest extant footage. The second, recorded about two months later, was a remarkably accomplished performance at 688 in Atlanta. Gilding the lily was even more rare footage mined from the R.E.M. archives, including, notably a very baba-cool rendition of “It Ain’t You Babe” at Stitchcraft on Oconee Street in Athens.

Tony Fletcher, a Brit, and author of Remarks Remade: The Story of R.E.M., delivered a tour de force keynote looking at R.E.M. and Athens from a physical (UK, NYC, Woodstock) and critical distance. Two panels rounded out the program. The first examined, in terms of roots, the meaning of R.E.M. and of Athens to each other, and brought together an eclectic array of witnesses from the Athens music scene and beyond – Paul Butchart (The Side Effects), Curtis Crowe (Pylon, 40 Watt founder), Tony Fletcher, John Keane (producer), Kathleen O’Brien Layson (Oconee St. church, friend of the band), Maureen McLaughlin (first B-52’s manager), Dan Wall (Wuxtry Records), Frank White (fan and blogger), with Mark Mobley (music journalist) ably moderating. Milton Leathers (local preservationist and savant) kept lively a second panel, focusing on R.E.M.’s social, civic, political, preservation and economic impact on Athens. The audience learned a great deal – at one point, hilariously too much information – from Jared Bailey (40 Watt, Flagpole, Athfest), Tim Johnson (community activist), Gwen O’Looney (City Council, former mayor), Dexter Weaver (Weaver D’s), Smith Wilson (preservationist, developer). All cited R.E.M. for their positive impact. Archival footage, edited by Dan Aguar at Digima24, that included highlights of R.E.M. with Bruce Springsteen and at Live 8, made for an awesome coda to an afternoon bursting at the seams with sights, sounds and information. R.E.M. fans and intimates came away saying they learned new things.