A high, hot summer sky, cloudless and still, has sent the few spectators who have gathered in front of the AthFest acoustic stage scurrying for relief from the oppressive heat. Gathered beneath overhangs and gravitating toward the relative cool of the beer tent or a shade tree, the sparse crowd seems uncomfortable and agitated. Quietly, two young men take the stage, acoustic guitar and bass in hand, sit in front of a pair of microphones, and begin to play.
The effect is galvanizing. Suddenly, the crowd seems unconcerned with the heat, sun and relative discomfort of a Georgia summer. Instead, their attention is drawn to the unassuming duo, their skilled musicianship and the world-wise tones of 18-year-old guitarist/singer Patrick Blanchard's voice.
They are the first of 120 acts that will play AthFest over the next four days, but Mr. Blanchard and bass player Tim Arbisi seem oblivious to any pressure opening an event that size might entail. Instead, they spin relaxed tales of people struggling to get along in the world as though playing for a crowd of familiar faces in their hometown of Augusta.
They are half of the Augusta band Patrick Blanchard and The Big Mighty. The band is spending the summer playing locally and around the Southeast, garnering fans attracted to their folk-rock sound.
"One of the things we're doing is playing every Monday and Tuesday at the Surrey Tavern," Mr. Blanchard said. "With us on the road more and more, it's important for us to let people know this band is out there. If you don't have your hometown backing you, then you don't really have a home, so that's what we're trying to build right now."
Based around the singing-songwriting-guitar playing of Mr. Blanchard, the band mixes folk, funk and classic rock.
"We all have our fair share of influences and they're all kind of in a melting pot," Mr. Blanchard said. "I mean, I write the songs and then the band does to them what they will. It's sometimes different from what I envisioned, but it's always very cool."
Picking up an acoustic guitar at age 7, Mr. Blanchard, who originally wanted to play bass, was encouraged by his father.
"He taught me Kingston Trio songs," he said. "I was thinking, `Rock and roll, man.' I'm 7 years old and I'm playing Scotch and Soda. I still find that I have that same passion and same desire to learn today."
Beyond the paternal influence, Mr. Blanchard found encouragement from renowned singer-songwriter Larry Jon Wilson, a friend of his father's.
"I love hanging out with that man," he said. "I admire him and people like him that are risk-takers and do their own thing. He inspires us to do things our own way."
Although the ink on his high school diploma hasn't quite dried yet, Mr. Blanchard said he feels fortunate to have found his life's passion so early.
"I know that this is what I'll always want to do," he said. "As long as I can keep doing this, I'll be dandy."
It's a sentiment shared by his band mates, who, despite endless drives to gigs and day after day away from home and family, feel fortunate to be living the lives of working musicians.
"We do this because we love it," Mr. Arbisi said. "For us, it's all about making the music. As long as we're able to keep doing this, I'll be happy."
What: Patrick Blanchard and The Big Mighty
When: Monday and Tuesdays in July
Where: The Surrey Tavern, 471 Highland Ave.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.