35 years after Georgia band REM's 1st show at Athens church, restoration of steeple begins


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ATHENS, Georgia — Workers are beginning to restore the steeple of the old church in Athens where Georgia rock band R.E.M. played its first show.

Scaffolding is rising around all that remains of the structure — its now-iconic steeple, The Athens Banner-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1GYe1Eq ).

Last year, the nonprofit Nuçi's Space launched a 60-day crowdfunding campaign aimed at restoring the steeple and helping to fund the organization's health care assistance and other services it provides to local musicians. Nuçi's Space works to prevent suicide.

R.E.M. performed its first show at the church on April 5, 1980, as Twisted Kites and renamed itself a few weeks later, The Athens newspaper reported.

R.E.M. had formed in Athens, where all four members were students at the University of Georgia.

Bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry were from the Macon area, where they had played in bands as teenagers, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's biography of the band. Guitarist Peter Buck graduated from now-closed Crestwood High School in Atlanta's northern suburbs. Singer Michael Stipe was born in Decatur.

In 2013, Nuçi's Space acquired the steeple — all that remains of the old St. Mary's Church — as a gift from its previous owners, Steeplechase Condominiums.

For the past several days, a crew from Whitsel Construction Services Inc. has been assessing the structure.

"There are no huge surprises," Bob Sleppy, executive director of Nuçi's Space, told the Athens newspaper. "There is some rot, and some bug damage, but no termites."

Workers also discovered that a raccoon has been living in the structure, Sleppy said.

Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com

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