Photo Credit: Stefan Eberhard
Forget Superman: The new hero in town is Rev. Conner Tribble.
This unsung yet always singing hero of Athens music—whom you can see costumed as various rock icons and strutting his stuff on the cover of and throughout this week’s Athens Favorites issue—has a Clark Kent day job as a cashier at the Barnett Shoals Publix. But when the sun goes down, the uniform comes off, and a little—or a lot of—glitter goes on.
Tribble—who is, in fact, an ordained minister—can be found around town in a variety of venues saving audiences from boredom and unhappiness, strutting the stage with the confidence of a natural-born showman. It took crashing to earth, however, to make Tribble the hero that he is today.
Before moving back to Athens, Tribble spent more than 20 years playing in New York City. “In New York, I was playing Cafe Wha?. All I did [was], I would be there on a stage, I would go in there and get incredibly drunk.” Tribble says he was playing three or four shows a night, five nights a week, making his living as a musician. But his wife at the time, Betina Wassermann, was battling cancer and wanted to move to quieter, less hectic Athens—Tribble’s childhood hometown.
“If you Google a great place to retire, Athens, GA pops up,” says Tribble. “And of all the towns in this country, for her to say that is—with all due respect, you know—I thought, ‘My gosh.’ But that was what she wanted to do, and I love her, and that was that.” So Tribble packed up and moved.
As we know, making a living solely as a musician in Athens is difficult, so Tribble had to find a day job. “I was a professional musician all my life. I never had a real job… So we got down here, I couldn’t walk [from hip replacement surgery], I’m trying to find a job, and I’m… 60 then. My resume was nothing but rock and roll, rock and roll.” After months of searching, Tribble “got a job at Publix. It was a miracle.”
While adjusting to this new lifestyle of playing less music and scanning more groceries, Tribble and Wassermann split ways. “The timing was just bad,” says Tribble. “We were together all the time—you realize how crazy you are. But bless her heart, you know, I… just realized how I am. I thought, ‘I can’t believe she stayed with me as long as she did.’ I mean, I’m crazy. I’m just nuts.” The two are now close friends.
After the separation, Tribble jokes that he became like a teenager again. He retreated into his apartment, which is decorated with Christmas lights and plastered with pictures of women. A drum kit sits in the corner, and the scent of a fir-tree candle fills in the air. His life became simple: work, music, home.
But Tribble has come to be extremely grateful for his situation. “I am blessed,” he says. “At this point in my life, I just wake up going, ‘You are so lucky’… I’m a very happy old man.”
Tribble exudes his thankfulness for just about everything in his life: home, Publix, customers, audiences, friends, Athens… the list is unending. When asked what he is most grateful for, Tribble tearfully replies that it’s his bandmates.
“I’ve just gotten very lucky through a matter of several circumstances to be playing with three of not only the best musicians in Athens, but anywhere,” he says. Tribble’s main band is composed of Deane Quinter on drums, Greg Veale on bass and Donny Whitehead on baritone and tenor sax. All contribute vocals.
The feelings seem to be mutual. Whitehead says he has never worked with someone so genuine, who is open to suggestions and willing to give music away. One of Tribble’s Publix managers, Tawnya DeGasperis, says, “He’s awesome. He knows the customers, almost every customer that comes through. He knows their names. He’s just phenomenal.”
Tribble says the main goal of his music, and his life, is simple: “I just want to make people happy.”
He adds that this is where he needs to be. “God brought me down here. I can look you in the eye and tell you it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be… I’m perfectly happy right here in Athens, playing with all of these wonderful people. Who would’ve thought that working in a grocery store [was] what I’m supposed to be [doing]? But it is!”
CHRIS HAMPTON AND THE DANCING MAGNOLIAS Local group led by guitarist and songwriter Chris Hampton. Every Thursday!