Music of Georgia should be on your mind
ATLANTA — If Georgia isn't the first place that comes to mind in thinking about cradles of 20th-century American music, think again.
2016 has been named the “Year of Georgia Music,” and it offers an opportunity to recognize the diversity and importance of the state's contribution to the sounds of the century. Just a few days' exploration covers decades of musical history and some super tourist sites.
Founded in 1828, the city became an important industrial center during the Civil War. The city is dotted with elegant historic buildings, including the 1871 Springer Opera House.
Photo - Athens' Georgia Theatre, still a popular music venue, has ties to home-grown band R.E.M. [photo provided] Photo - Deanna Brown stands next to the statue of her father, James Brown, in downtown Augusta, Ga. [Photo provided] Photo - The Big House was headquarters in Macon, Ga., for the Allman Brothers Band from 1971 to 1973. [photo provided]
Riverfront Park on the Chattahoochee River is a highlight of the city.Dams have been removed, restoring and improving on the original river, creating the longest urban whitewater rafting environment in the world. Kayaks and rafts navigate rapids; kids climb on the rocks, and fishermen cast a line into quiet pools.
For our Georgia Music press tour, our destination was a neat, two-story home that belonged to a woman hailed as “Mother of the Blues” – Ma Rainey. Born Gertrude Pridgett, Ma made her debut at the Springer Opera House in 1900 at age 14. There were blues before Ma, but she owned them and made them popular, recording 94 songs, half of them her own compositions, between 1923 and 1928. She inspired later artists including Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
Her Columbus home fell into disrepair before being rescued and opened as a museum.
Some original furniture was recovered, including the piano Ma played when she wrote “See, See Rider.” The museum provides a chance to learn about an era and tradition in music which has been overlooked by many.
Probably best-known as “Home of the Masters,” Augusta holds lots of surprises for visitors. My favorite spot was Savannah Rapids Park/Augusta Canal National Historic Area. The hand-dug, 7-mile-long canal was built in 1845 for power, water and transportation. The Augusta Canal is the only intact industrial canal in continuous use in the South.
Most of the old mills and factories that once lined the waterway are gone, leaving the canal to wildlife and visitors who picnic, kayak, hike and bike the old canal path. Regularly scheduled boat trips, including music cruises, attract more visitors to the area.
As far as music heritage is concerned, James Brown is the man. If Ma Rainey was the Mother of the Blues, Brown is considered the “Godfather of Soul.”
Our group got an up-close-and-personal look at his life and legacy through the eyes of his daughter Deanna Brown Thomas on “The James Brown Family Historical Tour,” a family-run
The first of a number of sites on the tour was a life-sized statue of the singer. A plaque reads, “His songs have enriched the world, and his personality and generosity have enriched this city.”
The tour ended in the Augusta Museum of History, where an extensive exhibit showed highlights of his long career. He melded a gospel background with rhythm and blues and added intricate rhythms, turning it all into soul. Later in his career, his soul style morphed into funk. His energy seemed boundless and gave him the reputation of being the hardest-working man in show business in a career that spanned half a
For some good grub, check out Southbound Smokehouse, offering great barbecue and some good Southwestern items. The grits were outstanding. It's a small venue but features good live music.
The day was gray and drizzly as our group lined up on a portico at Mercer University to replicate the cover on the Allman Brothers Band debut album. We were on a Rock Candy music tour directed by Jessica Walden, who cut her teeth on rhythm, blues and rock. Her father had managed Otis Redding and Percy Sledge (among many other black artists) and signed the Allman Brothers Band with Capricorn Records, which he owned with his brother, Phil.
The Allmans were instrumental in marrying R&B with a Southern rock take. They also became noted as the premier jam band, turning three- or four-minute songs into extended explorations of musical ingenuity.
Lunch was at the H and H Cafe, part of the Allman Brothers legend. Owner “Mama Louise” Hudson fed the band in their early days when they couldn't afford to pay for their food. The band members never forgot the hospitality, continuing to come in for fried chicken, collards and corn bread. Now, Allman Brothers groupies make that same pilgrimage.
We ended our Macon stay with a visit to the Big House, a three-story Tudor-style structure where band members lived from '71 to '73. The house is full of memorabilia: posters, instruments, album covers and personal belongings. There are also references to some of their recreational habits — note the mushrooms in the stained-glass windows.
I fell in love with Athens. It has the energy of a university town (University of Georgia), an easily managed downtown, one of the most unique hotels I've stayed in and a truly memorable meal. And that's not even mentioning the music.
Athens was the cradle of R.E.M. and the alt-rock/indie music scene. R.E.M. may be the biggest name from here, but there was music in Athens before the '80s, and the music scene has retained its vibrancy to this day. For a full picture, arrange a guided music walking tour or pick up a self-guided tour brochure at the Athens Welcome Center.
In between highlighted spots, you'll find interesting restaurants, vintage clothing, record stores specializing in vinyl, and lots of stores carrying items featuring Bulldogs. The university blends into the town, but check out the fencing: It was originally to keep cows off the campus.
My hotel, the Graduate, plunged me into university life — of the 1950s. Room decor was reminiscent of a dorm room — a really nice, large dorm room. A blackboard on one wall was covered with chemical formulae; I think it was actually for sweet tea! I had a bulldog-based lamp, and the “do not disturb” sign was a pennant that said “studying.” The oldest building on the property is the pre-Civil War Foundry. Once an iron works that produced the UGA campus arch, it's still a hot spot – now for music.
Even my favorite restaurant had music ties. In 1966, the Last Resort was a music club and bar; Jimmy Buffet, Steve Martin and the B-52s were among artists appearing here. Now the Last Resort Grill, the food inspires rhapsodies. I begged, to no avail, for the recipe for my black bean crepes topped with spinach cream sauce and jalapenos, accompanied by grilled onions and mushrooms and a cold corn salad. Athens has it all: great food, great music, great bed!
Each of the towns I visited could make the same claims. That's the beauty of Georgia and its music. It's not one-size-fits-all; it's a variety of fits for every size. Come see for yourself. Somewhere in Georgia, they're singing your song.
If you go
Both Delta and Southwest airlines offer nonstop flights to Atlanta.
The most practical way to approach this tour by rental car is Atlanta to Athens to Augusta to Macon to Columbus to Atlanta.
The route is just over 500 miles, with distances between towns ranging from 73 miles to 134 miles.