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‘From Rome to Lawrenceville’ -- Music of Georgia


June 05, 2018

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I was driving the other day and letting the scent of magnolia blooms roll through the open windows, Atlanta-based rock band Manchester Orchestra on the radio, and it all struck me for the first time. In a few short months I’ll be leaving Georgia, my home for all 23 years of my life, and moving to the Midwest to pursue a master’s degree. When I sat down to write today I realized that I have more nostalgia than I bargained for, and not just for this job of two years which I’ve loved every minute of, but for, well, everything. Somewhat unexpectedly, a lot of it comes back to music.

“Moonlight Through the Pines”

No song is more quintessentially Georgian than Ray Charles’s achingly soulful rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.” Written in 1930 and performed by various artists over the years, Charles’s version gave it new life and meaning, inextricably linking the two in the public consciousness. The Albany native performed the song live before the Georgia General Assembly in 1979, leading Georgia lawmakers to adopt it as the state song the very next month. Ray Charles was one of the first people inducted into the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame and a statue of Charles at his piano sits in a plaza bearing his name in the city of his birth. And indeed the song is all about roots, as anyone who attended UGA’s commencement a few weeks ago can attest. Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, childhood friends from Augusta and two-thirds of the hit country group Lady Antebellum, returned to their alma mater and gave a moving tribute to their school, their state and to Ray.

“Woke up this morning, I had them Statesboro blues…”

Thinking back to my own graduation creeping up on two years ago, to all those weekends when the booming voice of Erk Russell echoed over town, to the chaos and hilarity of Southern Pride’s  GSU Scramble, to linking arms with strangers as we sang the alma mater and “It Is Well,” I think the Allman Brothers said it best. Written by Georgia blues artist Blind Willie McTell, “Statesboro Blues” was covered in 1971 by the Allman Brothers Band and their version sits at No. 9 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.” The band pioneered the Southern rock genre, though the members disagreed with the label, seeing themselves as simply a rock band that happened to be from the South. The band’s base of operation for much of their early development was a home in Macon which is now open to the public as The Allman Brothers Band Museum. Tours run Thursday through Sunday and fans come from all over the world to see the largest collection of Allman Brothers artifacts and memorabilia in the world. The home is also a live music venue, hosting artists who owe their rock roots to the band that started it all.

“And I Feel Fine”

Looking back, I could kick myself for living most of my life 45 minutes from Athens and never going to a concert there. Athens has made a name for itself as an incubation site for countless new-wave and alt-rock groups. In the 70s and 80s groups like The B52s and REM shot to national popularity but they played their first shows in tiny venues around Athens. REM famously played their first concert in a defunct church outside of town, the steeple of which has been preserved and can still be visited by die-hard fans. Athens boasts several world famous venues, including the Georgia Theatre and the 40 Watt Club, which gave punk rock bands like Pylon a stage and propelled them into the national spotlight. The venues still serve as important markers in the city’s music scene, hosting bands like Colony House and The Mountain Goats as well as locals like Cinemachanica and New Madrid.

 

Summer is almost here, the perfect time for music festivals and outdoor venues. There’s no better time to visit the old stomping grounds of your musical heroes or to finally go see that band you’ve always talked about. Ask yourself what I regret waiting until now to ask: Why not?


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