The timing couldn’t be better for launching this portal into Georgia’s rich musical heritage — past, present and future. I’m looking forward to sharing with you the nooks and crannies of Georgia music, and doing my own discovery along the way. But in December, the Oxford American made my task a whole lot easier with the release of its Georgia Music Issue.
For those unfamiliar with the Oxford American, it’s an award-winning quarterly with a stated mission of featuring “the best in Southern writing while documenting the complexity and vitality of the American South.” The magazine devotes an issue each year to the music of one Southern state, and it’s time for Georgia’s close-up. And boy, do we look good!
The current Oxford American serves as a 176-page virtual roadmap to the Georgia music scene, with plenty to offer both newcomers and aficionados. The diversity it reflects is remarkable — household names (James Brown, the Allman Brothers, Indigo Girls), early/mid 1900s icons (Little Richard, Johnny Mercer, Ma Rainey) and the latest generation (Janelle Monae, Killer Mike, OutKast), just for starters. And if you’re the type who digests ideas better through sound than words, the magazine comes with a 25-track CD spanning an equally diverse roster of Georgia artists.
It’s inspiring to note the geographic expanse of the artists covered. Augusta. Savannah. Macon. Athens. Statesboro. Albany. Atlanta. Waycross. Tracing the roots of these visionary performers would make for quite a winding road trip. We’ll explore these strands — and plenty of others — in the coming weeks.
Here are four outings to immerse yourself in the experience:
1. Ocilla First Fridays on the Fourth. One of my favorite articles is Jonathan Bernstein’s human interest piece on Ocilla’s Dave Prater, the less heralded half of ’60s soul duo Sam & Dave (who made “Soul Man” famous well before the Blues Brothers). If you can’t wait for their October Sweet Potato Festival, take a trip to this small south Georgia town on the first Friday of the month for after-hours shopping, dining, music and art on Fourth Avenue.
2. The Jinx. Bill Dawer’s poignant profile of Black Tusk bassist Jonathan Athon, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2014, celebrates the sense of community that Athon inspired. The Jinx is a cornerstone of Savannah’s live music scene and a key venue for the Savannah Stopover festival, coming up March 10-12 (more on that soon).
3. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate a Legend – A Celebration of Johnny Mercer with Joe Gransden and Kathleen Bertrand. John Lingan’s look at “the moony lyricism of Johnny Mercer” may leave you longing for a revisiting of the Savannah native’s timeless hits. This tribute concert on Feb. 26, 2016, at Georgia State’s Rialto Fine Arts Center in Atlanta fits the bill.
4. Chicken Raid – The 77-year-old blues veteran Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is profiled by Atlanta writer Rachel Maddux. Watkins is likely to be among the dozens of blues artists gathering at the Northside Tavern March 19-21 for Chicken Raid, the annual celebration of another Atlanta country blues legend, Mr. Frank Edwards.
Meanwhile, my book club has taken the unusual step of reading the Oxford American cover-to-cover to discuss at our next meeting. I suggest you do the same — its brand of storytelling is that top-notch.