Landmarks of Georgia Music
See where legends of rock, blues and soul got their start.
There is a good chance Georgia music is on your mind much of the time, but you may not realize it. Country music superstars including Jason Aldean (Macon), Luke Bryan (Leesburg), Zac Brown (Dahlonega), Jennifer Nettles (Douglas), Tyler Hubbard (Monroe) of Florida Georgia Line, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood (Augusta) of Lady Antebellum and Cole Swindell (Glennville) are all extremely proud of their Georgia roots. Hip-hop and R&B fans can count the Outkast, Usher, Ciara, T.I., TLC and Lil Jon cuts on their playlists as Atlanta music. Gospel and Contemporary Christian chart-toppers Third Day, Casting Crowns, Chris Tomlin, Lecrae, Jamie Grace, Tasha Cobbs, Francesca Battistelli and Laura Story all live in Georgia. And if you’re listening to Indigo Girls, R.E.M., the Allman Brothers Band, the B-52s, Black Crowes, Collective Soul, Atlanta Rhythm Section or Widespread Panic, you’re in tune with one of the many influential bands formed in Georgia.
Here are a few highlights of the many sites throughout the state that pay homage to Georgia music.
Hit the Road, Jack
If you drive through Georgia, see how many official street and highway signs you can spot from Alan Jackson Highway on I-85 near the singer’s hometown of Newnan to James Brown Boulevard in downtown Augusta. Look for the Otis Redding Memorial Bridge over the Ocmulgee River in Macon and then head a couple miles south to find Little Richard Boulevard. When cruising down I-185 between Columbus and LaGrange, look for Chet Atkins Highway, and before hopping on Trisha Yearwood Highway in her beloved Monticello, stop downtown for a coffee at The Vanilla Bean.
The Road Goes On Forever
For music fans, The Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House in Macon is a mothership of American rock and roll history. From 1970 to 1973, this historic Tudor-style house served as the $225-per-month home to several band members, including Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, and their families. It was the band’s rehearsal and gathering spot and a place of inspiration where ABB classics, including "Blue Sky" and "Ramblin' Man," were written. Today, the Big House preserves and shares the history of the Brothers through interactive exhibits, artifacts, music and plenty of memories.
Another essential for music fans visiting Macon is Rock Candy Tours, which features native Maconites as story-telling guides to the favorite haunts of Southern music royalty. Choose the "Free Birds and Night Owls" Tour on Friday nights at 9 p.m. or the "Rock 'n' Roll Stroll" on Second Saturdays at 10 a.m.
Roam, If You Want To
In 1977, the B-52s played its first gig at a Valentine’s Day house party in Athens, and in 1980, R.E.M. performed for the first time at a party at the deconsecrated St. Mary’s Episcopal Church building. Those two historic occasions, as well as many others, both famous and infamous, are memorialized in the Athens Music Walking Tour. Download the self-guided tour brochure from the Athens Welcome Center and check out as many of the 24 featured sites as you can, from the railroad trestle in Dudley Park, which is featured on the back cover of R.E.M.’s 1983 debut album “Murmur,” to Wuxtry Records, the tiny, eclectic shop that has been open in downtown Athens since 1976. Stay over for the nightlife and check out the 40 Watt Club, the Georgia Theatre, The Foundry and Hendershot’s Coffee Bar.
Those All-Night-Long Blues
Gertrude "Ma Rainey" Pridgett was only 13 or so when she began performing in minstrel tent shows in her hometown of Columbus, Georgia. Later she traveled with the Rabbit’s Foot Company, but by 1914, she had gone out on her own as a singer. A blues pioneer, Rainey recorded more than 90 songs for Paramount and is known as "The Mother of the Blues." Fans can learn more about her life and the unique country blues history of the Lower Chattahoochee Valley region in the Ma Rainey House and Blues Museum in Columbus. Stay over for live music at The Loft or one of the many free downtown performances by students and faculty from the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University. If you are feeling adventurous during your music excursion, don’t miss the opportunity to paddle down the Chattahoochee River with Whitewater Express - Columbus.
I Feel Good
While Augusta is well-known as home of the annual Masters golf tournament, the city is also rich with music. The Godfather of Soul James Brown, Little Miss Dynamite Brenda Lee, award-winning soprano Jessye Norman, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Lady Anbetellum and soul music dynamo Sharon Jones all grew up in Augusta. Learn about these musicians and well-known athletes, authors and artists in "Local Legends," a permanent exhibition at the Augusta Museum of History. While in town, get your picture taken with the life-sized James Brown bronze statue in the middle of Broad Street and pop into the Soul Bar for a beverage. It’s also well worth checking the schedule and timing your visit to coincide with the Southern Soul and Song concert series sponsored by the Morris Museum of Art and presented at the historic Imperial Theatre.
Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive
Fans of Johnny Mercer can visit the gorgeous bronze statue of the renowned lyricist in his hometown of Savannah at Ellis Square or sit on the marble bench engraved with many of his most famous song titles by his gravesite in Bonaventure Cemetery. The beautiful and historic city on Georgia’s coast is home to a year-round calendar of music festivals, including Savannah Jazz Festival (Sept. 23-29, 2018), Savannah Stopover (March 7-9, 2019), and Savannah Music Festival (March 28 – April 13, 2019).
Find more about Georgia music heritage, attractions and festivals on ExploreGeorgia.org/music.