Life Music in Oakland Cemetery: Tunes from the Tombs

Photo credit: Steve Grundy, Flickr

When you think of fun-filled destinations for a sunny Saturday afternoon, a cemetery probably isn’t the first place that springs to mind. Maybe it should. Back at the turn of the 20th century, cemeteries served many of the functions now filled by public parks, hosting weekend family picnics and the like. The 48-acre Oakland Cemetery, sitting just a mile southeast of downtown in Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood, was established in 1850 as one of the first examples of a “rural garden cemetery.” It’s now part of a public/private partnership with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and is a beautiful and historic respite bridging several of Atlanta’s intown communities.

Arrested Development

Arrested Development

On Saturday, June 18, Oakland Cemetery will host its 6th annual Tunes from the Tombs, a day-long music and arts festival that for the second straight year features an all-local lineup. But don’t equate “local” with “provincial.” Headlining the bill is the Grammy-winning Atlanta hip hop collective Arrested Development, which topped the mid-90s charts with tracks like “Tennessee” and Mr. Wendal,” and continues to enjoy strong followings in Japan and Europe.

Original member Speech and his crew have been on a tear of late, having released two new albums this year: the free download “Changing the Narrative” (“more sample-based, with a hip hop feel,” as Speech describes it) and “This Was Never Home,” which he says has “a more current day feel, with synths and some acoustic guitar, but with our subject matter and energy.”

As he has from the band’s inception, Speech categorizes Arrested Development as “Life Music,” a positive, empowering force. “A lot of music strangely celebrates death, the ability to murder someone,” he continues. “If it were pure entertainment that would be one thing, but it’s too much the reality in our world today.”

Leave it to Arrested Development to bring a life-affirming vibe to a cemetery. One of the first hip hop bands to work with live instruments, AD will perform as an eight-piece, and Speech hints at several guest appearances given the proximity to their home base.

Also on the bill is HeaveN Beatbox, the stage name of charismatic Georgia State University grad Steven Cantor, who Speech says “has become a musical son to me,” as well as longtime area favorite James Hall and eclectic songstress Adron.

As part of the Historic Oakland Foundation’s stated goal of providing “something for everyone,” a second stage features a bevy of tribute bands with self-explanatory names like the B-53s and Fauxgerty. Add more than a dozen food trucks, an artists’ market, and a persimmon lager created for the occasion by Atlanta’s Red Brick Brewing Company with persimmons harvested from historic Oakland’s gardens, and you’ve got a recipe for a great day in the city.

As Events Director Mary Woodlan puts it, Tunes from the Tombs is “a party for a purpose. All proceeds benefit the foundation,” going toward the cemetery’s restoration and protection. General admission tickets are $20 in advance, a healthy discount from the $30 price if you meet at the cemetery gates.

glen-headshotGlen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as

Dahlonega Roars with Bluegrass this Weekend

Bring your instruments and join a jam session at Dahlonega's Bear on the Square Festival.

Bring your instruments and join a jam session at Dahlonega’s Bear on the Square Festival.

Spring marks the beginning of Georgia’s festival season, a parade of wonderful opportunities to venture outdoors and sample local arts and flavors. Near the top of the calendar is Dahlonega’s Bear on the Square Festival, which celebrates its 20th year this weekend (April 16-17, 2016).

As a North Georgia mountain gateway and onetime gold rush town, Dahlonega hardly needs another calling card, but Bear on the Square really ups the ante with its heartfelt dedication to traditional Southern Appalachian music. The festival attracts nearly 50,000 attendees stretching well beyond adjoining states. “We heard from folks in England who wanted to attend a bluegrass festival and after doing their research decided this was the one,” marvels festival organizer Glenda Pender.

Dahlonega has long served as a musical hub, playing host to fiddle conventions as far back as the early 1900s. While Pender draws a distinction between bluegrass and old-time music, Bear on the Square does justice to both. Check out this YouTube video of the original Skillet Lickers for an early example of the genre. The Georgia Crackers, on this year’s main stage bill, draw a direct line to the authentic North Georgia sound. (A bit of trivia for rock fans: Georgia Cracker Evan Kinney is the brother of Kevn Kinney, from Atlanta’s legendary Drivin’ N’ Cryin’.)

Musicians from all over the world visit Dahlonega to hear authentic bluegrass music during the Bear on the Square Festival.

Musicians from all over the world visit Dahlonega to hear authentic bluegrass music during the Bear on the Square Festival.

“Official” festival music runs from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday, but that’s just the start of the fun. “Probably a quarter of folks show up with their own instruments,” estimates organizer Jimmy Booth. “People start rolling in by Thursday night,” and impromptu jam sessions begin cropping up all along the town square, often with the professionals joining in. An unscientific poll on the festival site reveals these pickup jams to be the most popular aspect of the event. Free workshops (no experience necessary) are also offered throughout the weekend. Storytelling — another Appalachian tradition — has been added to the program, as well.

Another audience favorite is the Sunday morning Gospel Jam. “It’s not a religious thing, but it’s the most moving, foot-stomping, inspiring time,” explains Pender. “People sing their hearts out, the energy level is so high,” in this homage to mountain gospel tradition. Originally conceived as an open mic, performances are now scheduled in advance due to high demand. “One year (Indigo Girl) Amy Ray showed up, and some folks in the crowd recognized her and cajoled her into doing a song.”

banjoThe main stage also features performers like Bluegrass Songwriter of the Year winner Becky Buller. And after hours, several of the musicians retire to the Crimson Moon Café, a classic listening room in the Eddie’s Attic/ Bluebird Café vein, for a paid set in an intimate setting.

Festival organizers proudly emphasize that all activities are free, to the point that they downplay an open-to-the-public Friday night kickoff fundraiser with live music and an auction. The princely sum of $5 includes samplings from local wineries and Dahlonega’s best restaurants.

The juried art booths also feature plenty of local of flavor; in the fest’s early years, a local moonshiner used to display his wares. All perfectly legal, Pender assures me. “If moonshining isn’t a part of traditional Appalachian culture, what is?” she laughs.

glen-headshotGlen Sarvady is Georgia’s official Music Explorer. He has lived in Atlanta for more than 20 years, and has written about music both locally and nationally for at least as long. More recently, he has written regularly for the music/arts publication Stomp & Stammer as well as

Explore Georgia Wants to Find the World’s Biggest Georgia Music Fan!

shakykneesBSPEnter the #GeorgiaMusic Backstage Pass contest to win an eight-day
musical odyssey through Atlanta, Athens and Macon!

Georgia, known for musical heritage ranging from James Brown to Luke Bryan, is on a nationwide search for the most passionate Georgia music fan to explore the state’s vibrant music scenes and bring them to life via social media.

With its own rich and influential music heritage, including concerts, tours, landmarks and more than 100 music festivals statewide, Georgia offers authentic and memorable musical experiences that put fans closer than ever to their favorite artists from the past and present.

Georgia Theatre in Athens

Georgia Theatre is a prominent music venue in Athens that has hosted famous local bands such as REM and the B-52’s

The winner of the #GeorgiaMusic Backstage Pass contest and a guest will be treated to a tour of the state through Atlanta, Athens and Macon from May 8-15, 2016. During the trip, you will help us tell the stories of Georgia’s deep-rooted musical history on our blog and social media channels.

To enter the #GeorgiaMusic Backstage Pass contest, die-hard music fans must follow @ExploreGeorgia on Instagram, post a Georgia music-related photo using the hashtags #GeorgiaMusic and #GeorgiaMusicBackstagePass and tell us why you love Georgia music in the post. Don’t forget – your account must be public for us to see your submission!

Allman Brothers Band Museum Entrance

Get ready to rock when you roll into historic Macon, Georgia!

From April 4–15, 2016, Explore Georgia will collect entries and engage with contestants. On the final day we’ll select five finalists based on creative photography and fan engagement. The finalists’ entry will be posted to the blog on April 18, 2016, for public voting. A winner will be announced on April 25, 2016.

Wilco at Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta

Wilco at Shaky Knees in Atlanta. Photo by aLIVE Coverage, from Shaky Knees, Facebook.

The #GeorgiaMusic Backstage Pass grand prize includes:
  • Round-trip air transportation to/from Atlanta
  • Hotel accommodations (eight nights) in Atlanta, Athens and Macon
  • Rental car
  • Music-focused tours and experiences in Atlanta, Athens and Macon
  • Two VIP tickets to the Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta (May 13-15)
  • Daily stipend of $150

But that’s not all we’re giving away! One (1) runner-up will win two tickets to the Shaky Beats Music Festival, taking place May 20-22 at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta. Shaky Beats features more than 40 top electronic, indie and hip-hop acts across three stages. And you thought Georgia was only about country music…

The winner must be 25 years of age or older and his/her accompanying guest must be 21 years of age or older by May 8, 2016. The winner must be available to travel May 8 – 15, 2016. The winner and guest must depart from an airport in the 48 contiguous United States.

Enter today for an opportunity to be at the center of Georgia’s music story and have the chance to win a trip to experience our vibrant music for yourself!

By entering this contest you agree to follow the terms and conditions set forth here.

Learn more about Georgia music at

Georgians Win Big at The GRAMMYs!

Congratulations to the Georgians who took home GRAMMYs® last night at the 58th annual awards ceremony in Los Angeles! The Georgia winners are: 


Savannah native Dave Cobb had an extraordinary night – he produced the Best Country Album, Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller, as well as Jason Isbell‘s Something More Than Free, named Best Americana Album.

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 15: Recording artist Chris Stapleton (L) and record producer Dave Cobb accept the Best Country Album award for 'Traveller' onstage during The 58th GRAMMY Awards at Staples Center on February 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/WireImage)

Chris Stapleton & Dave Cobb (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Watch the album trailers:


Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey & Liz Rose (Photo: Jeff Vespa/Getty Images)

Songwriter Hillary Lindsey‘s hometown of Washington, Ga. is abuzz today with news of her Best Country Song GRAMMY, shared with fellow writers Lori McKenna and Liz Rose, for Little Big Town’s smash hit, “Girl Crush.”

Kimberly Schlapman and Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, who also picked up “Best Country Duo/Group Performance” for the song, were both raised in Georgia.



Former President Jimmy Carter won his second GRAMMY for Best Spoken World Album for A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety. Listen to the audiobook here.



Susan Archie (Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Atlantan Susan Archie earned her third GRAMMY for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package for The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume Two (1928-32), which she shared with fellow art directors Dean Blackwood and Jack White.

Georgia is very proud of these deserving winners today! Share you favorite music memories by using #GeorgiaMusic!



Alpharetta is a Symphony for the Senses

songwriter festival2 lr

ALPHARETTA, just north of Atlanta and easily accessible via the state’s “Hospitality Highway,” entertains, offering a variety of opportunities to savor the sounds of live music. From an intimate setting at The Velvet Note to outdoor ambiance at Matilda’s, to noteworthy performances at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Alpharetta brings new sounds to the suburbs!

Catch a concert at Alpharetta’s impressive 12,000-seat Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, which hosts famous names throughout the year.

Photo: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

Photo: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

Get in touch with Southern roots at Matilda’s Music Under the Pines. This outdoor Alpharetta concert venue offers a relaxed alfresco evening of entertainment. Owner M.J. Potter created the music series in 2005, and it has grown over the years to attract some of the best musicians and bands in Atlanta and around the country.

Bring favorite eats, drinks and even Fido along, and kick back while bands pick out bluegrass, country and folk rock tunes. Matilda’s Music Under the Pines offers a downhome experience that will have patrons feeling sweet harmony — only in Alpharetta.

Photo: ABH Photography

Photo: ABH Photography

April through November, head to Chukkar Farm on select Friday and Saturday evenings for live music set against the backdrop of more than 100 acres of rolling landscapes and breathtaking views of the polo field.

Go indoors at The Velvet Note and hear a world-class musical artists in a setting as intimate and comfortable as your own living room.

Photo: The Velvet Note

Photo: The Velvet Note

Seek out this Southern city during the annual Wire and Wood Songwriters Festival each October. Nationally recognized singer-songwriters gather for three days of concerts. Music lovers will get a behind-the-scenes look at the stories that inspired country, rock, blues, Americana and bluegrass songs. Attendees will be able to meet touring veteran songsmiths and local up-and-coming talent as music fills the streets of Alpharetta. More details will be announced at as soon as they are available.

Photo: Occupy My Family

A perfect duet: Pair good eats with sweet beats

Cure cravings at any of Alpharetta’s menu of eateries featuring cuisines that satisfy from homegrown to globally-inspired.
Smokejack lr

Photo: Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau

At Avalon, Oak Steakhouse‘s contemporary dishes like bone-in pork chops over Carolina grits and wild Alaskan salmon will make you say farewell to grandfather’s stuffy steakhouse. This modern take on fine dining also features prime cuts of beef and a handmade cocktail menu to really please your palate. (678) 722-8333

Calamari, crostini and clams, oh my! Colletta offers a modern take on Italian favorites. With unexpected flavors like a peach and gorgonzola pizza or a veal chop over polenta, your taste buds will not be left wanting. Don’t forget to end the night with a cannoli.  (678) 722- 8335

Every other Wednesday these jointly-owned restaurants pair up for an outdoor party in Palmer Plaza. Let artists from near and far serenade you while you kick back with $5 drinks and specialty apps.

Downtown is also where you will find more restaurants with a beat! Your lips will be smackin’ at locally owned Smokejack’s Southern Grill and BBQ. Start off with a tasty basket of fried pickles, move to a pulled pork sandwich or chomp down on smoked, fall-off-the-bone ribs. Relish the finger-lickin’ comfort food while local bands pick out bluegrass and country favorites every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. (770) 410-7611

Music and food culminate in Alpharetta for a symphonic experience for the senses.

South Main Kitchen is known for its farm-to-table fare and unique communal dining experience. Fill your appetite with their fresh ingredient-focused dishes from an ever-changing, American-inspired menu.Top off a cocktail and toast a night out by heading to the rooftop lounge and bar area. Local musicians fill the fall air with sweet sounds most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. (678) 691-4622



Indulgent dishes paired with fresh melodies — Alpharetta feeds both body and soul.

TIP: Call ahead to ensure the restaurant of your choice is featuring live music that night. 

Find everything you need to know about Alpharetta here, including the city’s Don’t Miss Events.

Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau,, 678-297-2811.

© Lauren Boyd Photography 2013

Mom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.