18 Georgia Songwriters – Up Close and Personal


The latest celebration of the Year of Georgia Music is pretty special. Georgia Tourism has launched the Songwriter Series, a set of six intimate performances each featuring three noted Georgia singer/songwriters playing and sharing the stories behind their compositions. Best of all, the series spreads the wealth, with evening events spanning every corner of the state.

The first of these shows, held July 29 at Dublin’s recently renovated Carnegie venue, set the bar plenty high. A capacity crowd experienced hometown blueswoman EG Kight, Zac Brown Band alum Levi Lowrey, and eclectic Georgian Greg Hester. The three had never played together but struck an immediate rapport, trading off leads and jamming in various permutations. The night delivered on the precise blend of organic, homespun music and storytelling envisioned for the series — and there’s plenty more to come.

Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus and will perform at The Loft Aug. 20 as part of the ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series

Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus and will perform at The Loft Aug. 20 as part of the ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series

Columbus’ August 20 installment should have a homecoming vibe. Jake Fussell was born there, jazz guitarist and singer Marshall Ruffin‘s career began there, and Alia Torres is an up-and-coming local. “Jake’s not actually a songwriter – he’s a song preservationist and interpreter, and he knows more about songs of our state and the South than anyone I’ve ever come across,” says series organizer Lisa Love. “And, I just saw last week that his song, ‘Pushboat,’ one of my faves on his debut album ‘Jake Xerxes Fussell,’ is on the soundtrack for XBox’s Forza Motorsport 6.”

That’s a perfect example of the often overlooked Georgia DNA running through popular music. The October 7 Albany show highlights the country side of this equation. Cole Taylor has written No. 1 hits for Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, and Travis Denning penned songs on Jason Aldean’s and Chase Rice’s latest albums. Taylor and Denning play together often, and here they’ll be joined by 21-year-old high-flyer Trae Landon. “Of the Top 25 Hot Country Songs on Billboard today, 10 of the artists are from Georgia,” boasts Love. “And those are just the artists. If we looked up who wrote the songs, I’m sure there’d be more Georgians.”

Cole Taylor, from Cuthbert, Ga., had his first No. 1 hit as a co-writer of Florida Georgia Line's "Sippin' on Fire." He will perform in Albany Oct. 7

Cole Taylor, from Cuthbert, Ga., had his first No. 1 hit as a co-writer of Florida Georgia Line’s “Sippin’ on Fire.” He will perform in Albany Oct. 7

The settings themselves are part of the attraction with listening rooms housing 150-250, each night promises an up-close-and-personal experience. And, the locales are stately historic buildings, most (like the Holly Theater in Dahlonega and the Douglass Theatre in Macon) recently renovated to reclaim their original glory.

The Dahlonega show should also be a treat, with Nashville songwriters (and Georgia natives) Pat Alger and Tony Arata teaming with Indigo Girl Amy Ray on November 19. ”Tony and Pat are quietly hilarious in their storytelling but serious about their songs, and once they start playing, even if you don’t know country music, you’ll recognize the hits they wrote,” says Love. “And, having them in the round with Amy is going to be magical.”

See Amy Ray perform in Dahlonega Nov. 19 as part of the ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series

See Amy Ray perform in Dahlonega Nov. 19 as part of the ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series

The December 2 Macon show that closes the series offers a twist — the three performers (Lloyd Buchanan, Lola Gulley, Ike Stubblefield) are all organists/keyboardists. After a set in the familiar in-the-round format, the trio will throw down for a keyboard jam, bringing in drums and other instruments.

I’d be remiss in not mentioning the Atlanta show (September 21 at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center), even if the bill featuring Michelle Malone and Randall Bramblett speaks for itself. On this occasion, they’ll be joined by Brent Cobb, a writer for the likes of Miranda Lambert, Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan, whose own solo debut is due out in early October.

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 GeorgiaMusic.org.

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 GeorgiaMusic.org.

Funky Former Georgian Headlines Atlanta Jazz Festival

The genre-bending, queen of funk, JOI, headlines the Atlanta Jazz Festival on Friday, May 27. A member of OutKast’s extended Dungeon Family and once a staple of the Atlanta music scene, JOI relocated to L.A. in 2012, but still thinks of Atlanta as home. Below, JOI talks about her excitement for the festival and her favorite things to do when she’s in town.

See JOI perform Friday, May 27 at the Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park.

See JOI perform Friday, May 27 at the Atlanta Jazz Festival in Piedmont Park.

Are you excited to perform at the Atlanta Jazz Festival?

“I’m so excited to come back to Atlanta, and it is extremely mentionable that I’m coming back and doing Jazz Fest. They always have amazing entertainment, but it’s usually pure jazz. Maybe some world music.”

Is performing in Georgia different than performing elsewhere?

“Yeah it’s different. Because it became my home for the second half of my adult life up until 2012. The various things that I would I experience [in Georgia] would prove to shape me into a better artist.”



What is your favorite thing to do in Georgia?

“Visit with my loved ones and family. Atlanta has changed a lot. I love Tropical Cuisine, which is off of Old National [Highway, College Park]. It is very delicious Caribbean [food]. There’s lots of different places that I like. There’s a nice variety of things to do.”

Do you still identify as an ATLien*?

“I spent 20 years there, I definitely still identify in that way.”

(*The name of OutKast’s second album and a widely accepted term for Atlanta residents.)

The Atlanta Jazz Festival is one of the largest free jazz festivals in the country. The festival takes place annually over Memorial Day weekend at Piedmont Park in Midtown. JOI takes the stage at 9 p.m. on Friday, May 27. To see the rest of the lineup and for more information, visit http://atlantafestivals.com. For other Memorial Day music festivals, check out Music Explorer Glen Sarvady’s picks.

nicole-webBorn and raised on collard greens and sweet tea, Nicole Rateau also identifies as an ATLien. She provides marketing and communications support for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, but would gladly sing backup for the Dungeon Family.

Attending Georgia’s Music Festivals with Kids

Attending 420 Fest in Atlanta with kids

Attending 420 Fest in Atlanta with kids. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

There are a few music festivals that hubby and I attend every year; we just love listening to music under the sun, experiencing the city, and chowing at the food trucks. This year, we did something different: We brought our kiddos!

Our 7-year-old and 3-year-old went with us to Sweetwater 420 Festival at Centennial Olympic Park. I’ll admit, we were nervous. This was our first large music festival with them, but we ended up having a wonderful time! There were a great number of other children there, too!

Thinking of bringing your own kids to one of the summer’s music festivals? Here are a few things we learned that made it an easy adventure.

  1. Bring ear protection. Even when you aren’t in the crowd near the stage, the music can be very loud. It’s important to protect little ears. We found that over-the-ear protection was easier to manage with little ones, and we found affordable solutions at the big chain home improvement stores.
  1. Plan an abbreviated visit. When hubby and I attend a concert, we usually arrive early and stay until the last song of the encore. That doesn’t work work with kiddos, especially young ones. This time, we studied the itinerary and picked the ONE concert we wanted to see each day. If we heard more than one band then that would be a special treat, but our expectations were set for no more than that.
  1. Shade and games are your friends. Pack a Frisbee or a Hacky-sack, and a blanket. Work to secure a spot under the trees so the kids can escape to a shady area when necessary. When they seem restless, offer an ice cream or King of Pops treat – and be sure to get one for yourself!
  1. Expect the best, plan for the worst. Chances are, your kids will be by your side the entire time, but just in case you are separated, make a plan. For older kids, plan a meet-up place, or point out the police and staff uniforms so they know where to go for help. With younger kids, pin your business card or phone number to the back of their shirt.

Trying to decide which Georgia Music Festival to share with your kids? Follow Glen Sarvady, Georgia’s Music Explorer, for more ideas.

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

Georgia Drummer Keeps the Beat for Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil's KURIOS - Cabinet of Curiosities

See Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities in Atlanta through May 8, 2016.

A man with accordion legs, a gentleman whose giant belly is the residence of a 3.2-foot tall woman, aquatic contortionists, an invisible circus, rola bola aviator… just a few of the quirky and diverse characters Georgia-born drummer Kit Chatham keeps the beat for in Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities, showing at Atlantic Station through May 8.

Cirque du Soleil has visited Atlanta 17 times with 14 different shows since 1991. Based in Montreal, Cirque features some of the world’s most talented individuals who perform reality-defying feats to live music. 

Chatham, who has performed in six different Cirque du Soleil productions since 2005, graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in music education and taught in Cobb County before joining Cirque du Soleil. We caught up with Chatham to find out what he likes most about performing in his home state.


Kit Chatham in costume for KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities

Having grown up here, are you excited to be performing back in Georgia?

“Definitely. The last time I performed here was 2007 with Corteo, also a Cirque du Soleil show. I moved out in 2009 to Las Vegas so I am super excited to be back.” 

This year, Georgia is celebrating the Year of Music, what does Georgia music mean to you?

“It depends on the area. I am an Athens boy, so R.E.M. and the B-52s, but then again I moved from Atlanta for my last years in high school and I was closer to Augusta, so James Brown. When I was in college, I used to record in Macon in the Allman Brothers studio. It’s widespread – Widespread Panic, they’re also from here. It’s tough to summarize Georgia music. It’s got roots in the South. It’s also got soul. It’s got everything — gospel, country, hip hop. It’s very cool to see how much music comes from Georgia that you wouldn’t expect.”

How does live music contribute to the overall Cirque experience?

“With every Cirque show, you’re dealing with things that can happen with acrobats at any given time. So, in order to flow with the acrobats, the music has to be able to adapt and change, maybe go back, maybe jump ahead. It changes every night.”

How does touring with Cirque du Soleil differ from touring with a band or as a solo musician?

“With arena shows or Broadway, you’re in a place one night, two nights, then you’re out. Your one day off is your travel day, which really stinks. With the tent show, we’re here 10 weeks, which is really great. I’m getting a lot of time to explore.”

Chatham performing in Cirque du Soleil's KURIOS - Cabinet of Curiosities

Chatham performing in Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities

Does this cast rely on you in this location for input on what to do in Georgia?

“I gave them a long list of what to do in Georgia. You’ve got to go to The Varsity. You’ve got all the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attractions, Ebenezer [Baptist Church]. The Georgia Aquarium. The World of Coca-Cola. Stone Mountain. The barbecue places to go to. Athens. Savannah. I gave them a huge list of things to try to guide them.”

What is your favorite thing to do in Georgia?

“I am a big barbecue fan. Brunswick stew — you can’t find Brunswick stew anywhere but in Georgia. Every time I come here, I get Chick-fil-A. I love how the brewing industry is starting to pick-up here. But, the biggest thing for me when I come to Georgia is usually family.”

How does this show differ from other Cirque shows you’ve toured with?

“The theme of this show [KURIOS] is steampunk, and it deals with the age of invention and creativity. Going from that steam era to electricity, everything is experimental. The scenery, the stage, all has that steampunk feel. The music is somewhat eclectic. There is a lot of presence of electro swing, which is associated with that theme. There are some more swing elements, classical, rock-and-roll. … With every show the music is different, the styles are different. That’s the one thing that drew me to Cirque, is there are so many different styles within the show and the uniqueness to the music, the overall characteristics to it in each show.”

KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities is at Atlantic Station until May 8. Shows are Tuesday-Sunday in the afternoon and evening. Individual tickets range from $35-$170. Visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/kurios for more information or to purchase tickets.

nicole-webNicole Rateau provides marketing and communications support for the Georgia Department of Economic Development. She would love to go on tour with Cirque du Soleil, but she would miss Georgia and collard greens!