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.
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 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.