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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.