It’s official: 2016 is the Year of Georgia Music. Governor Nathan Deal made the announcement at the State Capitol last Tuesday as he unveiled the cover of the annual Georgia Travel Guide, which features country superstar and Leesburg, Ga., native Luke Bryan.
The designation is a welcome acknowledgement of the $3.6 billion annual impact and 26,000 jobs music brings to the Georgia economy, but it’s nothing new — music has been part of Georgia’s lifeblood for decades. Its generational strength was in full display at a Travel Guide launch party, where entertainment included 17-year-old Marietta-born Zach Seabaugh, a recent semi-finalist on “The Voice.” Zach was followed on stage by Macon’s Robert Lee Coleman, the 75-year-old bluesman who played guitar in James Brown’s legendary band the JBs. The talent stretches throughout Georgia as well, as evidenced by the guide’s photo of notable musicians from every corner of the state.
It’s easy to rattle off the classic names (Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, R.E.M., Ma Rainey) but Georgia’s new guard earns plenty of acclaim as well, via the recent Grammy nominations. And it would hard to top the variety:
- Cedartown’s Sam Hunt for Best New Artist and Best Country Album for his 2014 debut “Montevallo.”
- Veteran Atlanta rockers Sevendust for Best Metal Performance on “Thank You.”
- Christian rockers Third Day for Best Contemporary Christian Performance/Song for “Soul on Fire.”
- Rounding it off, HBO’s documentary “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” is nominated for Best Music Film.
For another barometer of the latest Georgia sounds, check out the Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop Poll, an aggregation of nearly 500 critics’ best-of lists that provides a comprehensive snapshot of 2015 music. Macon native Mackenzie Scott, who records as Torres, finished an impressive #28 with her sophomore album “Sprinter.” Young Atlanta-based rappers Rae Sremmurd landed at #40 with their debut “SremmLife,” also topping Pazz & Jop’s “hipness” scale based on the poll’s own definition. Savannah’s Baroness crashed the party with their mid-December album “Purple,” rating a callout as one of the only metal bands to make this year’s chart — they also garnered as many votes as both Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez despite the late arrival.
Be sure to check out the new ExploreGeorgia.org/Music landing page. I’m particularly fond of the interactive “Today in Georgia Music” calendar, yet another example of the state’s deep, diverse musical roots. For example, February 1 is the birthday of OutKast’s Andre “Big Boi” Patton (Savannah, 1975). Oh, and 10 years earlier on that same date, James Brown recorded “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Not bad for a day’s work.
Start making plans today to discover many more local artists on your next trip to Georgia with your free copy of the 2016 Georgia Travel Guide.
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.