Songs written by Georgians have helped shape and define American music for decades from Dr. Thomas Dorsey’s “(Take My Hand) Precious Lord” to Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River,” James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” to Otis Redding’s “Respect,” and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” to Outkast’s “Rosa Parks.” Georgia Tourism celebrates homegrown music with the ExploreGeorgia.Org Songwriter Series featuring 18 singer/songwriters in intimate venues in six cities across the state. The series commemorates the “Year of Georgia Music,” the 2016 promotional campaign developed by Georgia Tourism to promote the state as a destination for live music and music heritage. All shows start at 8 p.m., tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door and available online at ExploreGeorgia.org/songwriter-series.
EG Kight, Levi Lowrey and Greg Hester
Fri., July 29, 2016
Dublin Carnegie, 314 Academy Avenue, Dublin, GA 31021
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EG KIGHT: Though she appears at venues and festivals across America and Europe, blues singer, songwriter and guitarist EG Kight is a hometown girl, born in Dublin, named Eugenia Gail by her father and taught to play guitar at age five by her grandmother. She has been performing live since her early teens and since 1997, has released seven critically acclaimed albums. Known as the “Georgia Songbird,” Kight’s songs have been recorded by her idol, the late blues legend Koko Taylor, R&B singer Dorothy Moore, Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women and others. King Biscuit magazine wrote, “Equal measures of sensuality and grit filter through an appealing Southern drawl when this lady sings the blues.”
LEVI LOWREY: As the great-great grandson of fiddler Gid Tanner, who led the pioneering string band, The Skillet Lickers, Levi Lowrey hails from a serious American music bloodline. A fiddler himself, singer and songwriter, Lowrey has recorded five albums including the double-length Roots and Branches, released earlier this year. Though he co-wrote the #1 Zac Brown Band hit, “Colder Weather,” and has appeared on numerous ZBB projects, his solo work is less Nashville pop-country and more the Americana, folk and bluegrass of his roots steeped with heartbreakingly beautiful melodies and incredibly honest lyrics. When he’s not on the road, Lowrey can usually be found on Friday nights at the Chicken House in Dacula, where four generations descended from Gid Tanner, a chicken farmer by trade, gather to play old-time music with friends and fellow musicians, the way it has been done for decades.
GREG HESTER: The influences of his native Georgia are unmistakable in Greg Hester’s 20+ year career, from his early days as a Gram Parsons-loving country rocker to the funk and soul inspired by one of his idols, James Brown. While earlier albums showcased his own style and songwriting, in 2015 Hester ecstatically released Soul Brother Where Art Thou!, a project that he’d envisioned shortly after Brown’s passing in 2006. Backed by former Brown band members including longtime guitarist Keith Jenkins, Hester delivers scorching vocal versions of the iconic musician’s classic songs with guest artists including Ivan Neville, Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie, Col. Bruce Hampton, Raul Malo and more accompanying him. Hester also uses his powerful voice in his side band Street Choir, a tribute to the great Northern Irish musician Van Morrison.
DUBLIN CARNEGIE: The beautiful Dublin Carnegie, built by Andrew Carnegie as a library in 1904 and listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, plays host to the first concert in the ExploreGeorgia.org Songwriter Series. After an extensive restoration in 2013, the building reemerged as an event space and art gallery. The evening of the concert is also the final date of the current exhibition, Shooting Stars: Kirk West’s Photographic Journey with The Allman Brothers and Others, which offers a glimpse into the 40+ year career of rock ‘n’ roll photographer, Kirk West, who will be on hand during the show to greet guests and sign copies of his book, Les Brers, an insiders’ look into The Allman Brothers Band, for whom he served as longtime tour manager.
Jake Fussell, Marshall Ruffin, Alia Torres
Sat. Aug. 20, 2016
The Loft Green Room, 1032 Broadway, Columbus, GA 31901
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JAKE FUSSELL: As the son of noted folklorist Fred Fussell, singer and guitarist Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus and accompanied his father as he traveled the byways documenting the songs and stories of rural musicians and artists. Later, Jake followed a path not as a songwriter himself, but as a preservationist and interpreter of arcane blues and folk songs of the South. After the release of his debut album in 2015, he told Blurt Online, “Growing up with that kind of background, I became really interested in songs. Because I knew musicians in a traditional setting, I was always interested in what purpose different songs served. I realize that I am sort of drawn to songs that maybe have a certain purpose … songs that interest me historically in addition to just being interesting songs.” Jake Xerxes Fussell, a collaboration with acclaimed artist William Tyler, earned stellar reviews across the board and inspired Art Rosenbaum to remark, “From Georgia’s Sea Islands and Chattahoochee Valley to the Mississippi Delta to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jake is still listening and learning, and coming up with music that takes us to a deep place in the American spirit.”
MARSHALL RUFFIN: For guitarist, singer and songwriter Marshall Ruffin, a Virginia native, it was a job at the recording studio at The Loft complex in Columbus that first brought him to Georgia after graduating from Berklee College of Music with a degree in jazz performance. Immersing himself in local culture, he sat in with local jazz and blues bands and after an invitation from a friend, began playing regularly on Sunday mornings at AME churches in the area. He recorded two albums for LaGrange label Jammates before migrating to Atlanta, where his mesmerizing voice (clearly influenced by his exposure to Southern gospel), guitar prowess and songwriting skills were embraced by audiences in venues like Eddie’s Attic, where he won the famed Songwriter Shootout in 2013, and Grocery On Home, a house concert venue that captured one of his performances in a live album released in 2015. Most recently, Ruffin has been touring throughout the US and Europe with visual artist and musician Lonnie Holley and cellist Ben Sollee.
ALIA TORRES: Upon returning to Columbus from more than a year on the island nation of Fiji, rising, singer, songwriter and audio engineer Alia Torres set her mind on making and performing music. She has since appeared in a variety of venues with many local musicians including Neal Lucas, the Shelby Brothers and the CSU Popular Music Ensemble. She has penned numerous songs and is also currently working as a technician and audio engineer at The Loft and Columbus State University’s Schwob School of Music. Alia draws from R&B, soul and blues roots music as well as modern indie rock and experimental music.
LOFT GREEN ROOM: The Loft Green Room is an intimate performance space located within The Loft, a two-level live music venue, restaurant and recording studio that has been an anchor of downtown Columbus revitalization for more than two decades.
Randall Bramblett, Michelle Malone and Brent Cobb
Wed. Sept. 21, 2016
Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, 980 Briarcliff Rd. NE, Atlanta, GA 30306
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RANDALL BRAMBLETT: Rolling Stone called Randall Bramblett “one of the South’s most lyrical and literate songwriters.” The multi-instrumentalist born in Jesup, Georgia, has a distinguished body of work defined by a triple threat career as an acclaimed solo artist, first call sideman and songwriter whose songs have been covered by Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Bettye LaVette, Hot Tuna and more. In the 1970s he was a member of the seminal jazz/rock group Sea Level and as a sideman, he’s toured with Gregg Allman, Widespread Panic, Levon Helm and Stevie Winwood. Bramblett’s tenth solo album, 2015’s Devil Music, earned stellar reviews with Gabe Vodicka of Athens’ Flagpole noting, “The album further codifies Bramblett’s distinct Deep South groove and reminds us that he’s still, after all these years, one of our state’s most vital working musicians.”
BRENT COBB: Shine on Rainy Day, the debut album by Brent Cobb scheduled for release on Oct. 7, evokes the people, places and vibe of the singer/songwriter’s Ellaville home. “It just is Georgia,” he says, “…that rural, easy-going way it feels down there on a nice spring evening when the wind’s blowing warm and you smell the wisteria, you know?” The theme of family looms large in this project as well. Brent’s cousin and fellow Georgian, Dave Cobb, the Grammy-winning producer behind Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, produced the album and is releasing it on Low Country Sound, his Elektra Records imprint. Though Brent has already earned notice as a songwriter with cuts for Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert and Kenny Chesney, early reviews of Shine on Rainy Day forecast good weather ahead for the solo artist. NPR’s Ann Powers calls it “…a gorgeous solo album that promises to place him in the top echelon of this century’s young troubadours, especially adept at capturing a rural America that’s always weighing the promise of change against the comfort of staying the same.”
MICHELLE MALONE: Writer Doug DeLoach described Atlanta native Michelle Malone in Creative Loafing as “a self-taught singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose Southern roots and gutsy swagger infuse her distinctive vocals and electric, slide, and acoustic guitar shredding with a skillet-load of hot buttered soul.” Both her mother and grandmother were professional singers and Malone followed in their footsteps, though she’s always unapologetically done things her own way. Refusing to compromise her artistic vision or play by corporate rules, she walked away from her major label deal with Arista Records after one album and started her own SBS Records label in 1992, independently releasing 16 albums since then. Malone is the best combination of sweet and salty—“raucous and jubilant,” notes Rolling Stone—with her gorgeous, lilting voice, ferocious guitar skills and massive catalog of songs that veer from introspective ballads to rowdy crowd pleasers. She is the essence of rock and roll whether sharing the stage at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall with Gregg Allman, as she did in 2014, or hypnotizing the listening audience at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur.
CALLANWOLDE FINE ARTS CENTER: Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, former home to Charles Howard Candler, an early president of The Coca-Cola Company, hosts classes and workshops in the visual, literary and performing arts. The recently established Rick Baker School of Music and Music Recording at Callanwolde prepares students for a start in the music industry or for higher education in the field of music. Directed by Grammy-winning engineer Phil Tan (Rihanna, Katy Perry, Usher), the program offers the Phil Tan Certificate of Recording.
COLE TAYLOR, TRAVIS DENNING AND TRAE LANDON
Fri. Oct. 7, 2016
Albany Museum of Art, 311 Meadowlark Dr., Albany, GA 31707
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COLE TAYLOR: For Cuthbert, Georgia native Cole Taylor, 2015 was not a bad year. Not only did the 25-year-old garner his first #1 hit as co-writer of Florida Georgia Line’s “Sippin’ on Fire,” but that milestone was quickly followed up by another chart-topper he co-wrote, Luke Bryan’s “Home Alone Tonight” featuring Karen Fairchild. Taylor has come a long way since writing his first song at age 14, though he admits it was initially to impress the girls back home in Randolph County. Taylor released two albums while attending Valdosta State University before moving to Nashville in 2013 and signing with Universal Publishing Group. He’s had cuts on albums by Cole Swindell and Chase Rice and as a solo artist has released two EPs.
TRAVIS DENNING: Country singer/songwriter Travis Denning grew up in musically rich Middle Georgia, a region that launched the careers of Little Richard, Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers Band and Jason Aldean. A writer with RED Creative Group, Denning’s song, “All Out of Beer,” co-written with Jeremy Bussey and Jordan Rager, was recorded by Aldean. He is a co-writer on “Everybody We Know He Does,” the brand new single by Chase Race. He also has two cuts, “Life in the Living” and “Pick Up Lines” on Justin Moore’s upcoming album, Kinda Don’t Care. Denning says, “I’ve grown up in the South my whole life and everything about it and the things I love shine right through what I write and sing about.
TRAE LANDON: Few songwriters have the good fortune of landing a deal in Nashville, much less landing one four weeks after arriving in Nashville, but that’s exactly what happened to 21-year-old Trea Landon last year. After seeing the Claxton, Georgia native at a showcase, fellow Georgian Dallas Davidson, who has amassed more than 20 number one hits in the past decade, signed him to his new Play It Again Publishing company. After honing his chops leading a band in Statesboro while attending Georgia Southern University, Landon is now collaborating regularly with other artists and being groomed for a long career in country music.
ALBANY MUSEUM OF ART: The Albany Museum of Art serves as a cultural cornerstone in the “Good Life City” that claims Ray Charles and Harry James as native sons and is the home of the 51-year-old Albany Symphony Orchestra. The nationally accredited museum holds an impressive collective of 19th and 20th century American European art and one of the largest collections of traditional African art in the Southeast outside of a university setting. On display in the Haley Gallery through Oct. 29 is Motion Forward: Street Style featuring the work of two Brooklyn, New York artists: JM Rizzi, a neo-abstract expressionist and muralist who has worked with famed street artists Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Jean-Michel Basquiat; and Tony “Rubin” Sjöman, a Swedish artist who is considered a staple in the New York City street art scene and whose first book, Rubin: New York/Scandinavia was published in May of 2016.
PAT ALGER, TONY ARATA AND AMY RAY
Sat. Nov. 19, 2016
Holly Theatre, 69 W. Main St., Dahlonega, GA 30533
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PAT ALGER: Though he grew up in LaGrange and studied architecture at Georgia Tech, Pat Alger decided instead to try songwriting as a career. Almost five decades later, his decision still proves to have been the smart one. From his first hit in 1980 with “First Time Love,” recorded by Livingston Taylor, to the chart-toppers recorded by Garth Brooks including “Unanswered Prayers” and “The Thunder Rolls,” Alger has amassed an amazing catalogue. He wrote Hal Ketchum’s hit “Small Town Saturday Night,” Trisha Yearwood’s hit “Like We Never Had a Broken Heart,” Don Williams’ “True Love” and Nanci Griffith’s“Lone Star State of Mind.” His songs have been recorded by Dolly Parton, Lyle Lovett, Kathy Mattea, Peter, Paul and Mary, Brenda Lee and more. Alger is the consummate storyteller, both through song and in the behind-the-songs stories he shares with audiences lucky enough to see him perform in a songwriter format.
TONY ARATA: Shortly after arriving in Nashville more than 25 years ago, Savannah native Tony Arata performed one of his songs at the Bluebird Café and an artist who was in the audience swore if he ever got a record deal, he wanted to record the song. Not long after that gig, Garth Brooks landed that record deal and in 1989, not only did Arata’s “The Dance” become a hit single around the world and earn ACM Song of the Year and Video of the Year honors, but it also became known as one of the country music superstar’s signature songs. Arata, an inductee in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, has had songs recorded by artists including Patty Loveless for whom “Here I Am” was a major hit, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Lee Roy Parnell, Delbert McClinton, Don Williams, Trisha Yearwood, Randy Travis and Reba McEntire, among others.
AMY RAY: To their loyal fans all over the world, the Indigo Girls are recognized as Grammy-winning musicians, prolific songwriters and passionate social and political activists. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers first met as students at Laurel Ridge Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia, performed together in high school and later as students at Emory University. Their 1987 self-produced album led to a contract with Epic Records and brought songs like “Land of Canaan,” “Closer to Fine,” “Hammer and a Nail” and “Galileo” to the greater public. Throughout their decades recording and performing together, Ray and Saliers have also independently pursued solo careers. Ray founded Daemon Records in Atlanta in 1990 and has released eight solo studio and live albums from the Southern punk rock of her first, Stag, to the plaintive traditional country and roots of 2014’s Goodnight Tender.
HOLLY THEATRE: Constructed as a movie theatre in 1948, the historic Holly Theatre, located in the gorgeous North Georgia mountains of Dahlonega, exemplifies “community.” The family-oriented performing arts center presents six main stage productions, three to five children’s theatre productions per year featuring youth actors, many of whom attend classes in its Performance Academy and summer camps. The Holly also hosts a handful of select concerts through the year. The sheer number of sold-out shows and volunteers attest to the theatre’s importance to Dahlonega and Lumpkin County.
LLOYD BUCHANAN, LOLA GULLEY AND IKE STUBBLEFIELD
Fri. Dec. 2, 2016
Douglass Theatre, 355 Martin Luther King Dr., Macon, GA 31201
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LLOYD BUCHANAN: Lloyd Buchanan’s deep background in gospel, blues and jazz has served him well for the past couple of years touring with the Grammy-winning Alabama Shakes as supporting vocalist and keyboardist. He grew up in Columbus playing Hammond organ in church at a very early age accompanying his mother and later studied jazz improvisation at LaGrange College. Over the past decade, he has toured domestically and internationally with The Heavy, Oleta Adams and A7 and spent short stints with artists including Joe, Bishop Rance Allen and Wet Willie, among others. Buchanan leads the Columbus-based soul and R&B outfit Cubed Roots, produces other artists, teaches music and fishes all he can, whether it’s with Alabama Shakes’ frontwoman Brittany Howard while they’re out on the road or back home with his young son Zeke.
LOLA GULLEY: Every week at Northside Tavern, the legendary Atlanta blues club, Lola Gulley leads Lola’s Monday Night Jam, an institution within itself. A dynamic keyboardist, singer and songwriter, Gulley earned “Best Vocal Performance – Female” honors by the Blues Critics’ poll in 2014. She was born in California but raised in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of a funk musician. As a young girl, Gulley played trumpet and drums before finally settling on the keys and spending significant time playing organ and piano in area churches. With a voice that has been compared to both Mavis Staples and Candi Staton, Gulley has pursued her solo career headquartered in Atlanta, where two of her albums, Give Her What She Wants and Cleanin’ House, were produced by soul legend William Bell and released on his Wilbe Records label.
IKE STUBBLEFIELD: Over his almost 50-year career, Ike Stubblefield, a titan of the Hammond B3 organ, has backed legends including Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Ike & Tina Turner, B. B. King, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Jerry Garcia, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and many more. He spent over a decade in the studio, producing, composing and writing songs with legends including Phil Spector and Quincy Jones. Soul, jazz, blues, jam…it’s all part of the gumbo that is uniquely Stubblefield. He has scored for film and television, operated music venues and lived all over the world, from Vancouver and London to San Francisco, New York and New Orleans. He moved to Georgia in 2001 and has worked closely with many Peach State artists including CeeLo Green, Col. Bruce Hampton, Randall Bramblett and more.
DOUGLASS THEATRE: Opened in 1921, the Douglass Theater stood as the premier movie theatre and vaudeville hall for African Americans. Early jazz and blues greats Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ida Cox and Ma Rainey all performed at the Douglass. In the late 50s, local DJ Hamp Swain hosted the weekly Teenage Party talent shows, where Otis Redding was discovered, and later both Little Richard and James Brown performed at the venue. Though it was closed for 25 years, the Douglass reopened in 1997 as a community-based space for film, concerts, theatre and events.