Walden: Macon music deserves surround sound

November 15, 2013 

Last week, one of my co-conspirators in this column, Roger Riddle, wrote on the need for a radio show that included regular rotation for our local musicians. As he said, outside of their stage performances, this would give these hard-working, hungry and undeniably talented artists the platform for growth that they so deserve.

Far from a pipe dream, it’s a shared vision by many in the community. Riddle and I have even tackled it together, meeting with one of Macon’s mainstream broadcasting companies to explore the possibilities. Like many visions, it’s going to take some serious dedication, a well-devised plan and some creative (and generous) financing. But it can be done.

This vision plays into another I’ve shared before in this column. I was also with Riddle a few weeks ago when we stood before the House Music Industry Study Committee and gave our personal testimonies and insights into the power of Macon music. My focus was speaking on behalf of Macon music’s cultural heritage and how it remains a viable tourism asset to our community, despite losing the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

When you look at the depth and breadth of Macon music, it can’t be contained in an institution’s walls. It’s in our historic structures. It’s on our street corners. It’s on our sidewalks. And if our walls could talk, they would undoubtedly sing.

I’ve written before about my father’s biggest wish for our local music scene: a centralized audio system that played Macon music on outdoor speakers throughout the city. This isn’t just limited to downtown. This could pipe into recreation areas such as Lake Tobesofkee, our hotels or parking lots of big events.

This isn’t a novel concept. Large retail hubs have taken the ambient music we once heard in indoor malls outside with speakers imbedded in the commercial landscape. Cities across the country have adopted audio systems, even if temporary, for the holiday season. The Downtown Seattle Association commissioned an audio company to install a wireless system outside some of the major attractions in the West Edge Neighborhood. The full city block, home of the Seattle Symphony, has indoor/outdoor speakers mounted to face the sidewalks and shops.

You can already hear a sample of how special it would be for Macon music. Visit the bronze statue of Otis Redding located in Gateway Park and hear the legendary soul singer’s music playing continuously on the outdoor speakers. One of my favorite places to take people who are considering moving to Macon, you can’t help but feel a tingling connection when you’re overlooking the Ocmulgee River with wafts of “Try a Little Tenderness,” “These Arms of Mine” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” playing beside you like a real life romantic movie.

From the mainstream hits that Little Richard, Redding, James Brown and the Allman Brothers brought the world to the more obscure, critically acclaimed connections like Johnny Jenkins, the Rev. Pearly Brown, Emmett Miller and more, as well as our rising, hopeful and Macon-inspired local artists of today, there would be no shortage of content.

Ideally, this repository of Macon music could also live on an AM or FM dial, in hopes of enticing travelers off the interstates into our music-happy town. And hopefully, advertisers would support it. After all, there is something to be said about the frequency of local pride.

So, let’s keep this conversation going. Let’s put our ears to the ground and figure out a way to -- as Ronnie Van Zant (who also has a Macon connection) so eloquently said -- turn it up.

Jessica Walden is the director of communications for the College Hill Alliance and co-owner of Rock Candy Tours, a Macon music history tour company. Contact her at rockcandytours@gmail.com.

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