Walden: What it will take to make Macon a music town

Special to The TelegraphJune 20, 2014 

It took a slightly strange and unapologetically hopeful resident who the world would ultimately know as Little Richard. That was soon to be combined with the guttural determination, 40-watt charm and unmatched talent of a beloved Otis Redding. Throw in the passion of Phil Walden, who dove headfirst into the world of black musicians during a time of deep segregation, which carried him like a rip tide to the weeping slide phenomenon we’d know as Duane Allman.

All of this was enveloped by the Ocmulgee River mist, said to be blessed by Macon’s original musicians-in-residence, the Creek Indians, who held the first flute chair before Confederate soldier, poet and Macon’s musical forefather Sidney Lanier shot to post-Civil War stardom well beyond his brief life.

I don’t believe we can ever top our past. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace it.

Last week, I attended a session of the Art Matters symposium series hosted by the Macon Arts Alliance that focused on music and music criticism and featured the Drive-by Truckers’ Patterson Hood and Paste Editor Josh Jackson.

When asked what it takes for a town to have a music scene, the answer came quickly: musician retention.

“To have a music scene, you have to be a city where musicians go to hear each other play,” Jackson said.

That was the scene Hood was seeking when he left Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and moved to Athens. Muscle Shoals was in a dry county. Musicians didn’t play outside their studio time. Hood wanted live music where not only he could play, but he could hear others any night of the week.

Exposure is among the “special things” they said are needed for music to matter in a city. Hood also added that hiring musicians and providing day jobs is another key. Multiple venues, cheap rent and musician networks also were listed as essentials.

I’ve sighed as I’ve seen some of our most promising local acts move to other cities with stronger scenes or disband all together in order to make a living.

If we don’t start realizing these artists are just as important of players in local economic development as the corporations we court with gusto, then we’re going to keep sending our kids away to other towns -- as well as our money that comes from ticket revenues, payrolls, taxes and all the other expenditures arts scenes enormously produce.

Later that evening, Hood performed an intimate concert in a historic College Street home as part of the Music Ambassadors program. The unique venue is known as the house “that Crisco built” and whose legendary guests included Tennessee Williams, who drew inspiration for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” while visiting.

“Y’all have got a lot of stories here in Macon,” said Hood later in the evening. “It’s certainly easy to be inspired.”

Inspiration, check. Now let’s get to work on the rest.

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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