Cherry Blossom Festival

Longtime Middle Georgia band ready to take Cherry Blossom Festival stage by storm

A2Z has been playing the Middle Georgia area for over 15 years and are set to play at this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival.
A2Z has been playing the Middle Georgia area for over 15 years and are set to play at this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival. Provided by Rusty Smith

Over the last 15 years, Middle Georgia’s “ultimate party band” A2Z has made a name for itself playing at venues like Wild Wing Cafe, weddings, benefit concerts and local festivals.

The secret to their success is simple: the people.

“The Znut crowd has been very supportive of us all through the years,” founding member Rusty Smith said. “The secret sauce is the people.”

The band is excited to once again play at the Cherry Blossom Festival, somewhere that they’ve been able to play many times over the years. It’s also a chance to connect with their local community as most of the band members are from Macon and surrounding areas originally.

The band was founded by Rusty and his brother Jeff Smith after breaking off from another local band in order to form A2Z. They would go on to add their original lead singer Monty Smith and Rusty’s son Phil Smith.

Each have since left the band with Monty retiring after 10 years and Phil pursuing a music scholarship at Georgia Southern University.

A2Z has still been able to maintain their staying power by being able to mesh well with one another, Jeff said.

“We have been fortunate to have a great chemistry with all the band members,” he said. “We consider this a family, it’s not a band.”

A2Z is a cover band that tries to play a wide variety of music literally from A to Z. The ability to appeal to different age groups and backgrounds has led to a lot of their success as well, drummer Steve Holcomb said.

“Everybody in attendance is going to be able to relate to at least a few songs,” he said. “With the name A2Z you need to be able to encompass a lot of variety of songs.”

The band’s biggest fans call themselves the “Znuts,” and often leave an impression on band members.

One night a fan ran on stage, took the microphone from then-singer Chris Stephens and began to belt out “Mustang Sally.”

“We still to this day don’t know who the woman was,” Rusty said. “We played along with her and let her sing. She quietly walked off the stage like she was meant to be there.”

They have also played parties for fraternities where kids in their 20s were singing along to every word to songs nearly twice as old as they were. Chris said it illustrates the diversity of the crowds that A2Z is able to connect with through music.

“We played a frat party at Lake Oconee . . . they were three feet in front of our face and sang the whole night,” Chris said. “They knew every word and everyone’s equipment got beverages poured on it that night.”

While the band has seen members come and go over the years, the ones who stayed have learned to adapt to the many changes. Most recently Chris and his wife Cindy Stephens, the two lead singers, left the band and were replaced by DC Willis and Frances Billow about five years ago.

They’ve been thankful for the fans and former band members for sticking by them through the changes, Willis said.

“When I came into the band, I knew with Chris and Cindy I had big shoes to fill,” Willis said. “It was difficult but we had a lot of support.”

Including support from the Stephens, who still fill in from time to time and remain very close to the band.

“It is lovely to play at the Cherry Blossom Festival because we get to play for the community in a comfortable family friendly environment,” Billow said. “We can spend the day there with our families too. It is a nice thing all around to see all the fans in a great place.”

Catch A2Z at the Cherry Blossom Festival on Sunday at 8 p.m. in Central City Park.

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