Out & About

WALDEN: Macon makes small move in big city direction

There was a time when Macon was the top spot in music cities across the South.

But then the late 1970s happened, and with it the rise of disco, the fall of Southern rock and the loss of our live music crown to Athens. Athens gained not only a new genre in new wave, but also took our two hometown boys -- Mike Mills and Bill Berry -- and catapulted them and their band REM to international rock stardom.

Among other college towns, Austin, Texas, declared itself the Live Music Capital of the World and figured out how to retain its talent, nurture its cultural scene and incubate its artists amongst its tech whizzes, while remaining just funky and weird enough.

It’s also grown the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference into an annual, all-encompassing, Texas-sized, innovation festival.

SXSW started small. Much like Bragg Jam’s beginning, it wasn’t much more than bands playing in a few key venues, hopeful to get signed. As it grew into a leading, global music industry event, it stretched further and added a film component. After all, what two creative scenes play better together than music and movies?

In fact, on my last trip to SXSW, I saw familiar faces on the stages, screens and in the crowds, who had experienced Macon in one of two ways -- Bragg Jam or the Macon Film Festival -- making it evident that these two events are key to our growth.

Historically, Bragg Jam takes place on the last Saturday of July. The Macon Film Festival (also known as MAGA) has taken place in late February or early March.

This year, however, July is going to be the most jam-packed month Macon’s ever experienced. MAGA has moved to the week before Bragg Jam, July 16-19, making Macon a mini-Austin-of-sorts.

Not only will these events bring in creative kinds from all over, but it gives locals no excuse not to get out and get inside these premiere events. We love our cherry blossoms, but an indie film festival and a citywide live music festival, too? Come on! It’s time to take a walk on the city pride side and support it all with all you’ve got.

I’ve got multiple “rock docs” highlighted on my must-see MAGA list, including “How Sweet the Sound” about the Blind Boys of Alabama, who headlined Bragg Jam last year, and “Take Me to the River” about the music of Memphis.

I’m also excited to help host a pre-screening reception for Middle Georgia’s own Lauretta Hannon. Hannon, who wrote “The Cracker Queen: A Memoir of a Joyful, Jagged Life,” grew up in Warner Robins and recounts her rearing against the Southern gothic backdrop of family dysfunction and creative escape.

Her book and life story eventually caught the attention of a filmmaker. Now, the documentary “Raised in the South of Normal,” based on Hannon’s life, will be among the juried films at MAGA.

The reception to welcome this hometown gal home takes place at Grant’s Lounge at noon July 18. Her nephew, Josh Graff, who is no stranger to the Macon music scene, will perform live. The event is free. There will be cold beer specials, tomato sandwiches and plenty of air conditioning. After the reception, we’re walking to the Douglass Theatre to see her on the big screen.

So, move over, Austin. Macon is nipping at your cowboy boots. Let’s welcome the Macon Film Festival to July, make this one of the best Bragg Jams ever, and celebrate two weeks worth of what is just the beginning to a beautiful film and music friendship.

Jessica Walden is a community relations consultant and co-owner of Rock Candy Tours, a Macon music history tour company. Contact her at rockcandytours@gmail.com.