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Award-winning music comes to Macon

Jason Isbell performed, along with Tommy Emmanuel, at the Macon City Auditorium on May 18.
Jason Isbell performed, along with Tommy Emmanuel, at the Macon City Auditorium on May 18.

You couldn’t miss Duke Henry and his Way Down South Band when they rolled into Macon last week on a vaguely familiar bus. Turns out the bus was once the Midnight Rider, the home on the road for Gregg Allman and his band, before Henry bought it and transformed the handsome chariot with his own branding. Henry was on the stage at Barefoot Tavern on May 20 to entertain the downtown crowd, followed by an appearance at the Big House Museum on the following Saturday night. As a Navy veteran, Henry raises funds for the SEAL Foundation and, for the last year, has toured for the USO, taking his “outlaw rockabilly country” to troops all over the world. He hails from Memphis, Tennessee, another town where Southern rock is their anthem and where musicians of all stripes feel right at home.

Henry is a three-time recipient of the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award and recently was recognized for his songwriting, a passion he has had since he was 5 years old, even though he has said he never listened to the radio. “I just made up songs in my head while I was riding around,” says the versatile guitarist. On Saturday, Candace Griffith and John Griffin were on hand to hear some of the songs from his 2015 album, “Without a Gun,” while Gilbert Lee slipped around the fans, camera in hand, to record the evening for his photographic collection of southern musicians.

Lisa Watkins Meyer, producer for the show at the Big House, opened with Matt Moncrief and Friends, a local band that has frequented the stages of Macon’s hot spots for several years. Good that Lee could catch this group on film, for Moncrief is a prolific songwriter whose guitar-spun ballads will probably take him to larger audiences and less accessible venues in the very near future.

Hard to fill the shoes of a country icon

When the news was out that Merle Haggard was coming to Macon on May 18, tickets were at a premium for the performance at the City Auditorium; unfortunately Haggard died on his 79th birthday on April 6, just over a month before he was to appear in Macon, on the program with Jason Isbell and Tommy Emmanuel. Many followers of the “Okie from Muscogee” were so disappointed they wanted refunds on those tickets, fearing the show would be canceled. However, Isbell and Emmanuel did not cancel and appeared for what turned out to be a poignant and memorable evening.

Isbell played bass guitar with the Drive-By Truckers for six years, leaving the band for a solo career in 2007, and since, has been the recipient of four Country Music Association awards. He and Emmanuel, aware that the audience missed the man they had planned to see, played several of Haggard’s standards.

When Richard Brent, director of collections for the Big House, came on stage and handed Isbell the late Duane Allman’s 1957 Les Paul Gold Top guitar, for his encore, it was the highlight of the evening — a fitting tribute to Haggard, who would have appreciated “Sing Me Back Home.”

Scott LaMar, a guitarist from Gainesville, Florida, bought the famed Gold Top in 1977, after it had been missing since Duane swapped it for a Cherry Burst 1959 Les Paul in 1970. The recovered guitar is on permanent loan to the Big House display of Allman Brothers memorabilia; however, LaMar would be pleased to know it is being played. He was quoted as saying, “It shouldn’t exist only behind glass. ... It is a shame to me that so many of our greatest guitars have become dead artifacts.”

Remember the fallen on Memorial Day

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, first called Decoration Day in 1868, when Union soldiers wanted to honor their fallen comrades by placing flowers on their graves. On May 23, Steve Bell, executive director of the Riverside Cemetery Conservancy, reminded members of the Macon Rotary Club that the cemetery encourages families to recognize their forbears that served in the Armed Forces with flowers on the graves that will be marked with small American flags. The conservancy is raising awareness of the cemetery as not only a final resting place, but as a park to be enjoyed for running or walking on the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail or through the hilly terrain that overlooks the river. Events are scheduled by the conservancy throughout the year to bring people to an outdoor museum of fine sculpture, to hear concerts in the park or to hear entertaining tales of Macon’s famous ancestors. Riverside Cemetery is a beautiful spot for a picnic on Memorial Day!

Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or kwaldenint@aol.com.

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