Living Columns & Blogs

The benefits of beer and the Bears

Watching the sea of people jockeying for position at the numerous beer stations last Saturday, it is hard to believe craft beer didn’t come out of the kitchens of home brewers years ago. Macon beer drinkers find any excuse to celebrate the ancient brew.

The Macon Beer Festival, now in its sixth year, was again sponsored by the Downtown Rotary Club and Main Street Macon, on Aug. 20, as a benefit for Pints for Prostates, a jocular approach to encouraging men to be regularly checked for what could be serious cancer.

Each year the crowds have grown as the number of participating handcrafted beer companies, from across the country, has exponentially increased. The two sponsoring organizations provided VIP passes for their tent where a limited number of attendees could take advantage of catered hors d’oeuvres and private facilities while hearing personal testimonials about brew-making.

Most of the festival centered on Poplar Street, around the Dannenberg lofts, and up and down the street, which had been blocked to traffic for the day.

By 7:30 p.m. the streets had emptied of sunburned revelers just in time for “Summer’s Night Picnic and Dance,” an annual fundraiser for Pine Pointe Hospice, Navicent Health, at the City Auditorium.

The Grapevine Band played everything from beach music to line dances to keep dancers on the floor after members of the local chapter of USA Dance, led by Paula East, demonstrated some classic Latin and traditional ballroom steps before the event. Elbert McQueen, a senior vice-president with Navicent Health, won the dance competition several years ago in Stars Over Macon and showed no signs of forgetting his steps dancing with wife, Lea.

Picnics at the tables ranged from lavish spreads to take-out sandwiches, with full bars or with cases of water to keep the dancers hydrated for the evening.

The Charles H. Jones Family Foundation, presenting sponsor for the event, was represented by Ves Jones, widow of the man who started the foundation to underwrite programs and initiatives that benefit the entire Middle Georgia area. During intermission, bandleader Jim McLendon recognized Jones, the staff of Pine Pointe Hospice and the volunteers who give hours of their time each month to help staff and patients at the palliative care facility.

Friendships borne of the camaraderie among dancers were apparent — Nancy and David Osborn, two expert shag dancers, attended the Saturday night picnic to the delight of old friends who had known them for years in the few dance venues in Macon. Diedre and Bob McMichael, Susan and Ron Smith, Melynn Canova and Bob Morgan brought tables of fellow dancers to take advantage of The Grapevine’s party music, which is popular all over the Southeast.

An amazing five years for the Mercer Bears

The Mercer Bears’ head football coach, Bobby Lamb, spoke to the Macon Rotary Club on Aug. 22 to refresh the memories of club members on the resurrection of Mercer football after a 70-year absence and to remind Macon fans of the transformation of 100 freshmen to what has become an established football program that has already broken records.

Lamb, former standout for Furman University and later head coach of Furman’s Paladins, came to Mercer to build a football team in 2011. For the uninitiated, he recounted the painstaking plans and recruiting efforts to make a viable team that would consist entirely of freshman players.

When the Bears opened their first season in fall 2013, they were part of the Pioneer League, a good launch for players who could expect being matched with their equals in terms of experience. However, when the season ended with the Bears 10-2, a Pioneer League record, Macon had become a football town — they were not just Mercer’s football team, they were Macon’s team.

The hype on days when the team played at home equaled tailgating in Athens, with restaurants doing a booming business with take-out for the games and with fans arriving hours before kick-off to celebrate under tents.

Lamb brought with him two players who will be playing their fourth seasons with the Bears, in the same positions at which each started as a redshirt freshman — quarterback John Russ and linebacker Tosin Aguebor. The two Georgia residents are business majors who were attracted to Mercer because of its academic reputation and because they were excited to be part of a start-up team. And after three years, their names are very familiar to the Bears’ fans.

After the first year, the Mercer Bears left the Pioneer League for the Southern Conference, a challenge Lamb thinks has improved his team’s performance and made for a much more thrilling schedule for 2016-17, which opens Sept. 1 against the Citadel at home.

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