Ben Dumas never had to ask Santa for a drum set for Christmas. It wasn’t necessary to beg his parents, Sid and Susie Dumas, to give him drums for a birthday present.
There already were cymbals, snares and drumsticks in the basement of their Macon home.
They belonged to his father. Sid Dumas bought them in 1966, the year before he graduated from Monticello High School. They were Ludwigs, just like the ones played by Ringo Starr of The Beatles.
Those drums stayed with him, like a member of the family, through his garage band years in high school and helped him pay his way through college. He kept them around after he married and had children.
Ben rarely touched his father’s drums. He had little or no desire to play them. His friends would come over and ask to play the “cool” drums. “Yeah, sure … whatever,” Ben would say.
In the fourth grade, he began saving his allowance to buy a new video game. But it was taking entirely too long. Looking for a quick fix, he made a bet. He lost a coin flip with his father.
Seeing that his son was upset and disappointed, Sid told him whenever he was feeling blue, playing the drums made him feel better. He handed Ben the drumsticks.
“The next day, I came home from school and played the drums,” Ben said. “I’ve played them every day of my life ever since.”
He kept rhythm to the country hits of the ‘90s and later became interested in soul music.
“I would play whatever my parents were listening to, and my dad made me a mixed tape of some Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett,” Ben said. “He told me if I could play that old soul music, I could play anything. Otis is still one of my favorite artists, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that he is from Macon. That’s what I grew up with, and I connected to playing the drums to his songs.”
As a student at Stratford Academy, Ben kept the beat to everything in the marching band, pep band, honor band, orchestra and the school’s drama productions. He also was in demand to play percussion in the orchestras for local community theaters before he could even read music.
His friends would come over to jam in the basement. They even landed a couple of gigs — playing for a birthday party and a middle school dance.
Sid Dumas eventually gave his Ludwigs to his son, and Ben plays them to this day. He wasn’t convinced he would have the opportunity to have a career as a musician, so he took the safe route and studied music business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
“When you’re young, you have dreams that you’re going to grow up to be a rock star and make a billion dollars,” he said. “I knew it would be hard to play the drums for a living.”
After college, he stayed in Nashville and took a job working in music publishing administration. In his free time, he played music with his friends. In 2012, he met Ricky Young and Taylor Burns, who had formed a country rock band named The Wild Feathers. They invited him to a jam session.
“I honestly felt the ship already had sailed for me to become a professional musician,” he said. “Then I met these guys, quit my job, moved out of my apartment and was living on the road.”
He officially became a band member in 2013, replacing original drummer Aaron Spraggs following the band’s debut album on Warner Brothers.
Earlier this month, the group released its third album, “Greetings From The Neon Frontier.” And the stage keeps getting larger. Last weekend, the group appeared on “The Today Show” and “CBS This Morning” on back-to-back days, then made its debut at the Grand Ole Opry on July 14.
“It’s unbelievable when you think about all the people who have played at the Grand Ole Opry and all the history,” Ben said. “It’s fun when you’re on TV, and people are tweeting at you. People who never heard of you will go out and buy your records, and that’s awesome. But, at the Grand Ole Opry, you’re not just playing something. You’re a part of something. You’re playing along with tradition and the narrative. The story of the Opry is ongoing, and now we’re a part of it. It’s so big, so iconic.”
Saturday night will be extra special, too. The Wild Feathers are coming to Macon as headliners for the 20th annual Bragg Jam Community Festival and Concert Crawl. The band will take the stage at 9:15 p.m. at the Hargray Capitol Theatre.
Ben knew Tate and Brax Bragg, who also were musicians. The Bragg brothers were killed in a car accident in Texas in July 1999 returning from a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles. Their mother, Julie Bragg, who has taught thousands of youngsters to swim at her Macon swim school, has written a book, “The Brothers of Bragg Jam: A Mother’s Memoir.” The book was published by Mercer University Press and released on March 10, which would have been Brax’s 47th birthday.
“I remember the Bragg brothers,” Ben said. “They were awesome. I knew Brax from Jim Shaw’s (Restaurant), and I became friends with Tate. We were into the same kind of music. We went to a concert together in Athens. I think it’s amazing this festival was started in their honor, and I have always been proud of the city for making it happen.”
Although it will be the band’s first appearance at Bragg Jam, this is its second concert in Macon … sort of.
“We came to play the Cherry Blossom Festival in 2013, and it rained so they moved it inside the City Auditorium,” Ben said. “The only people there were family and friends. The auditorium was pretty empty, but we still had a lot of fun. We went over and ate at the Nu-Way.”
Ben is now 36 years old and has lived half his life in Macon and the other in Nashville. He is engaged to Claudia Lofton, of Charleston, South Carolina. They met when she attended a Wild Feathers’ concert in Charlottesville, Virginia. His parents sold their home in Macon and moved to Nashville in January to be closer to Ben, his brother, Cole, and 2-year-old grandson.
The Macon homecoming is exciting, Ben said. And yes, he’ll be playing his father’s old Ludwig drum set.
“The story isn’t a prodigal son returning home,” he said “We weren’t asked to headline Bragg Jam because I’m from Macon. We were asked because of what we have accomplished. We earned a spot. It’s an honor.”
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon and is the author of nine books. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.