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Bragg Jam in the Christmas season

I know that Bragg Jam is not this time of the year, that it’s in July. But Julie Bragg, mother of Brax and Tate Bragg, is writing a memoir to be published by Mercer University Press next fall. My son Russell Knighton Walker was asked to write something about Bragg Jam for the book, and I wanted to share a portion of what he wrote with you. Here it is:

When I’m asked about the first Bragg Jam, my mind’s eye takes me back to the last time I saw Brax and Tate. For many years, that image was crystal-clear. I must admit the picture is a bit faded now. But the memory is still alive.

Brax and I loaded some music equipment into the bed of my little blue truck. We drove down Vineville Avenue to Martha Roddenberry’s art studio in Payne City. Brax was excited to have put together the perfect group of accompanying musicians: my brother and now law partner John Gray Walker on drums, Frank Kern on lead guitar and Tim Potts on bass guitar.

***

The art studio rehearsal was only the third for the fledgling group. Fellow musician Rob Evans was enlisted to record the session in anticipation of Brax and Tate’s cross-country road trip so the three Buckleys could listen to and learn the songs in Brax’s absence, in preparation for their upcoming gig at The Rookery.

When I listen, now, to that recording, I can still see them playing. I can still see Tate beside me, sunk down into that old sofa, grinning contently as he witnessed the realization of his big brother’s dream. The songs were profound and powerful. And with the new compliment of musicians, Brax had done it! This was beautiful music!

My mental photograph, which has lost clarity in the more than six thousand days since that third and final rehearsal, becomes vibrant and sharp again when I press play and listen. “Funny the pain the memory of happiness brings….” Goodbye Brax. Goodbye Tate. Have a great trip.

I was sleeping soundly on the morning of July 4, 1999, in the hot, still quiet of rural, dirt-road Warthen, Georgia. I had spent the night at the old Walker home place, where my father played, picked cotton and spent summers with his grandparents in the 1940s. Those same grandparents lived off that land. It was in many ways unchanged.

The old house had no air conditioning — only a few box fans in the windows, without which sleep would have been difficult. There was no television. There were no phones. A wooden swing and a few rocking chairs provided the setting for gatherings on the dusty screened porch. I was far away, both geographically and mentally, from my friends back home in Macon. I was sleeping soundly.

A hand pushed against my shoulder. Someone gently shook me. As I struggled to gain consciousness, I heard, “Russell, wake up. Wake up, man. We have something to tell you.”

“What are y'all doing here?” I responded, groggy and confused. I knew, even half-asleep, that Tim Potts and Kirby Griffin did not belong there. I heard distress in their voices. When I managed to open my eyes, I saw anguish on both faces. “What's going on? What's wrong?”

I tried to hold back tears as I sat on the side of the bed. I hugged my mother and father goodbye. Tim said, “I'll ride back with you, Russell.”

For a while, we rode in silence, numb. I could hardly process the news. “Brax and Tate are dead? Is this real? How?” Then it suddenly occurred to me — Brax had given me some board tapes from two of his recent solo performances.

Without saying a word, I lifted my arm, opened the center console, pulled out a cassette and put it in the player. It felt like a dream. For the next hour, Tim and I listened to the voice and music of Brax Bragg, alive and in his prime.

As we approached Macon, I looked at Tim and said, “We have to play the show, the one that’s already booked at the Rookery.” Tim agreed. With that, the seed for what would become known as Bragg Jam was planted.

Every musician I contacted, all friends of Brax, said, “Yes.” Some canceled other shows to be there. Some traveled from as far as New Orleans. Nobody was paid. Nobody brought an ego. Everybody was cool.

We may have called that first night a celebration, but it wasn’t. The first Bragg Jam was really an effort to hold on a little longer, to put off letting go. By keeping those songs alive, we might somehow keep Brax and Tate alive.

As the years go by, and as Bragg Jam continues to thrive and grow, I realize we succeeded in holding on. Brax and Tate are still with us. We don’t have to let go.

And so, Brax and Tate live on through their music and their memories and the force of their lives while here on earth. Bragg Jam in the Christmas season? Perhaps it’s the most appropriate time of all.

Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: lwalker@whgmlaw.com.

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