By: Ryan Swerdlin
It was an incredible night of celebrating 40 years of Georgia’s music this past Saturday at The Woodruff Arts Center with Chuck Leavell & Friends along with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The lobby of the Alliance Theater was buzzing with folks excited for what the night may bring. With the likes of Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and The Allman Brothers all hailing from the great state of Georgia, the crowd knew the evening would not disappoint.
The evening began with Chuck Leavell and the Randall Bramblett Band playing a short set of 6 old traditional Georgia songs. Two that stuck out the most for me were “Wee Wee Hours” which was made famous by Professor Longhair on his album Crawfish Fiesta, and “Southern Casey Jones” which was recorded by Jesse James in the late 1930’s. After the short opening set, Chuck Leavell left the stage for Randall Bramblett and his band to have their time to shine. Randall showed his versatility as a musician by moving from the Hammond B3 over to his sax, and then got behind the Grand Piano to tickle the ivories himself. After his moment in the spotlight, the Randall Bramblett Band left the stage and invited Chuck back on. A humbled Chuck Leavell then introduced one of Macon Georgia’s “treasures of music” as he said, a violin player by the name of Robert McDuffie. The two played a pair of duets that had the room so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. Following this pair of duets, the band left the stage and Robert McDuffie brought out the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to play an amazing piece of music that allowed him to spread his talented wings as one of today’s elite violin players.
With the ASO in their places, Chuck Leavell appeared back on stage behind the Grand Piano and proceeded to play an incredible rendition of Ray Charles “Georgia On My Mind” which brought the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation. The Randall Bramblett Band re-joined Chuck on the stage and invited two more guests to round out the evening. Jimmy Hall, played a great blues harmonica and added some great vocals on the remaining songs to be performed, and Gregg Allman played the Hammond B3, electric/acoustic guitar, and vocals. The new lineup with Hall and Allman proceeded to play a tribute set to Otis Redding, a Georgia musician tragically killed in the prime of his early career as a writer and performer. Gregg sang lead vocals on “Mr. Pitiful” and “Can’t Turn You Loose” before inviting Michelle Malone to sing a duet of “I’ve Been Loving You To Long”. After the Otis Redding set, the ASO exited the stage and the crowd was treated to some songs written and performed by The Allman Brothers to close the evening.
The fact that this great state of Georgia has enough music history to warrant an entire evening to celebrate it, is a testimony to the rich culture of our state. Celebrating 40 years of past Georgia music seemed like a great idea from the first I heard of it and the sold out crowd on Saturday night was certainly treated to a night of music they will never forget. Let’s hope that the next 40 years in Georgia music cultivates some more monumental and historic players/writers for us to celebrate in years to come.