Several hissing lawns contributors hopped on a bus with other Savannah music enthusiasts for a fantastic trip to the 15th Annual Bragg Jam in Macon on Saturday. Our friends at MusicFile Productions/Savannah Stopover/Revival Fest organized the daylong excursion, which was also supported in various ways by Spanish Moss Charters & Tours, The 5 Spot, Georgia Music Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Central Georgia.
We climbed aboard the tricked out bus at 11:30 a.m. and didn’t return to Savannah until 5 a.m. — a long day, but a really fulfilling one. Bragg Jam is definitely worth the trip.
When we got to Macon, a few folks attended a screening of the new documentary The Ballad of Shovels and Rope, but most of us went to The Big House — The Allman Brothers Band Museum. If you’re at all interested in the Allman Brothers or in Georgia music history, you need to go there the next time you’re anywhere close to Macon.
But then it was time for the main event: the Bragg Jam concert crawl, which began in the late afternoon and lasted until 2 a.m., with 57 bands performing in 14 different venues. Most of the venues were in easy walking distance, and Macon allowed outdoor drinking from plastic cups for this one night only. Of course, there was no way to see anywhere near all the acts, but the proximity and quality certainly kept me on the move so that I could sample as many as possible.
Many Savannahians started with Colonel Bruce Hampton & Madrid Express at historic Grant’s Lounge, a divey bar on Poplar Street. The place was packed by showtime, and Colonel Bruce sounded as good as ever.
Then a few of us made it to the upstairs stage sponsored by Revival Fest at The 567 Center for Renewal on Cherry Street, an all ages venue that sort of ended up as my home base for the event. Tha Hugs were first up — a solid young rock band — and then we headed across the street for the heavier stuff from Madre Padre at The Wall, before heading back to the main stage at the 567 Center for The Apache Relay, an up-and-coming band from Nashville.
And off to The Hummingbird Taproom for Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, who have been thrilling audiences and impressing critics, especially since the release of their album Dereconstructed.
Back upstairs at the 567, Family & Friends performed a spectacular high-energy set. We’re lucky that the Athens band will be headed to Revival Fest in Savannah in September. (Packway Handle Band, another excellent Revival Fest act, also played Bragg Jam, but I didn’t make it.) I’ll have more to say about Family & Friends in a post soon.
CUSSES — the hard rock trio from Savannah — was my next stop, back across Cherry Street at The Wall. A new album is in the works, and Angel, Brian, and Bryan conquer every stage with a fury.
Meanwhile, at the 567 Center main stage, Bombadil was playing some folksier tunes while a marching band [update: apparently this was Streetline, an independent drumline in Macon] appeared on the street. And then Empire Strikes Brass, which was about to perform at Fowl Play, made an impromptu appearance. A few minutes later, ESB had the packed house at the bar dancing.
The Black Cadillacs had played Savannah just a few nights earlier, but I missed almost all the set, so I for sure wanted to catch some of their show at the Hummingbird. Trust me, you are going to be hearing about The Black Cadillacs again.
The Kopecky Family Band had played Bragg Jam before and obviously has a strong Macon following, and the group fed off the energy of the big crowd at the 567 Center. A tremendous set.
The AJ Ghent Band had the crowd at the Key Club dancing and swaying too, but I headed soon back to 567 for Those Darlins, a fantastic Nashville-based band, and then stopped back at the Hummingbird briefly for The Whigs before dragging myself back to the bus home.
So I missed a lot of acts that I would like to have seen. Blind Boys of Alabama were the biggest headliner of the festival, but I was daunted by the line waiting to get into the Cox Capitol Theatre, which could have used someone out in the crowd telling would-be attendees if seats were still available. I had seen American Aquarium and Thomas Wynn & The Believers a few nights earlier here in Savannah, but I would love to have caught them both again. And I never made it to Seven Handle Circus, Randall Bramblett Band, O’Brother, and on and on . . . On a day with so much going on, it just wasn’t possible to see everything.
Downtown Macon has lots of empty storefronts and plenty of vacant lots just off the main drag, but downtown has been revived in part by some pretty aggressive revitalization efforts. The wide streets, which were blocked in key spots for the festival, and the large size of the venues make the city perfect for a music fest/pub crawl like Bragg Jam.
The size of the venues presents a little bit of a problem too. Most are long and narrow, which meant it was sometimes tricky to get through the crowds even when there was ample room right in front of the stage. And some of the bars were bloody hot. Old buildings with inadequate AC obviously played a role, but I also suspect that in a few spots no one cranked up the air early in the day in anticipation of throngs by early evening. I’m not one to whine about heat or noise in rock clubs, but well before sunset it was hotter inside the Hummingbird than outside. The sheer length of the day was also pretty daunting for some. It was a little too easy to get close to the stage at latenight headliners Those Darlins and The Whigs, but I’m sure not complaining about the chance to see acts like those up close and personal.
But those are minor quibbles. The bars were well-staffed so there was hardly any waiting, and I enjoyed eating at a couple of excellent food trucks. All the attendees seemed to be in high spirits, and the diversity of bands and venues was extraordinary. The sound was generally excellent, and the lighting was pretty good too (if not always optimal for photography).
And, get this, tickets were just $20 in advance and $25 of the day of the festival. There was still a big crowd buying tickets on Saturday night, and it seemed like lots of other Maconites were out and about to enjoy the busy nightlife and patronize businesses that weren’t official festival venues.
Congratulations to everyone involved in such an ambitious festival. We sure hope to be heading to Bragg Jam again.
I obviously have included a large number of photos in this post (sorry for the slow loading), but I will post even more to the hissing lawns Facebook page soon, so please hop over there and give us a “like”.