Exploring Macon, Georgia - 'Where the South Rocks'
In Charleston, tour guides point out the historic markers on antebellum homes. In Macon, Georgia, the emblems designate hippie crash pads and tour guides describe bands streaking naked through the neighborhood.
Macon thrusts its fist into the air and declares it’s “Where the South Rocks.” Otis Redding is a local hero. Little Richard’s “wop-bop-a-loo-bop” is almost an anthem. The Allman Brothers, once the epitome of unwelcome hippie types, are now a tourist attraction with vans of fans shown where they “crashed,” wrote songs, hid out to escape the cops and photographed album covers. Throngs make the pilgrimage to Rose Hill Cemetery where they’re buried and leave mementos like little frogs, lighters and guitar picks. When my girlfriend, Mary, and I visited Macon recently, rock-n-roll was a constant theme, not only because of the city’s illustrious history but because of its dedication to nurturing the next Otis Redding.
Macon’s musical legacy is the impetus for its future. We wandered into the Tic Tac Room one morning and the new owner, David Fullman, stopped stocking the bar to tell us the club’s history. The original owner “Miss Ann” Howard created the club as one of Macon’s first gay bars. Little Richard, kicked out by his family while a teenager, slept upstairs, performed and washed dishes there. David proudly held an iconic photograph of him as he described how he’s revitalizing the club.
Capricorn Records, where rockers like Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Wet Willie, Percy Sledge, Bonnie Bramlett and others recorded in the 1970s, is renovating its historic building and undertaking a large music education program in collaboration with Mercer College. Their goal is to educate future music legends.
At the Otis Redding Foundation, Mary and I spoke to Leila Regan-Porter, the executive assistant. Fans come to the small museum to pay tribute to the influential soul singer, including a guy from England who was so moved to arrive that he cried. “I’ve been all over the world and this is my favorite place. I adore Macon,” he said. Inspired by its namesake, the foundation empowers youth through music and arts education programs and partners to provide lessons as well as scholarships for continued studies at Mercer College.
“We all work together as part of our community to make things happen,” Leila says.
This year they have 75 kids in music camps and teachers from all over the world.
Macon is home to some of rock-n-roll’s most storied venues, including the City Auditorium, where we attended a rollicking concert by Gladys Knight. Built in 1923, it has hosted decades of major acts, including a gospel performance by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1946 that made music history. Little Richard was selling soft drinks that night and was pulled up onto the stage to sing a duet, igniting his musical ambition. Since her debut at the age of 7, when she was the first African American winner of the Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, Knight has earned her title as the Empress of Soul. Ever the diva, she had the diverse crowd on their feet as she rocked the full house.
When Macon touts itself as the city “Where Soul Lives,” it’s also paying respect to the roots of that sound: the African American culture which comprises half of Macon’s population. Accompanied by children playing djembes, we toured the Harriet Tubman African American Museum with education coordinator JacQuez Harris. Radiating youthful optimism and ambition, Harris says he “tries to exemplify what a 21st century African American man should look like.” He dresses professionally and devotes himself to mentoring youth.
“I don’t know what tomorrow holds but I know who holds tomorrow,” he told us as he passionately recounted Tubman and the museum’s stories.
H&H Restaurant, where the philosophy is “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy,” was founded by two African American women, Inez Hill and Louise Hudson. They fed the struggling Allman Brothers for free which earned “Mama Louise” (also known as “the most beloved woman in Macon”) a seat on their tour bus in 1972. Menu items such as pork skins ‘n pimento cheese, fried okra, biscuits and gravy and the legendary fried chicken continue to lure scores of hungry customers.
The Douglass Theatre, founded in 1921 by Macon’s first African American millionaire Charles Douglass, was recently renovated and continues to attract widely-varied audiences for concerts and events. It has earned membership in the African American Historic Preservation Network.
The rock, blues and soul megahits that were birthed in Macon are the city’s treasured legacy, but to Macon they are just the intro. Investments and vision are nurturing the talent that will become our county’s future musical marvels. Rock on, Macon. Rock on!
Learn more at www.VisitMacon.org
Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within a few hour’s drive of Charleston, S.C. as well as more far flung locales. Carol Antman’s wanderlust is driven by a passion for outdoor adventure, artistic experiences, cultural insights and challenging travel. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see www.peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com.