Southwrite

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Posts Tagged ‘Macon Ga’

The Music of the Big House

Posted by southwrite on August 13, 2014

The Filmore East painting of the Allman Brothers Band by  Steve Penley.

The Filmore East painting of the Allman Brothers Band by Steve Penley.

It’s really kind of amazing when you think about it. How did the little city of Macon, stuck in the rural center of Georgia, produce so much great musical talent? Start first with the legends – Little Richard, Otis Redding, and the Allman Brothers. Then consider all the other musicians who have called it home and the list just gets longer and longer.

Music seemed to be everywhere on these hot Middle Georgia streets. There’s the Douglass Theatre where Otis Redding was discovered and on whose stage Ma Rainey, Cab Calloway, and a host of other African American talent performed. A few blocks away is Grant’s Lounge, whose wonderfully seedy interior boasts a photo crowded “wall of fame” filled with now legendary artists who came through its back doors on the way to worldwide fame. You can see a lot of younger (and some not so young) performers at the many concerts that fill Macon such as the annual Bragg Jam.

Macon is truly a Mecca for music fans from around the world and no attraction is more visited and revered than the Big House out on Vineville Avenue. In late 1969 this rambling Tudor style home with its lush gardens became home to members of the Allman Brothers Band and assorted roadies, friends and family. Until 1973, it was the place where the band gathered for tours and returned after months on the road.

Linda Oakley originally rented the house while husband Berry was recording with the band at Capricorn Records. Duane Allman and his family moved in, as did Gregg Allman and other extended family members. After longs weeks on the road, it was this house to which they all returned. It was here that music was written and for a short time some of them enjoyed a form of domestic bliss.

Duane Allman's famous guitar.

Duane Allman’s famous guitar.

All that ended with the deaths of Duane Allman in 1971 and a year later Barry Oakley. Both were killed in motorcycle accidents on the streets of Macon. Band and family members went elsewhere and for a time it looked as if this place would be forgotten.

With the breakup of the Band and the closing of Capricorn Records, which had nurtured and promoted the Allmans  and so many other southern talents, the era of Southern Rock music with Macon as its epicenter seemed to have passed. For a time you could ride through the city and never know that so much great music had taken place here.

Yet, thanks to the love and dedication of Allman fans the Big House and its history was preserved.

Today, The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House is open with one of the most extensive and intriguing collections of musical artifacts you are likely to find anywhere. If you want to understand and appreciate the Allman Brother and their place in music and cultural history this is the place to start. Here you can see carefully curated exhibits that tell the story of their impact on music, their concert and gold record successes and the popular culture that sprang up around here.

Front entrance to The Big House.

Front entrance to The Big House.

Here you’ll also find living spaces lovingly preserved much as they would have been while the band and their families lived here.

Come inside the Big House and walk past the front desk into the parlor and the first thing that grabs your attention is Macon native Steve Penley’s large scale painting of the Allman’s Fillmore East album cover. It’s flanked by chronologically arranged posters from all eras of the Allman Brothers Band’s history, as well as their many Gold Records. You can see Duane Allman’s famed gold top guitar that produced those amazing slide guitar riffs on Derek and the Dominos’ classic Layla. Founding guitarist Dickey Betts often slept on the pull out coach here.

Among the other areas is the Old Dining Room with the pool table once owned by Gregg Allman and Cher – they married briefly. Surrounding it are display cases filled with items such as the jacket Lamar Williams wore while performing at a benefit for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1975. There’s the Living Room with its display cases with instruments, hand written song lyrics and other items. The windows face the church across the highway that inspired Dickey Betts’ classic Blue Sky.

Upstairs the bedrooms have been recreated much as they were when the band lived there and provide an intimate glimpse of how they lived.

Everywhere you look are the personal items and artifacts that form an impressive collection that tells the story of music’s legendary groups.

 

 

 

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Lighting Macon’s Past and Present

Posted by southwrite on July 22, 2014

lights-on-macon-04[The second  of a three part series on Macon’s College Hill Corridor.]

Preservation is always high on the to-do list of cities with a good stock of historic properties. In Macon, Ga.’s College Hill Corridor, they’ve taken it one step beyond simple upkeep to showing off an amazing collection of fine homes.

Lights on Macon, an illumination tour of this hilltop neighborhood of Intown Macon, got started in 1995. In the decades since, it’s grown to include more than 112 historic and architecturally significant homes – with more being added each year. It’s also remained a unique feature of the city that is unmatched anywhere else.

A self-guided walking tour features houses that are theatrically lit with carefully positioned spotlights trained on unique design features, such as a sunburst in the gable of a late Victorian and the 30-foot Doric columns on a classic Greek Revival. Homes range from simple bungalows to stately mansions.  Signs on front lawns designate the stops along the route. And, the best part is that this is no seasonal occurrence, but takes place every night of the year.

lights-on-macon-05A 1988 study had suggested that Macon “put a fence around the InTown historic neighborhood and charge admission. Or better yet, show it off with free nightly programming!”  The end result was Lights on Macon.

With a compact network of historic residential streets between Mercer University and downtown, the College Hill Corridor was ideally suited for an illumination tour that would provide something to do every night of the year. Some 60 architecturally significant houses and structures are now part of the tour.

The nightly tour got its start when the local CVB invited lighting consultant Ken Dresser, who had designed lighting for presidential inaugurations along with Disney’s electric light parade to makes suggestions for illuminating city landmarks.

“When we brought him here (to College Hill), he said ‘why don’t you do architectural lighting,’” recalls Maryel Battin, a preservationist and member of Historic Macon Foundation. “You’ve got these amazing houses, but you don’t want to blast everybody with light. It’s got to be subtle, so use low voltage and highlight the architectural details. And, don’t just do it at Christmas do it year round.”

lights-on-macon-03The tour and the lighting of homes have been managed by the InTown Macon Neighborhood Association. Over the years non-profits such as the Peyton Anderson and Knight Foundation have contributed funds to buy the lights. The Association installs the lights, but the homeowners are responsible for paying for the electricity (equivalent to a couple of lamps says Battin) and replacing bulbs when they burn out.

The number of homes grows each year and there is always a waiting list of homeowners who want to be a part of the tour.

“When we first stated the tour we believed we were the only neighborhood association in the country that had done a program like this,” says Battin. “Today, I can’t find anything like it, except people doing individual houses. So this is a very unusual idea that it’s a neighborhood project rather than just individual owners doing it.”

The tour is self-guided. All you need to do is download the free map and tour guide from the association’s website. You can complete the walk quickly, but more likely once you begin looking at the homes and illuminated features you’ll want to linger.

 

 

 

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Big City Dreams in The College Hill Corridor

Posted by southwrite on July 19, 2014

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

Mercer University has been a driving force in the transformation of the College Hill Corridor.

[The first of a three part series on Macon’s College Hill Corridor.]

Big dreams are not always fulfilled in big cities. Consider Tim Regan-Porter. The co-founder of the highly successful cultural publication, Paste Magazine, turned down a “dream job” with New York publisher Condé Nast to move to Macon. He decided that he could live a better life and make a bigger impact on journalism in this small Middle Georgia city than he could in the acknowledged world capital of publishing.

A growing number of people with big dreams and sophisticated tastes are coming here. They’re drawn by a sense that this is a city in the midst of transformation and the heart of change can be found in the historic College Hill Corridor.

Regan-Porter was in the midst of final interviews at Conde Nast, which publishes a number of magazines, and was eager to hire the man who had successfully developed the third-largest popular music title in the English-speaking world, trailing only Rolling Stone and Spin. He saw that he could be part of something even more exciting than big city publishing when he was offered the directorship of Mercer University’s new Center for Collaborative Journalism and its innovative approach to training journalists.

“It was basically seeing where he would fit best with his skills. We were most likely going to move somewhere like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and had already scoped out some apartments,” recalls wife Leila, a freelance journalist and editor.

Instead the Regan-Porters moved to Macon’s College Hill Corridor. This roughly two mile area of historic neighborhoods between Mercer University and the city’s downtown was a part of the reason the couple passed on Prospect Park for Macon.

College Hill is an intown urban district in the midst of far reaching revitalization. In the process, it’s become a model of how public/private partnership and dedicated citizen participation can turn an aging city district into a highly livable, vibrant and ever evolving urban center.

The stately Carmichael House is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of many fine homes in the College Hill Corridor, the Carmichael House at 1183 Georgia Avenue is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1848. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

One of the first things you notice about College Hill is its impressive stock of well-preserved historic homes. Macon has more than 5,000 structures ion the National Register of Historic Places and there are at least that many eligible for the designation, according to the Historic Macon Foundation. Many of them are in neighborhoods that comprise the corridor.

The Regan-Porters quickly became part of this revitalization. They’re renovating a circa 1890s house on High Street in the corridor. Known as the Wise Blood house, the film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel of the same name was shot here.

College Hill is a place that local boosters like to call “hip and historic” and it’s hard to argue with that phrase after spending a few days “in the corridor.” It’s preserved its history while fostering a rich and available culture of music and the arts, coupled with all the walkable amenities that draw young (and not so young) highly educated professionals to an urban setting. Here you’ll find streets of historic million dollar mansions not far from neat rows of attractive affordable housing where students and professionals live side by side with the elderly and working class.

The area has benefited from the many residents who care and get involved in the community. That passion for progress has also attracted a lot of money. Mercer University has helped lead the charge in transforming the areas around its campus from a decaying (and crime-infested) slum – without making it unaffordable for lower income residents.

A half dozen years ago, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation issued a $250,000 grant to jump start the community-driven planning of the neighborhood’s revitalization. It was the first of many to come. A master plan for the community was drawn and the College Hill Alliance, a nonprofit group housed on the Mercer campus, began the work of turning the plan into reality.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

The Second Sunday concert in Washington Park.

To start, the Knight Foundation awarded $5 million to the revitalization efforts with $3 million earmarked for the Knight Neighborhood Challenge. Challenge grants of more than $2.1 million have been issued for a variety of community led purposes. Awards have ranged from $200 for a composting workshop to $180,000 for community wayfinding. The “Lights on Macon” which provides nightly illumination of the districts historic homes has been expanded annually by Knight’s grants.  These grants have helped spur an estimated  $90 million of investment in the area.

Locals say that even with all the progress the best is yet to come. The College Hill Alliance will close its doors next year and turn this work over to the community-led College Hill Corridor Commission. This organization recently unveiled a new master plan that is focused on economic development and entrepreneurship. College Hill is a great place to live, but now it just needs more jobs to keep all those young professionals here. And with this endeavor the corridor will be opening a new chapter in its ongoing transformation.

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