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Local Tourist: A Very Merry Macon Music Scene

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An invisible energy cloaks the city. Boys and girls are busy, making lists and checking them twice. Even the local radio station is excited, airing special songs to celebrate the season at hand. It is all anyone can talk about and the day has finally come. It’s the most wonderful time of the year—no, it is not Christmas, but the end of July, and Bragg Jam is here!

The last weekend in July is highly anticipated here in Macon, the streets of downtown transforming into holy ground. In preparation for the annual music festival, attendees begin planning out which bands to see in advance, marking up event schedules like kindergarteners with their Toys R Us catalogs. Leading up to this very merry holiday, little elves all over the city begin sharing helpful hints for all to hear, everything from how to dress sensibly, how to drink responsibly, and how not to show your ass (both literally and figuratively).

Yet no matter how diligently you plan, even the best itineraries can fall flat. And despite the fact that seasoned experts practically wrap their warnings up, tie them with a bow, and shove them down your throats, some of the best people occasionally fall flat too. But just like Christmas Day, there is grace for those who participate. The real glory of Bragg Jam, however, has nothing to do with drinking yourself into a 48-hour hangover. The real hallelujah happens in the overflow of amazing musicians offering up their songs. With ninety-one performances taking place throughout the day, it is impossible to see even a tenth of the talent. It can be overwhelming, like trying to choose between gingerbread cookies and red velvet cake. This year I made a modest list, setting my sights on only six of the bands. In the end, I only saw three.

I arrive downtown early. It is 11:30 AM, nearly two hours before the first show I plan to attend. At noon I have lunch with an equally enthusiastic friend at Just Tap’d. Proud of ourselves for eating such a substantial lunch—pork sliders, collard greens, black-eyed peas, and cornbread—we reward ourselves with a beer despite our initial resolution to not start drinking until later in the day.

Bearfoot Tavern is our first official stop for Bragg Jam. Lauren Tuttle plays an acoustic set, sultry and sincere, and we order what was suppose to be our first beer. Bearfoot is one of the only venues hosting performances that early in the day, and the beer garden is so comfortable, our table positioned between a large fan and the stage, and it is tempting to stay. In fact, after a quick trip to the Bodega, we return to Bearfoot to see American Boulevard play. I had originally planned to see Faye Webster at Taste and See, but ran into my friend Dwayne Boswell (bass player for American Boulevard) and made an impulse decision to stick around instead.

The next band on my list is not up for negotiation, a fact I have made clear to all of my friends. Widow Pills goes on at Grant’s Lounge at 5:30 PM and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is the one band I do not want to miss. We get there in time to steal some floor space in front of the stage. Grant’s is a small, dark space, but when Widow Pills starts playing, Christmas-colored lights dance across the stage. The next hour I stand spellbound. The harmony between the venue and the band creates a sensation that is both soothing and stimulating, like lying on your back beneath a Christmas tree and staring up into a seemingly ceaseless abyss of twinkling lights.

Leaving Grant’s and stepping back out into the hot summer street is like waking up from a really great dream. How do we get back there? Can we do it all over again? I had originally hoped to catch the end of African Americana at The Thirsty Turtle, but we end up sacrificing their set for the greater good of our growling stomachs. We swing by Sofrito Fushion Food Truck and then head to the back patio of The Hummingbird Stage & Taproom where I enjoy my cheeseburger empanada in sweaty silence. Mel Washington, who I try to see play every chance I get, is set to go on at 8:00 PM at Gallery West. Another trip to the Bodega takes precedence, but we can still make his set if we keep our heads down and pick up the pace. Our good intentions go awry when we pass by the Cox Capital Theatre where there is always a lovely bunch of loiterers running their mouths. As fate would have it, three members of Widow Pills are standing outside. We take this as a sign. Clearly we have been sent here to inform them that they should play more shows here in town. Missing Mel by a landslide, we decide to go back to The Hummingbird and park it there until MIGHTY goes on at 9:30 PM.

The Hummingbird feels like home sweet home. Everyone is happy and smiling, another successful Bragg Jam happening all around them. Beer-soaked brains and sweat-stains; sloppy, slurred speech mingling with whatever music now fills the air. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. But the gift that keeps on giving is the community of people who continue to come together even when the streets are no longer blocked off for pedestrians and booze no longer welcome beyond the bar. Bragg Jam may be an annual event, Macon’s very own happy holiday, but there is a very merry music scene in Macon 365 days a year.

Two-Week To-Do:

Wednesday Night Jam – Select Wednesdays, 8:00 PM, Grant’s Lounge

Live Music – Every Friday and Saturday, 10:00 PM, The Hummingbird Stage & Taproom

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