Macon, Georgia: The Vatican of Music

Macon, Georgia: The Vatican of Music

Birthplace of rock 'n' roll, soul & Southern rock

Located directly in the heart of the state, Macon, Georgia is perfect for a one-tank day trip or a weekend excursion. With enough properties on the historic registry to rival Charleston and Savannah, the city is rich with old world architecture yet thriving with big city amenities including locally owned restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, museums and art galleries. The crowning jewel of its cultural landscape, however, is a music history that makes Macon like no other city in America. It’s where native Little Richard Penniman, the Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll, perfected his wop-bop-a-loo-bop. It’s where Otis Redding grew up and first uttered the impassioned strains of “Got-ta, “Got-ta” on the stage of the Douglass Theatre. It’s where James Brown recorded the acetate of “Please, Please, Please” the led to his first record deal. It’s where a young Mercer University student named Phil Walden established the South’s premier R&B booking and talent agency in the 60s and the ground-breaking Southern rock label Capricorn Records in the 70s. It’s where Duane Allman first guided his weeping slide guitar over the improvisational grooves of the Allman Brothers Band. Make time to visit Macon and discover the stories behind the songs and the legends.

Jessica Walden share's Macon behind-the-scenes stories on a Rock Candy Tour.

Jessica Walden share’s Macon behind-the-scenes stories on a Rock Candy Tour.

Rock Candy Tours

The “Free Birds and Night Owls” tour takes place every Friday night at 9 p.m., departing from the Rookery (543 Cherry St.) in downtown Macon. This easy walking tour takes a little over an hour and pays homage to the downtown landmarks, nightclubs and favorite haunts of Macon’s music history heroes, including the Douglass Theatre, Miss Ann’s Tick Tock, the original Capricorn Records Studio and more. Beverages are welcomed with “pit stops” at favorite local bars along the way. The tour ends at the legendary Grant’s Lounge where loud music and cold drinks are the perfect complements for viewing the club’s decades-old Wall of Fame. Cost is $10 per person.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Stroll is offered every second Saturday of the month, departing from Washington Park (corner of College Street and Washington Avenue) at 10 a.m. This moderate walking tour takes over two hours and explores the homes, crash pads, office spaces and favorite haunts of the personalities who helped put Macon on the map. It is the most extensive, “off the beaten path” tour and includes places like the Allman Brothers’ “Hippy Crash Pad,” the former WIBB radio site where James Brown recorded “Please, Please, Please” and the headquarters of the first concert t-shirt business. Cost is $15 per person (group discounts available). Private tours are available and start at $60. Rock Candy Tours requests at least 24-hour advance reservations on all tours.

As the mighty Allman Brothers Band retires in 2014, the Big House Museum will continue to share the band's stories and music with fans.

As the mighty Allman Brothers Band retires in 2014, the Big House Museum will continue to share the band’s stories and music with fans.

The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House
2321 Vineville Ave., Macon
(478) 741-5551

Though the city didn’t know what to think at the time, a group of skinny, long-haired hippy boys turned out to be one of Macon’s greatest imports and exports. At the urging of Phil Walden in 1969, Duane Allman assembled a band, relocated everyone to Macon and became the first act on Walden’s newly formed Capricorn Records. Bassist Barry Oakley and his wife Linda rented an 18-room Tudor-style mansion built in 1900 for $225 per month. Affectionately called “The Big House,” it was the hub of band and family life for the Allman Brothers Band from 1970 until 1973. Dickey Betts wrote “Blue Sky” in the living room and “Ramblin’ Man” in the kitchen. Though it changed hands over the years, the Big House opened as a house museum in 2009 and features an extensive collection of Allman Brothers Band and Southern rock memorabilia, the enchanting recreated private spaces of Duane Allman and the Oakley family, and a pavilion and garden where musical events are often held.

Otis Redding Statue
Gateway Park at corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Riverside Drive
(Pictured above. Photo by Maryann Bates)

“Otis Redding Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” a life-sized bronze statue of the soul music icon, is located on the banks of the Ocmulgee River in the city where Otis Redding grew up, was discovered and continued to make his home before his untimely death in 1967. The statue, created by artist Bradley Cooley and his son Bradley Cooley, Jr., was unveiled in 2003 and plays Otis Redding’s music 24 hours per day. The Otis Redding Foundation is also headquartered in Macon and presents the Big “O” Singer/Songwriter Camp each summer to give young students the chance to participate in music and learn from top industry professionals around the state.

The historic Grant's Lounge. Photo by Maryann Bates

The historic Grant’s Lounge. Photo by Maryann Bates

Grant’s Lounge
576 Poplar St., Macon
(478) 746-9191

There was a day in Macon’s history when you could pay a $2 cover to get in Grant’s Lounge and see the Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tom Petty, Wet Willie and more on the same stage and sometimes on the same night. As the fame of Capricorn Records grew, so did this now-legendary dive bar that still looks like it did back when it all began. The marquee, disco ball and vibe are all still in tact. Live music is offered weekly and the bar’s Wall of Fame is a must-see when visiting Macon.

The H&H Restaurant is a Macon music landmark.

The H&H Restaurant, a Macon music landmark, welcomes fans and diners from around the world.

H&H Restaurant
807 Forsyth St., Macon
(478) 742-9810

The H&H Restaurant may be the most famous greasy spoon in Southern rock history. The story began with the generosity of original proprietor Louise Hudson, who gave lunch plates to the scraggly, starving musicians who rarely had enough money to pay for more than one. But she showed them love and they never forget her generosity. They declared her their “Mama,” always paid her back when they returned from tour and eventually took her out on tour to cook for them. Their devotion made Mama Louise an icon among other wayfaring musicians and Oprah Winfrey made a pilgrimage to her kitchen. The family restaurant is now under new ownership of Macon restaurant owners and cultural preservationists, the Moonhanger Group. But Mama Louise is still there, in her kitchen, greeting guests and making sure everything is cooked with her signature love. Memorabilia lines the walls, the jukebox is cranking and you never know who you’ll see sitting at one of the H&H tables.

Jubee & the Morning  After light up Second Sunday. Photo by Maryann Bates

Jubee & the Morning After light up Second Sunday in Macon’s beautiful Washington Park. Photo by Maryann Bates

Second Sunday in Washington Park
Corner of College Street and Washington Avenue
College Hill Corridor

Time your visit to Macon on the second Sunday of the month and you’ll find a historic park jam-packed with friends sharing fried chicken and bottles of wine, kids and dogs playing in the meandering creeks and live music connecting the idyllic scene. The free monthly concerts take place from April through October and have featured local, regional and acclaimed artists including Shawn Mullins, Carrie Rodriguez, Romantica and Percy Sledge. Pack a picnic or buy one onsite from local restaurant vendors, who also operate a full bar.


Blind Boys of Alabama perform at Cox Capitol Theatre during Bragg Jam Festival 2014. Photo by Scott Corkery

Bragg Jam Festival
Last Saturday in July

Bragg Jam Festival, Macon’s premier musical event, brings more than 50 acts to numerous stages throughout the city on the last Saturday of July. Each year, the lineup is diverse and features a variety of Southern artists and bands. The festival began in 1999 as a wake of sorts, a jam session of friends mourning the loss of two young Macon brothers, Brax and Tate Bragg, who were killed in an auto accident while on a cross-country trip together. The annual gatherings were continued and in 2003, the jams were expanded into a citywide festival. Each year, proceeds are donated to community causes, including the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, with over $150,000 having been donated so far. Acts in 2014 included Thomas Wynn & the Believers, Them Darlins’, Lee Baines III and the Glory Fires, the Blind Boys of Alabama, The Whigs, O’Brother, Sam Hunt, Randall Bramblett Band and many more.

Historic Cemeteries:

 Historic Riverside Cemetery
1301 Riverside Dr., Macon
(478) 742-5328

Macon's historic Rose Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of Duane Allman and his bandmate Berry Oakley. Photo by Maryann Bates

Macon’s historic Rose Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of Duane Allman and his bandmate Berry Oakley. Photo by Maryann Bates

Rose Hill Cemetery
1071 Riverside Dr., Macon
(478) 751-1919

Macon is home to two park-style historic cemeteries directly adjacent to each other and nestled along the Ocmulgee River. Established in 1887, Riverside Cemetery is privately operated and includes an extensive walking tour map and regular “Spirits” events where costumed actors present the stories of its famed dearly departed. The cemetery’s online database is also useful for tracing Macon’s history. The final resting place for more than 17,000 people including Civil War veterans from both sides. The grounds feature notable historic Civil War earthworks used as field fortification to defend the city against Sherman’s March to the Sea. It is also includes a part of the walkable and bikable Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

One of the oldest surviving public cemeteries/parks in the United States, Rose Hill Cemetery was founded in 1840 and is the burial place of more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers, three Georgia governors, Capricorn Records’ Phil Walden, and Duane Allman and Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers Band. It is also where you will find their inspirations for the songs “Little Martha” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” as well as the monument from one of the Allman Brothers’ most iconic photos. Rose Hill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its garden-like setting, unusual plants and the terraces overlooking the Ocmulgee River.

The first music in Macon was likely made near the site of Ocmulgee National Monument.

The first music in Macon was likely made near the site of Ocmulgee National Monument.

Ocmulgee National Monument
1207 Emery Highway, Macon
(478) 752-8257

As Macon legend has it, the music came from the Ocmulgee River, blessed by the Creek Indians, who settled in the spot now known as Ocmulgee National Monument over 12,000 years ago. The park has five and a half miles of trails winding around Indian mounds, the earth lodge and emergent wetlands along Walnut Creek and the Ocmulgee River. Free to the public, Ocmulgee National Monument is currently in the process of expanding to over 2,000 acres with hopes of becoming a National Park.

Contributed by Jessica Walden, Macon native and daughter of Georgia Music Hall of Famer Alan Walden. Jessica and her husband, Jamie Weatherford, own Rock Candy Tours and are committed to preserving, protecting and downright showing-off the city’s legendary and notorious music history.





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