We Got Your Live Music Scene Right Here!

A friend of mine has something to say about music in Macon. It’s something pretty important and I think that it needs to be up wherever there is talk about Macon and the things going on in this city. In it’s full entirety. If you got something to say, say it here online or go say it to him out loud. We’ll both appreciate it!

(This is the long ass response I had to an editorial in the Mercer Cluster, which stated we have no music scene and then blamed it on the lack of bands and venues. While I agree we have some work to do, my belief is that what we lack is fans. Wow. That’s probably all I had to write… whoops. If you feel like reading three pages of my ranting, get down on it.)

Mr. Brown, Editors, et. al,

Loved the April Fools Day stories. Good satire. It is unfortunate that Eric Brown’s piece about the Macon music scene wasn’t conceived in a similar vein. It would’ve been closer to the truth if it had been.

It’s disingenuous for Brown to name Nomenclature and then say they moved away and think that’s an accurate or even adequate description of what’s happening here, as if the only good band left town. The problem here is folks here don’t look for local music so they don’t know that there is anything good.

So what Brown accidentally illustrates is one of the major and generally unaddressed causes of our chronically sick music scene: uninformed opinions have become the prevailing wisdom, having spread like a fungus that colors public perception so that it becomes a “reality”.

In other words, one of the reasons our “music scene sucks” is because so many people think our “music scene sucks”.

Just as it is hard for a “dirt-poor college student” to “create an award-winning venue”, it’s hard for a dirt-poor musician to bust his and/or her butt when no one’s showing up because they’ve already decided that there isn’t a music scene worth supporting. (The musicians, however, continue to.)

To avoid making this a totally subjective argument about taste, just look at one of this year’s Bearstock posters. The bulk of the opening acts are local, spanning a variety of styles and sounds, and there were many more from which to choose. The bands that made the cut (and most of those that didn’t) all play frequently, so the real question is why didn’t Eric Brown know that they existed?

Until recently there haven’t been enough fans to support local bands to make it a financially reasonable prospect for venue owners to showcase more local talent, which means the scene wasn’t very visible. But that’s changed. All the good venues—limited as they may be—book a healthy dose of local bands.

Even though local bands sometimes suck at promoting their shows—whether humility or laziness—they do play often enough that, if you’re looking for live local music, by now, there are no good excuses not to have seen Floco Torres, Citizen Insane, Trendlenberg, Rolybots, Al K!NG, Oh Dorian, Abby Owens, Magnificent Bastard, City Council or the dozen others I could name.

UNLESS… A#1) you’re scared to frequent the venues where they play, or B#2) you don’t actually like music enough to go see someone that doesn’t already have an album on a major label.

So now the question is: Do you REALLY want more “interesting and experimental” bands? If so, forget about learning an instrument and starting a band, as Brown suggests, just be “interesting and experimental” yourself. Be adventurous enough to see what already exists.

Folks like to compare Macon to cities with a thriving scene, but they forget one of the most crucial elements: FANS! In places like Athens and Atlanta, people will go see music for the sake of seeing music. And then… then the bands have to work to steal attention away from other bands. Our bands compete against prime time TV and the hordes that only go out to get drunk and get some booty.

Brown asks: “So how to fix this problem?” My response is stop being a part of the problem. If you look for good local music, you’ll find it. You’ll become a patron of the Hummingbird and the Capitol where regional and national acts play. You’ll know that the biggest strides in the local music scene haven’t been made by The Refuge (though I love JJ Weeks and his crew) or at Jittery Joes (where I sit typing this). It’s in the cracks and crevices downtown, like the Golden Bough, the Macon Venue Project, Envy and the 567 Cafe, or even uptown at Rivalry’s, the Shamrock and CJs.

Honestly, I don’t even like all the music here, but I don’t have to. I support what I like and try to be nice to everybody else. There is enough going on here that that’s all you have to do. It isn’t a charity. It’s like anything else, you might suffer through some crap to get to the good stuff, but regardless of how well it matches what you like, there is plenty to choose from—far more than most think.

I’m not trying to invalidate everything Brown wrote or even to take jabs at him, but I believe there are some serious issues to address before the blame is aimed at a supposed dearth of musicians or venues. Remember, we’re all still driven by very simple market realities: supply and demand. There is a dearth of demand. That’s what must change next.

Or maybe we just need to admit we’re not really THAT interested in local music, that we just want bands like The Flaming Lips and Death Cab for Cutie to play Macon so we don’t have to drive to Atlanta. If that’s all this is about then we’re just displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of music business, and the problem remains the same. Those bands don’t play here—not because there aren’t local bands to open up (see who’s opening for Gym School Heroes and Chester French) or because there are no venues (we have spaces so small they only fit 30 to those big enough to hold thousands)—but because they cost tens and tens of thousands of dollars for a performance.

And really, that’s only a problem because “no one” pays to see live music here. Ludacris didn’t sell out the Coliseum and Dwight Yoakum couldn’t even fill the much smaller City Auditorium. Our problem is the absence of real music fans, and the money they generate, which funds it all.

I used to think like Eric Brown (and scores of others)—it’s Macon, not me. Then I became the nightlife writer and later the editor of The 11th Hour, and watched what happens here. I’m now the publisher of Georgia Music Magazine, which is housed by the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, a tourist destination that should be treated like a blessing to this city but is, instead, ignored by locals and the officials they’ve elected.

But it isn’t all bleak. For the past three years, I’ve been on the board for Bragg Jam, a music festival which is hitting its stride. I’ve been a part of the Bearstock selection committee for the past two years and think it’s about to cement its place in the community. More people are warming up to live music here.

To push it more, I helped start The Local 478, which tries to facilitate growth in local music scene with showcases and concerts. With the help of local musicians, I’m putting together Monkeywrench Music Club, a multifunctional space where bands who can’t get booked elsewhere can play, where bands who have nowhere to rehearse can rehearse, where they can get their mail, copy flyers, burn CDs and meet other musicians. This summer, we’re going to release the first wave of albums on Random Family Records, a record label whose roster is entirely made of local talent.

You can see why I might be a little sensitive about this, but beyond my obvious bias, I hope you see the much deeper lesson: if you’re looking for good local music, you can find it. I have. And with that, I’ve found a lot of great people, crazy stories and the kind of fun I never thought possible here. All I had to do was look.

I agree with Brown when he writes, “By creating a closer community of bands in the Macon area, you can guarantee a better music scene…” I agree because I’ve been watching it happen for the past couple of years, and I hope that now that you all know it exists, you’ll support it. That’s the piece we’re really missing now.

To that end, I would be honored to introduce Eric Brown and the Cluster editorial staff (and anyone else who is interested) to a wide spate of the talented musicians ranging from indie rock to hip-hop and all sorts of stuff I can’t begin to classify. We’d love to see you be a part of building this music scene because I truly believe that history is about to repeat itself in Macon, that there are some names in the lineups around town that will eventually join the list of celebrated Maconites.

See it for yourself. Come out to Rivalry’s this Friday night to check out three of the best bands in Macon, swing by the show at Monkeywrench on Saturday, April 11, or wait until Bearstock and see even more in action. If you still feel like the scene is “far away” then it’s just a matter of your taste being bad. (Just kidding… no I’m not.)

Yours,
Chris Horne
Monkeywrench Music Club
484 Cherry Street
Macon, GA 31201
ThisChrisHorne@gmail.com

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2 responses to “We Got Your Live Music Scene Right Here!”

  1. whistle says :

    Hey, I live in Atlanta and have been active in the local music scene for years. Let me tell you, people don’t just go to see live music here for the sake of doing so. Some go see a band because that band is the new hot thing, but that is a very miniscule portion of the nightlife. Most people here go out to clubs where no live music is taking place or they go see nationally touring acts. The local scene is terrible here just like anywhere except that it is because the venues suck and there are too many bands and venues offering very little bang for your buck. But I think most cities are probably seeing a less impressive local music scene nowadays. The economy is only partially to blame.

  2. angelcollins says :

    You’re right about that. Here’s hoping that people start to get how important a music scene is for the nightlife.

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