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LISTENING POST: ‘A Night of Georgia Music’

Chuck Leavell, Mike Mills, and Robert McDuffie discuss their performing together

Chuck Leavell X Terry Allen
Photo credit: Terry Allen
GATHERING NO MOSS: While awaiting word from his Rolling Stones bandmates about what may be in store for 2022, former Allman Brothers Band keyboardist and Macon resident Chuck Leavell will join R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and classical violinist Robert McDuffie for ‘A Night of Georgia Music,’ March 6 at the Grand Opera House in Macon.

In 2019, a trio of outstanding musicians with deep roots in the Peach State — internationally renowned classical violinist and Macon native Robert McDuffie, former Allman Brothers Band member and current Rolling Stones keyboardist and music director Chuck Leavell, and R.E.M. founding member and Macon native Mike Mills — performed a concert project called “A Night of Georgia Music.” A mini-tour of the production was distinguished by sold-out performances in Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta and Birmingham before COVID put the kibosh on live events.

Two years down the pandemic road, on Saturday, March 6, the Grand Opera House in Macon will host “A Night of Georgia Music,” partly in response to the multitude of fans who were left wondering why a program featuring two of the city’s most accomplished artists never made it to town. The concert will be filmed and produced by Emmy Award-winning 7 Cinematics. In addition to taping at The Grand, one segment of the show will be shot at Capricorn Sound Studios, which was restored in 2019 by Mercer University. The completed program will be distributed to PBS stations nationwide for airing beginning in June 2022.

“A Night of Georgia Music” includes songs by Otis Redding, Ray Charles, the Allman Brothers Band, Gladys Knight and the Pips, James Brown, Outkast, Gram Parsons and Brook Benton. The concert program also features a Mike Mills’ composition, Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra, performed by students from Mercer University’s Robert McDuffie Center for Strings under the baton of conductor Ward Stare.

Recently, Leavell, McDuffie and Mills joined Listening Post for a Zoom interview about the Grand Opera House engagement.

Listening Post: It’s my understanding that the genesis of “A Night of Georgia Music” can be traced back to around 2013, when Robert commissioned his former high school pal to compose what became the genre-fluid Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra.

Mike Mills: The concerto was the impetus. We performed the piece a number of times, which got us thinking about doing something more expansive. We then had the epiphany of asking Chuck to be the third virtuoso soloist on this thing. That’s what pulled it together to create the magical project we were hoping it would be.

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NOT SITTING STILL: R.E.M.’s Mike Mills will perform his ‘Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra’ during “A Night of Georgia Music” in Macon on Saturday. PHOTO CREDIT: David Belisle


Listening Post: So, what’s on the setlist for Saturday’s concert?

Chuck Leavell: First, let me compliment Mike about the song choices. We're not going to give anything away, but the combination is just brilliant, representing a wide range of artists, songs, vibes, feelings, grooves and melodies. That's something we all really enjoy — the diversity of the program.

Mike Mills: The criteria that I set called for songs either about Georgia or by Georgia artists. For example, we’re doing “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips, which is one of two songs that meet both requirements. Gladys Knight is an incredibly underrated vocalist, one of the greatest R&B singers of all the time. That’s one of the most fun aspects of this project. Hopefully, it will open doors for people to seek out songs and music that they weren't already familiar with.

Listening Post: Is the setlist the same as the one that was used in 2019?

Mike Mills: Even better, but essentially the same.

Listening Post: Are there any moments from the 2019 tour that stick out, something that created the sort of magic you would like to conjure up again?

Robert McDuffie: Coming from the classical side of the lineup, I was moved by the fuel or energy that the audience gave us. That doesn't happen in my universe. Also, I now know what shredding means. [Collective laughter]

Chuck Leavell: Although there's plenty of shredding going on in the classical world, you just don’t call it that.

Robert McDuffie: We don't call it shredding. We say, “Your double stops are so cute.” [Much more collective laughter]

Mike Mills: The Atlanta show was amazing. Chuck had a lot of fans there and we got a standing ovation after almost every song. It was insane. I've never seen anything like it and I've been in the rock and roll business for a long time.

Listening Post: Speaking of the classical side of things, “A Night of Georgia Music” features students from Mercer University’s Robert McDuffie Center for Strings in Macon, which, incidentally, is in the former plantation house used as a backdrop for the cover of The Allman Brothers Band’s first album.

Robert McDuffie: When we did the original tour, we used a combination of students and alumni; this is only students who are studying at the center right now. Twelve violins, five violas, six cellos and three double basses. They're doing the whole first half of the concert, as well as the Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra, and they really shine. Ward Stare, who's been with us for a long time, will be conducting.

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NEW FOUND SHREDDER: Internationally acclaimed classical violinist and Macon native Robert McDuffie is ready to shred some Georgia music with bandmates Mike Mills, a fellow Maconite, and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell. PHOTO CREDIT: David Bazemore

Listening Post: How do you integrate a full string section into all of that rock ‘n’ roll and R&B?


Robert McDuffie: This is where we tip our cap to David Mallamud who Mike calls The Big Brain.

Mike Mills: David did the arranging for the concerto and the Georgia songs in the front part of the program. In the simplest terms, he uses the rock band — two guitars, bass and drums — as a bridge between Bobby and Chuck and the orchestra. He has a wonderfully fertile imagination and a very unorthodox approach to making all of this work together,

Listening Post: Is there a possibility that “A Night of Georgia Music” might happen somewhere else in 2022 or the future?

Chuck Leavell: We'd all love to see this go forward. We may or may not be able do something this year because of scheduling, for one thing. But, the exposure through the Georgia public television program is going to give the project a lot of exposure. The door is open. —CL—

Sold-out. Saturday, Mar. 6, The Grand Opera House, 651 Mulberry St., Macon, 31201. (478) 301-5470. Tickets for the Friday night, March 5, dress rehearsal may still be available at $20 each. Call the Grand Opera House for more information.


Sat.-Sun., Mar. 5-13

 

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Shenanigans abound in Gioachino Rossini’s beloved opera "The Barber of Seville". PHOTO CREDIT: Kelly & Massa

The Barber of Seville, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center — The Atlanta Opera’s staging of Gioachino Rossini’s beloved opera features mezzo soprano Stephanie Lauricella as Rosina, tenor Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva and baritone Joseph Lattanzi singing the role of Figaro, the matchmaking barber. More than two centuries after its premiere in Rome, Italy, Rossini’s opera buffa suprema remains in standard rotation thanks to its instantly recognizable overture, delightful arias and zany sitcom libretto by Cesare Sterbini.
Tickets $45-$150. Sat., Mar. 5, 8 p.m. Tue., Mar. 8, 7:30 p.m., Fri., Mar. 11, 8 p.m. Sun., Mar. 13, 3 p.m. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Pkwy, Atlanta, 770-916-2800.

Thu. Mar. 3


Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presents Michelle Cann playing Florence Price, Symphony Hall — Performing since age seven, pianist Michelle Cann makes her Atlanta Symphony Orchestra debut with Florence Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement. Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles leads the orchestra in Mahler's brilliantly innovative First Symphony.
8 p.m. Ticket prices vary; check the ASO box office. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., 404-733-4900.

Sat., Mar. 4

 

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Michelle Cann PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Zirkle

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presents Michelle Cann playing Florence Price, University of Georgia Performing Arts Center — Florence Price was the first female African-American composer to achieve widespread national attention and the first to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. Celebrated pianist Michelle Cann brings her probing rendering of Price’s work to her Hodgson Concert Hall debut with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The ASO will also perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.
Tickets $45-$85. Fri., Mar. 4, 8 p.m. UGA Performing Arts Center, Hodgson Concert Hall, 230 River Road, Athens, 30605. 706-542-4400.

Sat., Mar. 5


Atlanta Symphony Orchestra presents Michelle Cann playing Florence Price, Symphony Hall — Performing since age seven, pianist Michelle Cann makes her Atlanta Symphony Orchestra debut with Florence Price's Piano Concerto in One Movement. Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles leads the orchestra in Mahler's brilliantly innovative First Symphony.
8 p.m. Ticket prices vary; check the ASO box office. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., 404-733-4900.

Nathan Laube, Spivey Hall — In a Saturday matinee recital, highly acclaimed American organist Nathan Laube takes command of the spectacular Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ at Spivey Hall. An Associate Professor of Organ on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester New York, Laube serves as International Consultant in Organ Studies at the UK’s Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
Tickets $20-$40. Sat., Mar. 5, 3 p.m. Spivey Hall, 2000 Clayton State Boulevard, Morrow, 678-466-4200.

Sun., Mar. 6

 

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Fiddler and banjoist Jake Blount PHOTO CREDIT: Carl-Eric Tangen

Jake Blount at Eddie’s Attic — As a teenager growing up in Virginia, Jake Blount played guitar in funk and metal bands before seeing the light, picking up the banjo and fiddle, and immersing himself in the music of black slaves and indigenous folk styles rooted in the Appalachian and Piedmont regions. Black and gay, Blount weaves themes of discrimination, inequity, retribution and loss into his interpretations of traditional songs and original compositions. Opening for Blount is singer, guitarist and mandolinist Mimi Naja, a former Atlantan who arrives at Eddie’s by way of Portland and, most recently Nashville.
Tickets $10. Sun., Mar. 6, doors 5 p.m., music 6 p.m. Eddie's Attic, 515 B North McDonough Street, Decatur. 404-377-4976.

John Coltrane: The Beauty of Struggle, Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre — Drummer Justin Varnes leads his quartet featuring saxophonist John Sandfort through many of John Coltrane's classic songs, while also telling his inspiring story. Throughout Coltrane's life, he struggled to beat addiction, struggled to be a better person, and struggled to find his own voice on the saxophone. What Coltrane found profoundly changed the world for the better.
Tickets $20. Sun., Mar. 6, 3 p.m. Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre, 117 North Park Square, Marietta. 770-293-0080.

Sat., Mar. 12

 

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Jeff Crompton PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Eberhardt

Standard Practice with Jeff Crompton, Elliott Street Pub — The debut of saxophonist-composer Jeff Crompton’s trio with Chris Riggenbach on bass and Kenito Murray on drums. After spinning some Sonny Rollins albums during the pandemic, Crompton formed Standard Practice to strictly play jazz standards, rather than his original works. All three musicians are all well-versed in avant-garde and straight-ahead jazz, which means, as Crompton says, “These familiar tunes might go anywhere.” 
Free (donations welcome). Sat., Mar. 12, 9 p.m. Elliott Street Pub, 51 Elliott Street SW (across from Mercedes Benz Stadium). 404-523-2174.

Atlanta Punk Spring Break Bash w/ Michael Cera Palin, Tooth Cemetery, Web and Crosstalk, Eyedrum — Benefit concert at Eyedrum features Michael Cera Palin, described as “ATLs most famous emo/Sheryl Crow cover band,” power pop troupe Tooth Cemetery, hardcore punkers Web and indie rock purists Crosstalk. Proceeds donated to Atlanta's Free99 Fridge Program, which provides refrigerators in shelters and other places.
$10 (or as much as you can donate). Mar. 12, 7 p.m. Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery, 515 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. SW. 770-676-1605. Vax card or negative COVID test required.

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Guthman Competition finalist Mateo Mena's hypercubes (see-through cubes with electronic components inside) let the musician generate, modify and control pure electronic sounds without computers or cables, thereby creating electronic music in a physical way. The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition Concert takes place on Saturday, March 12 at 7 p.m., at the Ferst Center for the Arts on the Georgia Tech campus. PHOTO CREDIT: Mateo Mena/Georgia Tech School of Music

Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, Ferst Center for the Arts — The 2022 Guthman Musical Instrument Competition pits ten finalists chosen from a group of 26 entries from 16 countries against each other in a “battle of the DYI instruments” with $10,000 in prizes at stake. Originally conceived to identify the next generation of musical instrumentalists, the Guthman competition has turned into one of the nation's premiere events for music technologists and usually fills the Ferst Center to capacity.

Tickets $15, $10 Georgia Tech students. Sat., Mar. 12, 7 p.m. Ferst Center for the Arts, 349 Ferst Dr. NW. 404-894-9600.


Metropolis (1927) with Live Organ Accompaniment, Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre — In partnership with the American Theatre Organ Society, The Strand will screen Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film masterpiece Metropolis with live accompaniment on the Mighty Allen Theatre Organ by Clark Wilson, one of the most prominent scorers of silent films in America. VIP Tickets include 5:45 p.m. meet & greet, small popcorn, and beverage.
7:30 p.m. Tickets $14-34. Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre, 117 North Park Square, Marietta. 770-293-0080.

Thu., Mar. 17, Fri. Mar. 18, and Sun., Mar. 20

 

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Nathalie Stutzmann/ASO PHOTO CREDIT: Raftermen

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Atlanta Symphony Hall — The world-renowned ASO Chorus returns to Symphony Hall under the direction of incoming Music Director Nathalie Stutzmann for their first concerts since the coronavirus pandemic shut down live performances. The Chorus’ program features Mozart's awesome Requiem mass and Richard Strauss’ symphonic poem Death and Transfiguration.
8 p.m., Thu; 8 p.m., Fri; 3 p.m. Sun. Ticket prices vary; check the ASO box office. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., 404-733-4900.

Thu., Mar. 17

 

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Sona Jobarteh, City Winery. Born into a Griot family from The Gambia, Sona Jobarteh is widely recognized as the first professional, female kora player. Her music combines a rich, ancient cultural heritage and a beautifully accessible modern style. A humanitarian activist and advocate for social development and educational reform in Africa, Jobarteh is the founding Director of The Gambia Academy.
8 p.m. $36-50. City Winery Atlanta, 650 North Ave. NE, Ponce City Markey, Atlanta, 30308. 404-WINERY-1 (404-946-3791). atlantaconcierge at citywinery.com citywinery/atlanta.com

Fri., Mar. 18

 

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Kittel & Co. PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Potter

Kittel & Co., Schwartz Center for Performing Arts Grammy-nominated violinist and composer Jeremy Kittel’s music explores the intersectional space between classical and acoustic roots, Celtic, folk and jazz. His quintet, Kittel & Co., makes its Schwartz Center debut with a program ranging from Bach to bluegrass.
Tickets $45, students $10. Fri., Mar. 18, 8 p.m. Schwartz Center for Performing Arts: Emerson Concert Hall, 1700 North Decatur Rd., 404-727-5050.
 

Sat., Mar. 19

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OUTSIDER ART INSIDER: ‘The Tom Patterson Years: Cultural Adventures of a Fledgling Scribe,’ Tom Patterson PHOTO CREDIT: 2021, H’d’ng Press

Tom Patterson, whose recently published memoir, The Tom Patterson Years: Cultural Adventures of a Fledgling Scribe, recounts the author’s time in Atlanta between 1977 and 1984, will hold a reading and book-signing this Saturday at the 378 Gallery in Candler Park, behind Flying Biscuit Cafe. A renowned arts writer, curator and expert vernacular art, Patterson’s other works includeHoward Finster: Stranger from Another World (Abbeville Press, 1989), St. EOM in The Land of Pasaquan (Jargon Society, 1987/University of Georgia Press, 2018) and Contemporary Folk Art: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2001).

Free. Saturday, March 19, 4-6 p.m. 378 Gallery. 378 Clifton Road, Atlanta, 30307. For more information, including gallery hours: 404-530-9277 or 378artgallery@gmail.com.

 

Mon., Mar. 21

NOTE: This show has been cancelled! A Black History Month Tribute to Hammond B3 Legend Jimmy Smith and Stanley Turrentine, Emory University Performing arts Studio — A tribute concert showcasing the music of two giants of jazz, Hammond B3 organ legend Jimmy Smith and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Featured musicians include Neal Wauchope (keyboards), Leonard Julien III (saxophones), Tavius Elder (guitar), Eric Johnson (drums) and Jeffrey Vaughn (percussion).
Tickets $25. Mon., Mar. 21, 7 p.m. Emory University Performing Arts Studio, 1804 N. Decatur Road. Contact: Facebook.

Thu., Mar. 24-Sat., Mar. 26

 

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Xavier Foley

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Hall — Talent Development Program alumnus Xavier Foley plays the world premiere of his ASO-commissioned concerto for double bass. Guest conductor Jonathon Heyward, winner of the 2020 Sir George Solti Career Assistant Award, conducts Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3 and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9.
Ticket prices vary; check the ASO box office. Thu., Mar. 24, 8 p.m., Sat., Mar. 26, 8 p.m. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., 404-733-4900.




 

Thu., Mar. 31 and Sat., Apr. 2

 

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Mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital PHOTO CREDIT: Harald Hoffman

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Hall — Co-Artistic Advisor Robert Spano conducts the premiere of The Parallactic Transits, which was commissioned for the ASO and the conductor. "I hope to paint an image both of the stars slowly moving in our field of vision and of we ourselves, moving meta-dimensionally around the heavens," said the composer. Also on the program, virtuoso mandolinist Avi Avital returns to Symphony Hall to play a new mandolin concerto composed by Jennifer Higdon. Lastly, Spano conducts Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic suite Scheherazade, which sketches four themes inspired by Arabic folk tales from One Thousand and One Nights.
Ticket prices vary; check the ASO box office. 8 p.m., Thu., Mar. 31; 8 p.m. Sat., Apr. 2; Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., 404-733-4900.

Sat., Apr. 2


Georgia Symphony Orchestra Jazz at Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre — Under the direction of Sam Skelton, GSO Jazz! Performs "Basie & Beyond," a program celebrating the legacy of composer-arranger-trombonist Sammy Nestico (1924-2021). Nestico, who worked with Basie, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan, taught at the University of Georgia in 1998-99 before retiring. The program includes a recreation of Nestico’s Basie and Beyond album collaboration with Quincy Jones from 2000.
Tickets $35 adult, $32 senior/military, $12 student. Sat., Apr. 2, 8 p.m. Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre, 117 North Park Square, Marietta. 770-293-0080.

Sat, Apr. 9

 

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Academy of St. Martin in the Fields PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Ealovega

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Wind Ensemble featuring Simon Crawford-Phillips, Schwartz Center for Performing Arts — The world-renowned Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Wind Ensemble — James Burke (clarinet), Julie Price (bassoon), Stephen Stirling (horn) and Tom Blomfield (oboe) — joins forces with pianist and conductor Simon Crawford-Phillips to explore the rich trove of all-wind and wind-and-piano classical repertoire. The program at Emory University’s Emerson Hall includes Mozart’s masterful Quintet for Winds and Piano in E-flat Major.
Tickets $60. 8 p.m. Schwartz Center for Performing Arts: Emerson Concert Hall, 1700 North Decatur Rd., 404-727-5050.