GBP to broadcast ‘A Night of Georgia Music’ performance on July 4

Christopher Ian Smith/CISmith Photography
·6 min read

Would-be audiences were disappointed when “A Night of Georgia Music” was forced to cut short its tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it could finally be presented again – live in Macon in March – it sold out not only to Middle Georgia ticket buyers but to others traveling across the U.S.

Fortunately, for those who couldn’t get March tickets – and just as much for those who could – the performance was captured and will be presented at 7 p.m. Monday – the Fourth of July – on Georgia Public Broadcasting television stations. Other PBS stations will likely be showing it in the fall.

“A Night of Georgia Music” is an evening of songs written or made famous by Georgia artists. It also showcases Mike Mills’ “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra.”

Mills grew up in Macon and later, in Athens, co-founded, played bass and was a songsmith with the legendary band R.E.M. Also featured in the evening is celebrated violin virtuoso and Macon native Robert McDuffie who founded Mercer University’s McDuffie Center for Strings, and Chuck Leavell who came to Macon as a teenage keyboard player in the late-1960s to work at Capricorn Recording Studios and who became a member of the Allman Brothers Band, a sought after solo and session artists, and for the last several decades, the Rolling Stones’ musical director and touring keyboardist.

Leavell is currently on tour with the Stones in Europe, McDuffie is in Italy for the Rome Chamber Music Festival which he founded a year shy of 20 years ago, and Mills, according to McDuffie, is also in Italy attending the festival.

Though all would be considered friends and musical cohorts these days, McDuffie and Mills’ friendship goes back to when they were kids.

Included in the show and musical comradery are students of the McDuffie Center who fill out the orchestral element on stage, directed by Ward Stare, plus well-known Athens musicians adding guitars and drums.

“There was a lot of time to think and practice during the pandemic and as the Macon performance at the Grand Opera House came together, I took the idea of recording it to Larry Brumley who produced the show on behalf of Mercer,” McDuffie said during a Zoom call. McDuffie said he knew Mercer had created GPB programming before so he thought, “Why not this?”

Brumley is Mercer’s senior vice president for marketing communications and chief of staff and is a guiding hand behind Mercer’s Capricorn Studios, The Grand Opera House and many other projects. McDuffie wanted him to share the idea with Mercer president, Bill Underwood, who he knew was a fan of “A Night of Georgia Music.”

The plan, and finding funding, came together and the fruit is July Fourth’s program.

Back in March, Mills, McDuffie and Leavell spoke of the emotional impact of music.

“Where does the emotion come from?” Leavell asked then answered. “It comes in a lot of different ways. It comes from the arrangement, the tone, the phrasing, in the touch of each instrument. You convey it as best you know how from your heart down to your fingers.”

Then Mills chimed in.

“You know, some of the audience will be out there and be appreciative and maybe dazzled by our ‘technical brilliance,’” he said. “Some will be here for that but most people are looking to be transported. That’s what music does – it takes you outside yourself, or maybe deeper inside yourself, but it takes you somewhere other than where you were. Hopefully, that’s what happens when we communicate our feelings in the music. Hopefully, it makes you feel other than you did before.”

Those at the March performance I talked to agreed the music was moving, transcendent, all those things plus a whole lot of fun.

But they were sitting among a thousand people sharing the moment. Can that translate to a TV show?

That’s where 7 Cinematics comes in, the production group selected to tape and create the show. They’re worth a mention and you’ll be glad to know the answer to the above question is a yes, it translates remarkably well in its own way.

Doing what they do, 7 Cinematics has won 11 Tellys, been nominated for 12 Emmys, won four and shot high-profile events like the Red Hot Chili Peppers Live at The Great Pyramids and The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks.

Their tagline is “The Art of Live Music Productions.”

The program’s director/executive producer and 7 Cinematics’ CEO, Adam Paul, believes the word art is important and said his job is not just capturing and presenting sights and sounds but doing it in a way that conveys the emotion and sense of being involved.

“We were honored to be contacted for the show,” Paul said. “I try to be cutting edge in the art of what we do and taking on a performance like this with some of the greatest musicians there are and the students who matched them every step, well, I knew blending these people, Georgia music and these old and new forms was going to create magic. When we did the dress rehearsal, man, it was stunning. It gave me chills.”

Paul said he and his crew wanted to capture the experience visually with a pace and fluidity that suited the music. And just as the musicians on stage had talked in March about depending on and deferring to one another to “create magic,” Paul credited his team and its leaders, Adrian Westendorff, production, Ben Walter, cinematics, and Mark Maness, post-production, as integral to capturing the magic and presenting it to others.

“We do improvisational shooting,” he said. “There’s always movement and flow, just like in a symphony. We plan plus we improvise in the moment. You could just do a well-composed shot of Robert McDuffie playing his iconic violin, but it’s better to capture the feeling of his movement, the bow sliding across the strings. There are ways to visually convey emotion and, just like the music comes in waves and layers and builds, so should the visual representation. It’s a heart and soul thing.”

Paul spoke highly not only of the musicians involved but of The Grand staff and of sound work done by Rob Evans who is chief engineer and director of Mercer’s Capricorn Studios. And by the way, the show will include a few moments with Mills, McDuffie and Leavell touring the historic Capricorn facility – worth a watch in and of itself.

So this Fourth offers a special treat via GPB. Paul said “A Night of Georgia Music” at 7 p.m. leads right into PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth” celebration at 8 p.m.

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.