I recently spent two days as part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s tourism product development resource team. Our destination was Athens, and we were tasked with assessing, developing and connecting their music scene to help grow their music tourism assets. Athens is ALL music, all day. On our trip, we enjoyed first hand tales of the music scene from music historian Paul Butchart on the Athens Music History Tour, met with the movers and shakers of the Athens music evolution at the Foundry, heard about the Classic Center and Theatre’s expansion plans, brainstormed with festival developers, and toured Georgia’s only vinyl press plant.
Stuck in traffic on the return home, I began to think about Gwinnett’s music scene. While it’s not necessarily in our DNA like Athens, there are burgeoning bastions of live music, singer-songwriter showcases and hidden gems that deserve to be heard. Here are a few of my favorites.
Eddie Owen Presents (www.eddieowenpresents.com) at the Red Clay Music Foundry is helmed by legendary music promoter Eddie Owen, who put acoustic music and singer-songwriters including Shawn Mullins, John Mayer, the Indigo Girls and Sugarland on the map. And now, surrounded by a newly opened brew pub, several delish restaurants and a growing downtown scene in Duluth, Owen ushers everyone from up-and-coming singers to bands ranging from the Revelers to Shawn Mullins to Nanci Griffith.
You can experience all types of musical events at EOP, including album release parties, holiday themed concerts and big band performances. There are over 50 live music and theatre performances in January and February, so with the colder weather coming, it’s a great winter destination.
If you like to limit your evenings out to the weekend, we’ve got the place. Not far from the bustling Town Center Park in Suwanee, you’ll find a red barn, where the Everett family has been cranking out live bluegrass music for 50 years.
The barn’s history is steeped in sadness, but out of communal grief, a community of music lovers was born. Suwanee’s Everett brothers began learning to play music in 1964, around the time that brother Jerry was killed in the line of duty while serving the Gwinnett County Police Department. Bluegrass music comforted their grieving parents, and as they played, friends and neighbors started coming over to listen or join in.
From that humble, human beginning—borne from the simple need to console the grieving—came a musical institution that’s now closing in on 40 years and still going strong, every Saturday night. People still come to Everett’s Music Barn from far and wide to hear some of the best national touring bands (including bands like Steep Canyon Rangers, The Grascals, Claire Lynch as well as David Davis and the Warrior River Boys) perform bluegrass and “old timey” Southern music. The Barn has one request – a $15 donation to keep the music going – and one rule – no alcohol.
Billboard magazine recently named the Infinite Energy Center as #9 on its top 10 list of Arena Power Players. Nestled between the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas and the 3Arena in Dublin, Ireland, our very own Arena booked almost $10 million dollars in gross ticket sales in 2017. And the 2018 concert schedule is astonishing – the first six months of 2018 will bring U2, Little Big Town, Kid Rock, The Killers, Miranda Lambert, Harry Styles, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Sam Smith, Khalid, Lorde and Chris Tomlin to Gwinnett. You can pretty much always guarantee that there is a fantastic act coming to the venue.
Our musical hidden gems are all over Gwinnett; for cover bands, 37 Main in Buford is a go-to, and for outdoor experiences, Sugar Hill’s new “Bowl at Sugar Hill” has welcomed an eclectic range of ticketed shows, including Ben Folds, Boz Scaggs, Collective Soul, KC and the Sunshine Band and others. Buford’s Community Center draws regional and national artists from orchestral to singer-songwriter to old school draws like the Drifters. One of our favorite new venues is the Train Depot in downtown Lawrenceville. Programmed by the Gwinnett School of Music, the Depot’s show schedule gives off a listening room attitude, with performers like Three5Human, The Pussywillows and singer-songwriter Ralph Rodenberry. There are free concert series each summer in Historic Norcross, and many of our city festivals include free, family-friendly concerts.
The Athens music scene is completely aspirational. Yet as my drive came to a close, I was pleasantly reminded how our music scene is growing, evolving and changing our community for the better every day.