Going Up the Country:
It’s Music for the Little Masses as the Sixth Annual Sautee Jamboree Rocks the Hhillsides
By Jerry Grillo
“I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away;
All this fussing and fighting, man, you know I sure can’t stay.”
-- Canned Heat
The announcement came with the kind of fanfare you’d expect for the return of Music Midtown in Atlanta. Mainstream media and classic rock radio types were tripping over themselves as Mayor Kasim Reed and mega-promoter Peter Conlon jumpstarted the publicity machine, and thousands, probably hundreds of thousands will flood Piedmont Park and ante up $55 to see commercial favorites like Coldplay and the Black Keys at the inner-city festival on Sept. 24. Might be fun. Probably will be frenetic. Definitely will be crowded.
Meanwhile, about 90 miles away from the asphalt conga line and mechanized traffic jam that is Atlanta, a smaller flock of discerning music lovers will be enjoying the clarity, fresh mountain air and starry evening skies of scenic Northeast Georgia at the sixth annual Sautee Jamboree (Sept. 23-24), the two-day music and arts festival at one of the prettiest little outdoor venues you may not have heard of, where a crowd of 1,500 feels just about right, creating a pleasing sense of community while leaving plenty of space for elbow room and dancing.“Yeah, we probably fly under a lot of people’s radars, but our fans know how to find us,” says Tommy Deadwyler, co-producer of the Jamboree and one of the arts programming directors at the Sautee Nacoochee Center, the historic rural property where the festival spreads its sonic blanket every autumn.
This year’s lineup includes at least one legendary group–Wet Willie–and a host of bands who rank among the most respected touring musicians in the Southeast, a diverse array of artists, like the Mosier Brothers, Sol Driven Train, Davin McCoy and Michelle Malone. And unlike Atlanta, they really do have stars in the Sautee sky–lots of ’em. And trees and cow pastures and mountains and free camping, and a reputation as one of the 100 best small arts communities in the nation. “I don’t think there is another venue quite like this one,” Deadwyler says. “Artists and fans can mingle, friendships develop. It’s that great combination of laid back and fired up. We’re definitely in the right place.”
Deadwyler has made a name for himself–again, in an under-the-radar kind of way–for bringing some of the most respected Southern artists to the Center, which is headquartered in a 1920s-era schoolhouse located in the middle of a mountain valley that has been placed on the National Register as a historic district. “Yeah, we’ve had some magic moments on our stages, that’s for sure,” Deadwyler says. The Indigo Girls were last year’s Jamboree headline act. But the Center puts on the music all year round, and the magic moments add up.There was the time, a year or two back, when John Bell of Widespread Panic showed up to jam with Col. Bruce Hampton and the Quark Alliance (and more recently, Jimmy Herring showed up unannounced to jam with Hampton and his new band, Pharoah Gummit, at another Sautee benefit).
Randall Bramblett’s band has played the Sautee stages (once in the restored 1930s-era gym, and most recently on the outdoor stage). The Packway Handle Band closed the joint recently with a two-hour set that climaxed with the band rushing the audience with their instruments, playing full tilt. Rosie Ledet and the Zydeco Playboys seduced the Jamboree crowd last year. Caroline Aiken has played Sautee, so have the Lee Boys. The Jamboree itself brings together an eclectic collection of sounds each year, bluegrass rubbing shoulders with funk, soft folk music knocking on straight-ahead whiskey-infused rock and roll. No two Sautee Jamborees are alike.
“We always try to mix it up a little bit, present something that we know our audience loves as well as something they might not have seen around here before,” says festival co-producer Tommy Deadwyler. “There definitely is that pleasing sense of the old and new coming together at this year’s Jamboree.” In Wet Willie, the event is offering up an iconic Southern rock band fronted by one of the genre’s celebrated frontmen, Jimmy Hall. A lot of artists can stand on a stage and sing. The great ones reach into your brain and create inimitable memories. The great ones entertain.
“And when you really reach the people in the crowd and communicate with them, that’s when they get their money’s worth,” says Hall, lead singer, harmonica and sax virtuoso. “I’ve heard some great things about Sautee. So we’re looking forward to making our debut there.”Wet Willie will provide the exclamation point this year, taking the stage somewhere around 9 or 10 p.m. Saturday night. Returning for a sixth straight Jamboree is Jeff Mosier. The banjo-playing vocalist–the Rev.–who helped inaugurate the festival as the leader of Blueground Undergrass, has been touring the past couple of years with the Mosier Brothers Band , which includes his guitarist brother Johnny Mosier and their longtime collaborator, fiddler wizard David Blackmon.
“It just doesn’t feel like a Sautee Jamboree without Jeff and Johnny and David,” Deadwyler says. Davin McCoy and The Coming Attractions return for a second straight year. So does Michelle Malone , who closed last year’s festival with a riveting Saturday night performance (the Indigos rocked the hillsides Friday night). Other artists familiar to the Sautee crowd, from the Jamboree and other regional events, are Sol Driven Train , Lefty Williams and Carly Gibson
Making their Jamboree debut: American Anodyne features Jamboree co-producer Chris Thacker on lead guitar, who is reunited with former Big City Sunrise drummer Kevin Rainwater. Erick Jones (lead singer) and Justin Minchew (bass) complete the jagged-edged country rock quartet.
Insonnia, led by virtuoso guitarist Curtis Jones, brings a high-energy worldly fusion of flamenco, jazz, Brazilian and acoustic music to the outdoor stage. The trioincludes keyboardist/vocalist Pete Orenstein and drummer Mark Letalien. Larkin Poe is centered around songwriting, multi-instrumentalist sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who melted hearts around the world while touring as two-thirds of the Lovell Sisters band. According to Elvis Costello, one of their collaborators, they’re “already gifted as instrumentalists and, having a head start on the rest of us with the unique power and beauty of sibling harmony in their vocal blend, their songwriting has leapt forward and now surprises and delights in equal measure.”
Shovels & Rope are Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent who – armed with guitars, a drum kit harvested from trash, harmonicas, voices and songs – say they prefer to keep it simple while blowing audiences away with their folk rock, sloppy tonk harmonies. HomeGrown Revival is a four-piece progressive folk band that formed last year in nearby Dahlonega,that is making the rounds at some of Georgia’s great music venues, like Eddie’s Attic (Decatur) and the Melting Point (Athens).
Box office for the sixth annual Sautee Jamboree opens at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, and again at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24th. Tickets are $40 for members of the Sautee Nacoochee Community Association, $46 for all others. Free primitive camping is available on site, and campers may begin setting up at noon on Friday, Sept. 23.
There is a limited amount of free parking around the venue, and multiple sites around the Sautee Center at $3 per car (please consider car-pooling).There’s a pancake breakfast Saturday morning, and plenty of water, soft drinks, beer, wine and food will be available throughout (keep coolers at your campsite or car, please).
Artists and other vendors will also be on hand, and the coveted Sautee Jamboree t-shirt, designed by local artist Andy Slack, will be in supply. For tickets and more information, visit www.snca.org, or call the Center box office at 706-878-3300.