“It’s really great that they were able to take a tragedy and make something so beautiful out of it.”
I’m sitting inside the Cox Capital Theatre in Macon, Ga., waiting for the Blind Boys of Alabama to begin their set, when the guy seated next to me starts to get chatty. He starts with the usual smalltalk, but when he finds out this is my first Bragg Jam—and in fact, my first time in Macon—he takes it upon himself to bring me up to speed on the festival’s history. It turns out he was a good friend of Brax and Tate Bragg, two music-loving brothers who were tragically killed in a car accident in 1999. “That’s their momma right over there,” he says, gesturing to a woman seated in the theater’s balcony. What began as a simple way to memorialize them has evolved into an annual city-wide event that raises funds for charity. Beautiful indeed.
Earlier that night, I kicked off my Bragg Jam by taking in Lee Bains III & The Gloryfires at the Hummingbird Stage & Taproom. I’ve described Bains in the past as “if Bob Seger went to a lot of sweaty punk house shows,” and this set was no different. Bains’ energy is infectious, and he knows how to work a crowd, hopping off stage and venturing into it several times during the set, even doing so from atop a bandmate’s shoulders at one point. Those who were unfamiliar with Bains before the beginning of the set left smiling, asking each other “That was great, huh??”
After Bains’ set, I ducked outside for a bit to escape the heat from inside the Hummingbird and took in a second line headed down Cherry St. featuring members of Street Line Drum Line and Empire Strikes Brass, then returned to the Hummingbird to take in a bit of The Black Cadillacs before heading over to the Cox Capital Theatre for the aforementioned Blind Boys of Alabama set.
There’s a strong sense of community at Bragg Jam, and the festivities at the Cox Capital began with a birthday serenade for Mama Louise, of the iconic H&H Restaurant, who famously kept the Allman Brothers fed back when they were struggling young musicians living in town. Then the Blind Boys came out and delivered an excellent set full of covers (“People Get Ready”), traditional gospel numbers (“God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds”), songs from the Justin Vernon-produced I’ll Find a Way and plenty of enthusiastic dance moves. You’d think an elderly blind man would have some trepidations about going into the crowd, but that wasn’t the case with frontman Jimmy Carter, who willingly ventured off the stage and got up close and personal with fans during the band’s final song.
From there, it was on to The 567 Center for Renewal for Good Graeff, the brainchild of twins Brooke and Brittany Graeff. Their set included everything from a rollicking ode to their grandfather, “William,” to a cheeky cello cover of the Game of Thrones theme. Soon enough, it was time to head downstairs to the GPB MainStage for Those Darlins. The atmosphere in the room was a little strange, considering the band…I never imagined I’d see these punks in a room with chairs (and people sitting in them!), but it didn’t affect the quality of the set, and soon enough, most people had ditched their seats and crammed as close to the stage as possible to sing along to favorites like “Screws Get Loose” and “That Man.”
Check out Scott Corkery’s photos from Bragg Jam 2014 in the gallery above.