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Friday, July 25, 2014 - 12:15pm

Bragg Jam: The History, The Headliners, And The Heart

Bragg Jam, Middle Georgia’s night of live music, is 24 hours away— 57 bands performing across stages in downtown Macon.

Some of those bands are coming from surrounding states, like Those Darlins from Nashville.

But most of the talent at Bragg Jam is home grown, like The Whigs, who are from Athens .

This is the 15th year of Bragg Jam in Macon, and it’s not like other music festivals.

The proceeds of Bragg Jam go to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail-- a riverfront recreational walk. Think of it as Macon’s equivalent of the Atlanta Beltline.

But philanthropy isn’t the only thing separating this night of music from other festivals.

Bragg Jam was born of tragedy, inspired by the memory of Macon brothers Brax and Tate Bragg. The brothers decided to take a cross country road trip in 1999. They were killed in a car accident on the way back.

The History: Brax And Tate Bragg

Jamie Weatherford, President of the Bragg Jam board of directors, says Brax Bragg was heavily involved in the downtown revitalization of Macon. Weatherford describes Bragg as a kind of “beat poet” – someone who local Maconites would today describe as a “townie”.

“He had a band. The Buckleys. And they were scheduled to perform a gig,” said Weatherford. “And essentially, unfortunately, when the brothers didn’t make it back, the rest of the band decided to proceed with this gig and eventually, they would call it Bragg Jam.”

A group of forward-thinking friends of Brax’s and the Bragg family would turn the idea of the annual memorial concert into a 501c3 nonprofit with the idea of honoring Brax and Tate. Brax wasn’t the only musician in the Bragg family. Tate was a very well liked, and highly acclaimed classical guitarist.

From the start, Bragg Jam was about two things: music and downtown revitalization. Brax Bragg had a vision for revitalizing the Ocmulgee river corridor and strengthening the downtown Macon area, one of the main reasons the festival focuses so much on the riverfront trail.

“As any urban core goes through its ups and downs, so of course has Macon’s,” said Weatherford. “But Brax was there the whole time. He was hanging out downtown, he and his friends rehearsed downtown. They lived downtown. It was just part of who they were.”

The annual festival brings an economic boom to Middle Georgia. Bragg Jam is the single largest night of receipts for Macon bars, restaurants, and hotels

The Headliners: The Blind Boys Of Alabama

The Blind Boys of Alabama.

The headliners of the Bragg Jamm concert crawl are the Blind Boys Of Alabama. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president when the Blind Boys of Alabama first started singing together as students at the Alabama Academy for the Blind in Talladega.

Not surprisingly, the Blind Boys have had some lineup changes over the past 70 years. Ricky McKinney has been singing and playing drums with the group for 25 years, but he’s worked with Blind Boys on and off for 40 years. That, amazingly, makes him the new guy.

It seems, the Blind Boys of Alabama could get by with just being a nostalgia act. But the group has continuously tried new things with every record.

Most recently, the group did an entire album with Justin Vernon, the front man of the Indie Rock group, Bon Iver.

Relatively speaking, McKinny is one of the younger members of the band. But he says that has nothing to do with the group’s constant change and experimentation.

“You know, the Blind Boys, we’ve always been the kind of group that always tries to move and do bigger and better things,” said McKinny. “We try to reach people in all walks of life and all ages. So, it was just a great opportunity to work with him.”

Vernon produced the Blind Boy’s latest record “ I’ll Find A Way” but he also sang with the group on one track, called “Every Grain of Sand.”

As for the performance Saturday, Rickey McKinney says it’s a must- see.

“If you miss the program tomorrow night, you’re going to miss something. If you’re feeling bad, we’re going to make you feel glad. So don’t miss it, because the boys are back in town.”

The Heart: Local Talent

Of course, people don’t just come Bragg Jam to see the headliners. A lot of great local talent plays that night, making up much of the heart and soul of the festival. Among this year’s local bands are the Macon-born and bred indie pop group, the sunDollars.

Patrick McAfee (left) and Jacob Bruner (right) with The sunDollars. Photo Credit: Grant Blankenship

The sunDollar’s self- titled EP is summery, but don’t imagine a Beach Boys idyllic summer. Think more of a dreamy, delirious summer.

“I think, as far as the dreaminess goes, a lot of stuff I write personally has to with dreams,” said band member Patrick McAfee. “But I just feel like it’s an easier space to work in. It just unlimits you to reality.”

One stand-out element of the sunDollars is the vocals: all four band members sing. And the arrangements are layered and extraordinarily complex.

“It’s a fairly simply process. We just strip all the music down. One person would be playing a chord or a sequence of chords and we’ll all sing around it,” said band member Jacob Bruner. “It doesn’t really take us that long. Just hanging out, group singing.”

If there’s one group this year that knows about complexity, it’s JuBee and The Morning After—
a Georgia grown indie rap-rock act that gained national exposure performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2011.

The group’s music is sometimes defined as “hipster hop”, and they are almost Macon to the core.

Dwayne "JuBee" Webb, the front man singer and rapper, is originally from Brooklyn, but he’s lived in Aiken, South Carolina, Augusta, Georgia, and Macon.

Danny "The Captain" Davis, the group’s backup singer and bass player who wears a sailor’s cap, was born in Macon, right in the Coliseum Medical Center.

Of course, the union of rappers with rock bands isn’t new. But previous fusions have resulted in aesthetic crimes against humanity, ranging from Limp Bizkit to the time Ja Rule made a song with Metallica.

And then, there are the better rap-rock experiences, like The Roots.

So, why does the fusion of rock and hip hop work so well with JuBee and The Morning After? The reason, says Davis, is because their sound is authentic.

GPB's Adam Ragusea ( far left) interviews "The Captain" Danny Davis (right) and Dwayne "JuBee" Webb (far right) of Jubee and the Morning After. Photo Credit: Grant Blankenship

“I think a lot of the really terrible rap, rock that’s come out has been because they’re trying too hard to embody whatever is popular in the culture at the time. Especially the Limp Bizkit thing. That was very forced. It was all about the Adidas flipped backward cap culture,” said David. “And we’ve always stayed kind of true to what we like. We write music that’s very influenced by 70s and 60s soul and funk and jazz music. And because we kind of stay true to what we like. We feel like our product is genuine. “

The group prides itself on its Southern origins. But in terms of how Southern they actually sound, that, Webb says, depends on the day of the week.

“Yeah, it’s very true. We’ve written some music that is real swampy. And we’re fine with that,” said Davis. “We knew where we come from. This is Allman brother’s territory. We can throw in some really Southern rock rifts too if we need to.”

In fact, don’t be surprised if you hear a James Brown reference now and then. Webb lives five minutes away from the James Brown mansion in Beech Allen, South Carolina.