A Night of Georgia Music

From left, Ward Stare, Robert McDuffie, Chuck Leavell and Mike Mills stand on stage following a performance of "A Night of Georgia Music."

Credit: Courtesy of A Night of Georgia Music

About six years ago, R.E.M. founding member and Macon, Georgia native Mike Mills went to dinner with his friend and fellow musician Robert McDuffie.

McDuffie, a renowned classical violinist, asked Mills if he would like to write a concerto. Mills wondered if he could pull it off. He says he felt a whirlwind of emotions.

"It was a combination of extreme terror, extreme excitement, and a little bit of wonderment," Mills said.

That first conversation with McDuffie led to Mills' Concerto for Violin, Rock Band, and String Orchestra and a 2016 tour.  

Later, Mills collaborated with McDuffie and Chuck Leavell, former keyboard player for The Allman Brothers Band and current touring keyboardist and musical director for The Rolling Stones, to create A Night of Georgia Music, a concert production that incorporated elements from the Concerto as well as reimagined versions of popular songs with Georgia roots such as "Georgia On My Mind" by Ray Charles and "Rainy Night in Georgia" by Brook Benton. That tour traveled to music venues across Georgia in 2019. 

This March after two years of pandemic, the players reconvened at Macon’s historic Grand Opera House and Capricorn Sound Studios to record a performance of A Night of Georgia Music for TV. 

The resulting 60-minute special, conducted by Ward Stare and arranged by David Mallamud, features string orchestra and rock band versions of  "Hey Ya" by Outkast, the Allman Brothers Band's "One Way Out" and "Jessica," "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. and other hits performed by Mills, McDuffie, Leavell and students from Mercer University’s Robert McDuffie Center for Strings. 

Many of the songs in the setlist were originally written or performed by Georgians, but no single element defines a song as a "Georgia" song, Mills said, "except that it will be good. That is the thing you can usually count on.”

A Night of Georgia Music premieres Monday, July 4, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. on GPB TV.