It’s no secret that the state of Georgia has produced some of the top singers and songwriters in all fields of music, particularly country. After all, Alan Jackson, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Kip Moore and more all hail from the Peach State. Last night (June 26), Georgia’s musical legacy was celebrated during Gretsch Presents the Fifth Annual Georgia on My Mind concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Proceeds went to benefit the Georgia Music Foundation, which supports music education and cultural enrichment programs in the state.
The event was hosted by the Peach Pickers, the songwriting triumvirate of Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip. Between the three of them, they’ve written more than 70 No. 1 hits including Bryan’s “Huntin’ Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day” and “Play it Again” and Blake Shelton’s “Honey Bee.” The trio launched the event to “have a little party, play a few songs, and raise some money for the Georgia Music Foundation” and now five years later have awarded almost $300,000 in music education grants.
This year’s event was emceed by Storme Warren and featured newcomers Travis Denning and Trea Landon, who introduced his new single “What Feeling Good Feels Like,” as well as hitmakers such as Chris Janson, Dustin Lynch, Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson, and John Berry, who is celebrating his 25th anniversary in country music this year.
Kristian Bush took the stage early in the evening and said he was going to sing a song written on a Tuesday night in Decatur, GA. The song was inspired by his hope that he’d one day be able to pay his parents back for all they had done to support his music career. He then sang “Baby Girl,” the hit single that launched his career with Sugarland.
The Peach Pickers took the stage for their first set with Hayslip, thanking the crowd for supporting such a good cause before they delivered the Shelton hits “It’s all About Tonight” and “Honey Bee.” Then Akins told the crowd they were about to sing a song inspired by the boots he was wearing, a pair he’d owned 10 years, and then they launched into the Jon Pardi hit “Dirt on My Boots” and followed with Bryan’s “Play it Again.”
Next up, the Peach Pickers welcomed songwriting legends Pat Alger and Tony Arata to the stage to accept their Flamekeeper Awards. “These guys are our songwriting heroes,” Hayslip told the audience. “They wrote the songs that inspired me to want to be a songwriter.” Alger sang “Small Town Saturday Night,” a hit for Hal Ketchum that was inspired by Alger’s youth in LaGrange, Ga. Arata sang “Otis, Johnny, James and Joe,” a salute to Georgia Music legends Otis Redding, Johnny Mercer, James Brown and Joe South. Alger followed by saying, “I want to close with a song I wrote with a kid from Oklahoma,” and launched into the Garth Brooks hit “The Thunder Rolls” as the audience sang alone. Arata finished the set with the classic he penned for Brooks “The Dance.”
Warren welcomed the Peach Pickers back to the stage and they introduced Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal who presented the late Daryle Singletary’s wife Holly and their two little boys with the Flamekeeper Award.
Though he isn’t from Georgia, Montgomery, AL native Jamey Johnson took the stage next and told the crowd how he had met Singletary in 1996 when he opened a show for him in Montgomery. When Singletary said he wanted to see Hank Williams Sr.’s grave, the two took a bottle of whiskey after the show and headed to the cemetery. Johnson showed the crowd a place on his guitar where he had accidentally banged it on Williams’ headstone. After sharing the story he sang an acoustic version of “Old Violin.”
Following a short intermission, the show continued with newly minted Grand Ole Opry member Chris Janson delivering the most energetic set of the evening with the one-two punch of “Buy Me a Boat” and “Redneck Life.” “Do you want to see a 135-lb skinny white boy play harmonica?” he asked and the crowd roared as he ripped through “Redneck.” He exited to a well-deserved standing ovation.
Armed with just his guitar Michael Ray took the stage next and thanked the Peach Pickers for letting a Florida boy join in. The Eustis, FL native sang a moving ballad “Her World or Mine” from his new album Amos. Next Warren introduced longtime friend John Berry who delivered a powerful performance of his enduring hit “Your Love Amazes Me” with his wife of 30 years Robin joining him on stage to sing harmony. What a moment!
Dustin Lynch, who hails from Tullahoma, TN, got in on the Georgia fun as he hit the stage to sing his hit “Small Town Boy,” which was written by Peach Pickers Akins and Hayslip. Next Randy Houser performed his new single, “Whiskey,” which releases this Friday.
The crowd went wild as Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley took the stage as a surprise guest. He called Houser, Johnson, the Peach Pickers and many of the night’s performers on stage to join him in honoring the late Gregg Allman, with a performance of “Midnight Rider.” The Peach Pickers had dedicated the concert to the memories of Col. Bruce Hampton, Allman and Singletary.
Next Johnson returned to the stage to perform a soulful rendition of “Georgia on My Mind,” accompanied by Houser on guitar, which earned a standing ovation. The Peach Pickers returned to the stage and the crowd went crazy as Akins delivered his 1995 hit “That Ain’t My Truck,” which he penned with Akins, Tom Shapiro and Chris Waters during his run as an artist on Decca Records.
The evening was presented by Gretsch, a 135-year-old music company now headquartered in Pooler, GA. CEO Fred Gretsch and his wife Dinah joined the Peach Pickers on stage to present a giant check for $50,000 to benefit the Georgia Music Foundation. It was a great night of music for a great cause and the fun concluded with the Peach Pickers delivering the final set. They had the crowd on its feet singing along as they sang the Jake Owen’s hit “Anywhere” and Bryan’s “Huntin’ Fishin’ Lovin’ Every Day.’ Hayslip joked that when they write for Luke they called themselves “The Peanut Pickers,” a reference to Bryan’s family roots in the peanut farming industry. They wrapped up the evening with Bryan’s “I Don’t Want This Night to End” and Shelton’s “Boys Round Here.” After such a great night of music, those in attendance will likely have Georgia music on their minds for weeks to come.