The state of Georgia has a long history of producing notable musicians. Ray Charles, Otis Redding, James Brown, OutKast, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean all hail from the Peach State. Last night (May 10), Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium celebrated Georgia music with the third annual Georgia On My Mind benefit concert hosted by the Peach Pickers, the Georgia-native songwriting trio of Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip.
The evening included Georgia born and bred musicians like Bryan, Craig Campbell, Billy Currington, Jordan Rager, Jon Langston, Trea Landon, Cole Taylor, Travis Denning and OutKast’s Big Boi as well as friends Tyler Farr, Lee Brice, Maggie Rose, Randy Houser and Mannie Fresh. Additionally, Otis Redding III and Dexter Redding, the sons of the late Otis Redding, were on hand for a powerful tribute to their father.
The two-and-a-half hour concert had the performers telling the stories behind their songs that were inspired by their home state. In an interview before the concert, the Peach Pickers, who together have amassed over 60 No. 1 songs on the country charts, explained how growing up in Georgia has allowed them to speak the same language when it comes to writing songs.
“I think our upbringings in south Georgia has really helped us click,” Hayslip tells Sounds Like Nashville. “Just being similar as a person. There is zero pressure when we’re together to write a song.”
While Davidson adds that he only writes with his friends, Rhett admits that their backgrounds help them understand one another.
“It’s hard to write with somebody from another state that wasn’t born and raised how you grew up,” Rhett concedes.
One special guest for the evening was Luke Bryan, who hails from Leesburg, Ga. After performing fan favorite “I Don’t Want This Night To End,” a No. 1 hit for the singer who co-wrote the song with the Peach Pickers, he told the story behind his current single, “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” also written with the songwriting trio.
“This next song is so special to me,” he said. “I’ve been hanging out with these guys, Dallas, Rhett and Ben for many years. They’ve always been so amazing to come out and support [me]. We’ve written some music that’s changed my life. When you look at ‘Dirt Road Diary,’ it told my story of who I am from Georgia. This next one we got to write on tour. It’s just a magical experience. This song tells the story of how all three of us grew up.”
Campbell, who formerly toured with Bryan as a keyboardist, grew up in Lyons, Ga. and explained how his upbringing in a Southern Baptist home inspired the story behind his latest single “Outskirts of Heaven.”
“When I wrote this song I had my hometown in mind,” he said prefacing the song, explaining that he doesn’t want to live downtown in heaven with pearly gates and streets of gold. Instead, he wants to live on the outskirts with dirt roads for miles and fishing in the river.
Campbell’s solo performance had the audience at the Mother Church of Country Music silent, captivated by his poignant lyrics and powerful vocals.
Highlights throughout the evening included Brice’s beautiful “I Don’t Dance,” which he co-wrote with Davidson for his wife, calling it the song that is “the most near and dear to me,” and an all-star tribute to Otis Redding. Redding’s sons, Otis Redding III and Dexter Redding, kicked off the tribute with a full band for a performance of “Hard to Handle” and “Try a Little Tenderness,” before Davidson joined in for a cover of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Houser performed the striking “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and Brice closed the tribute with “Stand By Me.”
In between the tribute to Redding, who would have been 75 years old this year, Davidson presented his family with the Flamekeeper Award, which is given by the Georgia Music Foundation to a person or family that works to keep Georgia music alive. Redding’s daughter, Karla, accepted the award on behalf of her family.
“We and the Georgia Music Foundation are so dedicated to the importance of music and arts in our schools,” she said. “My father wanted to make sure that kids knew the importance of an education. He was so committed to that, even in 1966 before his untimely death in 1967. Please know that everything we do — my brothers, my mom and I — we do in his honor. Thank you for loving him forever.”
While the evening highlighted some of Georgia’s best musical talent, it was only fitting that the concert end with a tribute to the state. Closing the evening, Currington lent his memorable vocals to the Ray Charles classic “Georgia On My Mind.” As he neared the edge of the stage and the audience sang along, one thing was certain: Georgia’s music history remains intact and only continues to grow as the Georgia On My Mind concert highlighted.