Country music has been deeply impacted by the state of Georgia, and that talent was on full display during the 6th annual Georgia on My Mind concert on Wednesday (July 17).
Taking over the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the concert benefits the Georgia Music Foundation and is helmed by songwriting team Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip, known collectively as the Peach Pickers. The trio of Georgia natives, who’ve penned several of country music’s biggest hits by Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum and Akins’ superstar son Thomas Rhett, launched the event in 2014 and have raised more than $400,000 to support music education in their home state.
“All of the money goes straight back to outreach programs and giving back directly to kids that need music in their lives,” Davidson, a board member of the Georgia Music Foundation, tells Sounds Like Nashville. “When you buy a ticket, you know that your money’s going straight to somebody that’s going to appreciate it. It may be the difference maker in someone’s life.”
Attendees at the 2019 event witnessed how the money raised through the event benefits the students of Georgia with a performance by the Otis Redding Foundation’s DREAM Choir. A past grant recipient, the choir comprised of students 12- to 18-years-old delivered an effervescent cover of Lil Nas X’s massive hit “Old Town Road.” Blending country, soul and hip-hop accented by a piercing fiddle, the choir dazzled the Ryman with their strong voices and smooth choreography to match. Following in their footsteps, Lindsay Ell also stunned the crowd with a performance of her breakthrough hit “Criminal.” Acting as a one-woman band on electric guitar, Ell commanded the stage as she demonstrated the sharp guitar skills that make her one of the best players in Nashville, keeping the audience transfixed in between impressed cheers as she live-looped guitar licks. Moments after the crowd picked their jaws up off the floor from Ell’s display, Craig Campbell had the same effect, bringing a stoic hush over the Mother Church with a powerful acoustic performance of “Outskirts of Heaven” that culminated in a rousing standing ovation.
The pinnacle of the evening came from the pairing of legends new and established, Jamey Johnson and Songwriter Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson, the latter of whom was presented with the Flame Keeper Award for “preserving and promoting Georgia’s musical roots and traditions.” “I don’t know any award that would mean more to me,” Anderson said emotionally, acknowledging how in his storied six-decade career, “I’ve never forgotten where I came from.” The honest testament served as a poetic segue into a performance with Johnson of their duet “Everybody Wants to Be 21.” Citing Anderson as his longtime mentor, Johnson called himself a “proud student” of the “master songwriter” before launching into the CMA and ACM Award winning Song of the Year the two co-wrote with Buddy Cannon that’s also become one of George Strait’s beloved hits, “Give it Away.” Anderson singing the opening lines was enough to fire up the Ryman before Johnson took on the chorus, the crowd shouting the words back to him. But the Peach Pickers wouldn’t let Johnson depart without his harrowing rendition of Ray Charles’ classic “Georgia on My Mind.” Johnson turns the cinematic standard into a simmering blues number that he treats like a monologue, emphasizing the poignancy in each lyric. The performance was so captivating that the audience rewarded him with one of the many standing ovations of the evening.
In between sets by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, Michael Ray and surprise appearances from Cole Swindell and Riley Green, the Peach Pickers delivered two sets featuring 10 of the 70 hit songs written amongst them. Throughout the night, they proved why they’re three of the most sought-after songwriters in Music City, engaging the room with Shelton’s “All About Tonight” and “Honey Bee” and “Small Town Boy” by Dustin Lynch. And though fellow Georgian Bryan wasn’t physically present, the trio who helped write several of his career-defining hits made it feel like he was, lighting up the room with “Play it Again,” along with “What Makes You Country” and “Huntin,’ Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” faithfully carrying the torch for the state that not only built the foundation for their careers, but who they are as people.
“Georgia has given us all so much and inspired us in our lyrics, in our melodies, in our ideas, and everything about songwriting. That’s the first place that ever believed in me as a man, as a songwriter, before I ever came to Nashville,” Davidson humbly praises. “Georgia’s made me who I am.”