Before we get too much into the new year let’s take a look back at some local entertainment-related highlights of 2019:
The contracted management company of James Brown Arena decided to change the sign with James Brown’s name on it without going through the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority which has final say-so over the arena and Bell Auditorium.
Bet that won’t happen again after the public outburst over JB’s name not being on the new sign. Brown’s name was restored with promises for even better tributes to “Soul Brother No. 1” inside and outside the arena to be forthcoming.
Compliments, of course, go to Deanna Brown-Thomas and the Brown Family Foundation for keeping JB’s legacy alive with their generous and well-organized annual turkey and toy donations to deserving local residents.
Those good-intentioned arts professionals behind the selection of a very expensive, tax-funded sculpture to welcome visitors to the city of Augusta at Riverwatch Parkway and I-20 also got a big surprise from the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to the two modern-art choices supposedly narrowed down.
Commissioner John Clarke’s assessment of a chrome-looking twisted “finalist” was, “Rick’s Paint and Body Shop can build better sculptures out of wrecked fenders.” So, it was back to the drawing board seeking designs that better represent the city.
Eryn Eubanks, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, was named the Greater Augusta Arts Council’s 2019 Individual Artist of the Year.
Other awards presented were President’s Award, The City of Augusta; Arts Professional, Gary Dennis, executive director, Jessye Norman School of the Arts; Volunteer, Michael Sleeper, logistics lead, GAAC’s Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival; Sponsor, Bank of America; Kath Girdler-Engler Award for Public Art, Piano Project Forte (outdoor pianos) by the Jessye Norman School of the Arts.
NEW VENUES IN THE WORKS
The $32 million, 2,100-seat Columbia County Performing Arts Center began construction at Evans Towne Center as did the $2 million, 600-seat riverfront amphitheater in North Augusta.
Both are to open in 2020. Many supporters in North Augusta are advocating the amphitheater be named for world-famous entertainer Sharon Jones who lived the last five years of her life just a few blocks away on Jackson Avenue. The only two public places in North Augusta now named for a woman are Maude Edenfield Park and the Nancy Carson Library.
And that would lead to widespread media attention for the city with a big-screen movie now in development with a major Oscar-winning star planning to portray Jones who died in November 2016 from pancreatic cancer.
SUCCESSFUL FESTIVALS AND SERIES
Fans continue to keep alive many great festivals and music series that make the Augusta area such a musical destination for residents and visitors.
They include the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson, Papa Joe’s Banjo-B-Que (which moved in 2019 to Lake Olmstead Stadium), Morris Museum of Art’s Budweiser Southern Soul & Song series at the Imperial Theatre, Augusta Amusements Inc.’s series at the Hardin Auditorium in Evans, Little Roy & Lizzy Long’s Music Festival near Lincolnton, Ga.; Jeff & Sheri Easter’s Gospel Music Festival also near Lincolnton as well as music series at USC Aiken and in Waynesboro, Ga., and Edgefield, S.C.
Despite its popularity, the Aiken Bluegrass Festival, which marked its 15th year in May, in December announced it will take a “brief pause“ in 2020.
“We have given 15 years of our heart and soul, sweat and tears to this festival and it will not be going away! We are simply taking a brief pause so that we may return with a better experience for all of our patrons and artists,” festival organizers posted on social media.
LOCAL ENTERTAINMENT LOSSES
There were several deaths of entertainment-related personalities with local connections in 2019, including: Steve Brantley, guitarist who also sang backup on hit recordings of artists like Barbara Mandrell and Ronnie Milsap;
world-famous opera star Jessye Norman, legendary for her Metropolitan Opera roles;
Steve Ferguson, WTHO and WMTZ announcer and drummer for the Southern Comfort band which was based at Horne’s Motor Lodge; and
Zack Taylor, traffic reporter for WJBF and radio personality for WKXC.
Two widely-known history experts who died within days of each other in December were Sarah Montgomery, charter member of the Augusta Genealogical Society, and Tom Sutherland, retired U.S. Army officer who worked for several libraries and was president of the South Carolina Library Association and the Richmond County Historical Society.
OTHER COUNTRY MUSIC LOSSES
Shirley Foley Boone, daughter of country legend Red Foley, mother of pop singer Debby Boone, wife of 65 years of Pat Boone, 84, Jan. 11; Harold Bradley, producer and session guitarist of many hits and brother of Patsy Cline’s producer Owen Bradley, 93, Jan. 31; Earl Thomas Conley, “Holding Her and Loving You,” 77, April 10; Ray Deaton, co-founder bluegrass group IIIrd Tyme Out, 66, June 4.
Also Fred Foster, producer of scores of hit recordings by Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, etc. and by our own Okefenokee Joe (Dick Flood), 87, Feb. 20; Donnie Fritts, keyboardist for Kris Kristofferson’s band and writer of songs like “You’re Gonna Love Yourself In the Morning,” 76, Aug. 27; Jim Glaser, 81, April 6, and his brother, Chuck Glaser, 83, June 10 (their third brother, Tompall, one of RCA’s “Outlaws” died in 2013).
Also Jerry Goff of Southern gospel groups The Singing Goffs, The Thrasher Brothers and The LeFevres, 84, July 12; Glen Martin, native of Cumming, Ga., and writer of hits like Charley Pride’s “Is Anybody Going To San Antone” and “I’m Just Me,” 86, May 12; Maxine Brown Russell, part of the trio The Browns with brother Jim Ed and sister Bonnie, 87, Jan. 21; Sanger “Whitey” Shafer, writer of George Strait hits like “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” 84, Jan. 12.
Also Russell Smith of Amazing Rhythm Aces, 70, July 12; bluegrass and country legend Mac Wiseman, 93, Feb. 24; Reggie Young, legendary session guitarist on hits like Elvis Presley’s “In The Ghetto” and Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” 82, Jan. 17.