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11th Hour Editorial: Making a Scene in Macon?

For the 11th Hour.

An interesting panel discussion that happened as part of South By Southwest several years ago focused on one question – can a music scene be created by sheer force of will? Can it be grasped from the proverbial primordial ooze, rolled and shaped until fully formed, slapped on the ass and successfully set into motion?

The answer, obvious to anyone with an iota of sense, is a resounding no. Music scenes grow organically over time and require curation and cultivation from a diverse group of invested individuals. Looking back at their development, they are not composed not of Big Man with Big Gun in Big War historical moments. Rather, they are postmodernist creations, their stories full of people who historian Joan Appleby calls the ambiguous “us,” the “hidden organizers of consciousness… the ordinary and unthinking users of those discourses of everyday life.”

The moderators and participants in the SXSW discussion, composed of leaders in the live music industry from across the country, realized this, but, undeterred, they set out on a Foucault-ian sifting through of their collective pasts hoping that the journey, as the old adage suggests, might contain the answers in and of itself. Following their discussion, a few themes presented themselves; components that all successful scenes have in common became clear. First, two distinct kinds of people as kindling: “hands-on owners that care about the music” and “a group of musicians who are open to influencing and encouraging each other.” And the spark: “a scene can be developed when a single venue in any town fosters a group of musicians, encourages experimentation and collaboration, and provides a physical social environment.” Caitlin Curran, writing for the Atlantic shortly after that year’s SXSW festival, echoes the sentiment and more clearly defines the scope of that “physical social environment,” finding that scenes “revolve largely around the locally-owned, mid-size venues that foster them” (italics mine).

So what does all that mean for Macon’s fledgling music scene? First and foremost, a venue is needed that can properly and professionally play host to mid-level bands making their living through relentlessly touring the majority of the year. It must be a principally be a venue, where the musical experience is first and foremost, not a bar that offers background noise, a gallery that presents ultimately ignored ‘entertainment’ or a restaurant that sits musicians in a corner as a half-assed afterthought. All of those efforts can be seen as a step in the right direction, but in order for a scene to really take off and flourish, a venue that is dedicated to booking and supporting mid-level acts and more importantly, an audience that actively supports this type of music experience is needed. Yes, there are live music options in this town. But there is definitely room to do better.

The past cannot be prologue at this venue, at least not exclusively. It’s readily apparent that the nostalgia circuit is alive and well in town. Those shows do well and should obviously continue, but the bands populating this theoretical mid-sized venue must be innovative and progressive to stimulate a scene. It must have “hands-on owners that care about the music.” Those owners have to be willing to encourage and welcome the kind of collaboration and experimentation from locals and touring acts the makes a scene vibrant and unique. The paragon of the ‘hands-on owner” must be extended to a hands-on community that actively cares and supports a scene.

So what can you do? Become part of the unknowing “us;” participate in the discourse that is happening; go to a show on a Tuesday, even if you’ve never heard of the bands on the bill; pay real money for a tangible product created by a local artist or mid-level band that’s traveling through town; put a concerted effort into supporting seemingly inconsequential events; don’t try to talk over the band while you’re there. As more of the populace does those things, the scene will organically grow, and those venues will come. Hell, down the road, you might be able to look back and see yourself as a small part of making something bigger happen. Don’t miss out.