Music, politics collide to encourage voting in Georgia Senate runoffs

Foo Fighters, who performed in Atlanta in 2018, are part of the Dec. 26 "Georgia Comes Alive" virtual concert. Robb Cohen/For the AJC
Foo Fighters, who performed in Atlanta in 2018, are part of the Dec. 26 "Georgia Comes Alive" virtual concert. Robb Cohen/For the AJC

Credit: Robb Cohen for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Artists use their creativity and influence to engage state’s electorate.

The intersection of music and politics isn’t uncommon, and in an election year with a blisteringly partisan divide, representatives from the arts community are actively utilizing their public platform.

With the U.S. Senate runoff election on Jan. 5 turning Georgia into a national flashpoint, the focus among artists has been to urge residents to return to the polls — sometimes via their art and other times through their presence.

2 Chainz has partnered with HeadCount to encourage voting; hip-hop activist Common visited Brunswick last week to discuss civic engagement at the Boys & Girls Club’s Elizabeth Correll Teen Center; and earlier this month, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Pearl Jam teamed up for a virtual fundraiser to benefit the Latino Victory Project, Latino Community Fund of Georgia and The Hispanic Federation; and Kathleen Bertrand created a video for “My Vote is My Voice” with Tres Gilbert and Kenny Banks Sr.

Two of the most ambitious missions are “Georgia Comes Alive,” a virtual concert festival headlined by major names, including Dave Matthews, Diplo and the Foo Fighters; and Broadway for Georgia, a collective of more than 60 stage and music stars such as “Hamilton” icon Miranda, Audra McDonald, Idina Menzel, Bernadette Peters and Ben Platt.

The “Georgia Comes Alive” event, which takes place 3 p.m. Saturday on georgiacomesalive.com, will support local grassroots organizations including Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and CivicGeorgia. A donation of any amount will prompt an email with details about viewing the livestream.

Dave Matthews, shown performing in Atlanta, will headline the "Georgia Comes Alive" virtual concert. Robb Cohen/For the AJC
Dave Matthews, shown performing in Atlanta, will headline the "Georgia Comes Alive" virtual concert. Robb Cohen/For the AJC

Credit: Robb Cohen for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Spearheaded by 33-year-old Kunj Shah, the founder of media, marketing, and production company Live for Live Music, the concert follows a series of several other online gatherings organized by Shah and his team that mesh music with social consciousness.

In the heat of the summer of social unrest, they produced “Justice Comes Alive,” which encouraged conversation about racial inequality along with performances from Bobby Rush, John Scofield, G. Love and dozens of other artists. October brought “Democracy Comes Alive” to encourage voter participation and offer music from Bruce Hornsby, Dawes and Umphrey’s McGee among the lineup.

Shah thought he’d take a break after the presidential election, but a few weeks ago, he was inspired to talk with HeadCount’s Andy Bernstein, as well as Paul Peck, who helped launch the music festival Bonnaroo, and Don Strasburg from AEG Live, about assembling a voter-focused push for the Georgia Senate runoffs.

“I’m not saying you should vote for one candidate or another — just get involved,” Shah said. “(Politicians) are going to realize that people are paying attention to policy, what they’re voting on, what bills are being put forth and voted on or not. That’s why Georgia is so important. If we bring a national audience to this (event), people will realize that (democracy) happens everywhere, and it happens every year on a local level. During the ‘Justice’ and ‘Democracy’ concerts, we talked a lot about getting to know your local council people, who is on your mayor’s staff, even saying, watch these meetings on Zoom right now.”

Musician Chuck Leavell is participating in "Georgia Comes Alive." Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com
Musician Chuck Leavell is participating in "Georgia Comes Alive." Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Several Georgia-rooted artists have also signed on to participate in “Georgia Comes Alive,” including Mike Mills from R.E.M., Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, Chuck Leavell, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Futurebirds, Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers and Grouplove. Among the 50 other acts are Portugal. The Man, Ben Folds, Big Freedia, The Allman Betts Band, Phil Lesh & Friends and Lame Duck, a supergroup of Bob Weir, Jeff Chimenti, Jay Lane and Schools, which will make its debut during the virtual show.

“This event has gained so much momentum since its initial announcement,” Shah said. “Artists have been reaching out from all over the musical spectrum asking to join the efforts in Georgia to turn out the vote.”

A similar ambition is the engine behind Broadway for Georgia and their lush rendition of “Georgia on My Mind,” the Hoagy Carmichael classic made legendary by Albany native Ray Charles.

Seth Rudetsky and husband James Wesley, who, among their numerous Broadway bona fides, conceived the all-star Broadway for Orlando recording of “What the World Needs Now Is Love” to support victims of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. (Rudetsky is also the afternoon host on SiriusXM’s Broadway channel, and Wesley created the You Gotta Believe “Voices for the Voiceless” annual concert.)

More than 60 Broadway singers participated in "Broadway for Georgia," a performance of "Georgia on My Mind" to raise money for Fair Fight.
More than 60 Broadway singers participated in "Broadway for Georgia," a performance of "Georgia on My Mind" to raise money for Fair Fight.

Credit: Courtesy

Credit: Courtesy

Their initial idea was to stage a Broadway for Georgia concert the first week of December in an amphitheater parking lot — similar to the shows this fall from the Indigo Girls and Jason Isbell. But fears of it becoming a superspreader event caused them to pivot online, and with the help of their “liaison,” Audra McDonald, an advocate for Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, the concept for an all-star singalong to support the organization gelled.

“We were going to do ‘What the World Needs Now…,’ but then the idea popped up for ‘Georgia on My Mind.’ Audra, Seth and I started emailing everyone to ask if they could do it. Seth texted Lin-Manuel, who was finishing filming ‘Tick Tick…Boom!’ and Jeremy Jordan recorded his when he got to Malta,” Wesley said.

The turnaround was quick — the trio emailed potential participants the day after Thanksgiving and asked them to record their solo portion and the four bars around it and send in the recordings the following day.

“Once we had the framework, we plugged in the singers. Everyone came up with their own way to sing it. Every artist added their own sassafras to it,” Rudetsky said.

The song is available for download for $1.99 via broadwayrecords.com as well as the usual digital music platforms.

Singer and actress Audra McDonald was an integral part of getting Broadway for Georgia together. Courtesy of Autumn de Wilde
Singer and actress Audra McDonald was an integral part of getting Broadway for Georgia together. Courtesy of Autumn de Wilde

Credit: Autumn de Wilde

Credit: Autumn de Wilde

Those who watch the video closely (on YouTube) might notice some deliberate placements.

“The lyric ‘the road leads back to you,’ we knew we had these amazing Black singers — Adrienne Warren, Audra, Vanessa Williams — and wanted to show them ‘leading’ to one groundbreaker to another,” Rudetsky said.

As well, “This Is Us” stars Chris Sullivan and Susan Kelechi Watson follow each other, and familiar voices from “Hamilton” — Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo — were also grouped together. Wesley said Augusta native Danielle Brooks, who was filming in Canada, wanted to be first in the video because “being from Georgia, it was so important to her.”

Listeners are also treated to an especially fervent Billy Porter — “He’s such a genius,” Wesley said — and some lighthearted ad-libbing from Rosie Perez.

“It’s been really nice that people have been writing to us that they’ve had the song on repeat and how good it makes them feel and that it’s relieved some of the stress and anxiety that we thought would be over on Nov. 3,” Wesley said. “‘Georgia on My Mind’ is also a subtle reminder to get out and do your civic duty.”

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