From left, Sam Shugart conducts Friday’s news conference at Threeforty Creative Group with Justin Andrews and Bo Henry announcing who will be performing at the Georgia Throwdown scheduled Oct. 12-14 at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds.
ALBANY Negotiations with major "national headliners" are still ongoing, but Sam Shugart knew it was time to "let the people know we are going to do this."
So Friday afternoon Shugart and members of his core team announced the first group of performers signed to play at the SOWEGA Music and Arts Festival Georgia Throwdown at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds Oct. 12-14.
Heading the initial list of performers are alternative/Southern rock favorites Drive-By Truckers, touring in support of their 11th album, "Go-Go Boots," and perhaps the hottest one-two songwriting team in Nashville: Albany's Dallas Davidson and Valdosta's Rhett Akins, who perform together as the Peach Pickers. The pair are reigning co-BMI Country Songwriters of the Year.
Also joining those stars on the bill are Georgia-born artists Corey Smith, Colt Ford and Easton Corbin, as well as Southern jam band favorite Col. Bruce Hampton.
"Hiring national acts the likes of ZZ Top or Lynyrd Skynyrd is complicated," Shugart said. "We went after those acts hard — put a lot of time and effort into negotiations — but things just didn't work out. Still, some people are starting to get a little antsy and question us a little bit, so we wanted to go ahead and release the names of bands that we've booked, that we've got contracts in hand.
"We plan to sign 100 bands for the three days, so this list of about 20 bands is just the first. We'll lock down several more headline-type bands in the next few days and get their names out there, too."
Also booked to perform at the Throwdown are local and regional acts Cole Taylor, Evan Barber & the Dead Gamblers, Another Alien Astronaut, the Evergreen Family Band, the Bo Henry Band, Relapse, the Marty Evans Band, Rhyal Knight, the Tony Brooks Band, Caylee Anna and the J Blues Band.
Shugart also announced ticket prices for the festival: $45 for individual day passes and $85 for weekend passes purchased online at either www.ticketalternative.com or at www.georgiathrowdown.com.
"The folks in Nashville told us we were crazy, that this was a $150-a-ticket festival already," Shugart said. "They said we were going to be leaving money on the table. But this is not about trying to squeeze every dime we can.
"We're in the middle of a recession, and as a small businessperson I know what that's like. Obviously we have to recoup a lot of money we're putting out to bring these artists here, but we feel that we'll be able to do that even putting on the show at half its market value. The key for us this year is to prove ourselves."
Formed in 1996 by group mainstays Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, Drive-By Truckers are being equally embraced by fans of the Grateful Dead and classic Southern rockers like Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. Their most acclaimed works are 2001's "Southern Rock Opera" and 2004's "The Dirty South," while 2008's "Brighter Than Creation's Dark" was their highest-charting work.
"Go-Go Boots" is drawing rave reviews from critics for capturing the spirit of the Truckers' live show, which is one of the most acclaimed in music today.
Davidson and Akins — the Peach Pickers minus Ben Hayslip — are best-known as two of Nashville's best in an impressive list of Georgia-based songwriters, and when they perform they have plenty of classic music to choose from. Davidson has written three of his 16 No. 1 songs for Southwest Georgia running buddy Luke Bryan ("I Don't Want This Night to End," "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" and "Rain Is a Good Thing"), and such artists as Lady Antebellum ("Just a Kiss") and Brooks & Dunn ("Put a Girl in It") have also climbed to the top of the country charts with Davidson-penned tunes.
Davidson is the ACM Songwriter of the Year, and he and Akins ("Honey Bee" by Blake Shelton and "The Shape I'm In" by Joe Nichols) share the BMI award.
Barber, who with business partner Justin Andrews and fellow musicians Bo Henry and Jeb Tabb has been working with Shugart to bring musical acts to the Throwdown, said the slow process of booking musicians is frustrating. But he said the festival's allure will grow with each new artist announcement.
"I guarantee you, there are some really big names we're still talking to, that we're close (to signing)," Barber said. "There's a reluctance among some acts because we're a first-time festival, even with us offering to pay 100 percent of their cost up front. But I think the contacts in the business Bo and I have made by playing and also booking bands is helping in that respect. And having Dallas on board doesn't hurt, either.
"The key for us is to do well this year. If we make everyone — the bands and the audience — happy, this thing's going to spread like wildfire."
Henry said getting off to a "late start" has slowed progress on the festival, but he said now that artists are being signed and tickets are on sale, things will pick up quickly.
"We've got people like Sam, Evan, Justin and Jeb who are working day and night to make things happen, and then you bring people on board the caliber of Cynthia George and things really start happening," Henry said. "Now that we've signed this first group of bands and plan to have the rest locked down in another week or so, we can start focusing on the details we've had to put on the back burner.
"Talking with people today (about the announcement), there are a lot of people who are excited. They want to see this happen in Southwest Georgia. We're doing this at a very reasonable price to establish our reputation because we're thinking beyond this year. This is the kind of thing we need in our community, and it's going to have something for everyone."
Chris Hayes, bassist with Another Alien Astronaut, said he and his bandmates are excited about the opportunity to play at the Throwdown.
"We really want to kick ass in front of our home crowd," Hayes said. "This could really be a game-changer for our band, and that's why we're floored — and very honored — to have this opportunity."
Shugart said more than half of the 338 RV sites being prepared on the festival grounds have already been grabbed up, but that free tent camping will be available with the purchase of a weekend pass. Vendor spaces and sponsorships are also available (www.340creativegroup.com), and VIP packages will be available soon with added perks.
Information is available at www.facebook.com/Sowegafest and at twitter@soweGAfest.