From left, fans react as Lynyrd Skynyrd takes the FlintCo Throwdown Stage Saturday night during the Georgia Throwdown.
ALBANY — Working hours on end with precious little sleep — always with a hard deadline staring them square in the eyes — the crew that brought Albany and Southwest Georgia the Georgia Throwdown last weekend did what so many said couldn’t be done: They pulled off, and successfully so, a three-day music and arts festival that was unlike anything this region had seen before.
Before the books are closed on the Throwdown, it’s worth sending out one more round of accolades to Sam Shugart, Bo Henry, Evan Barber, Justin Andrews, Jeb Tabb, Cowboy Mike, Huka Dan, sponsors like Flintco, Phoebe, Fox 31 and J&B Irrigation — a special shout-out to the lovely Harvest Moon, Catch and Henry Campbell bartenders as well — and all the others who made the three days unforgettable for thousands of music fans.
A quick look back:
— How many long-time music fans who’ve always loved all those old Skynyrd songs of days gone by — “That Smell,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Gimme Back My Bullets,” “Simple Man,” “Saturday Night Special” — had forgotten how freaking amazing those songs are? To be reminded so dramatically — with guitars blazing and U.S. and Rebel flags proudly waving — by the band was a music highlight that made its way into many fans’ Top 10 all-time favorites. “Sweet Home Alabama” as a set closer and a mind-blowing “Free Bird” as an encore left fans all but speechless. As one new friend said after the set, “Dude, it was worth $85 just to see them play those two songs.”
— One of the coolest, most absolutely amazing, highlights of the festival was seeing the look of joy on 15-year-old Sabrina Harris’ face Saturday after she — at her first-ever concert — caught a drumstick tossed by Skynyrd’s Michael Cartellone. As her mom, Vicki, said, “She’s really got the bug bad now.”
— If you live anywhere in Southwest Georgia or go to a southern college and have the remotest interest in music, you’ve heard the Bo Henry Band play. I’ve seen and heard Bo and the boys perform dozens of times, but never have I seen them better than they were Saturday after “opening act” Skynyrd. Their originals took on added significance live, and their covers of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and the Doors’ “L.A. Woman” were superb.
— Several local acts, some that had been around for a while, others that are just charging out of the gate, won new fans with their performances at the Throwdown. Among the bands who were singled out by various attendees: Another Alien Astronaut, Hwy 55, Evan Barber & the Dead Gamblers, Col. Bruce Hampton (the guy in the full-length brown dress was amazing), Messendger, Cole Taylor, Unbreakable Bloodline, Relapse (people were digging the updated set list), The Deadfields, Abi Permenter (a certain former state senator and his wife were impressed with AMP), Colby Dee and the band with the best name at the festival, Meow Kapow.
— Trying to rate the acts into any semblence of a Top 10 would, first, be unfair because it was impossible to see all of them perform. But still some of the best moments were Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home” and “Free Bird” (see above), the amazing high-energy performance of Big & Rich (who knew they were that great?), Drive-By Truckers (guilty pleasure of the festival: their song “Buttholeville”), drivin n cryin’s “Honeysuckle Blue,” with “Fly Me Courageous” and “Straight to Hell” close behind ... and, yes, those are their hits, but hearing them live was like welcoming old friends.
— Other favorites: Col. Bruce and his amazing band, Corey Smith’s “Twenty-one,” Randy Houser’s bar-room country, the growth Cole Taylor has shown as a performer, AAA’s Jon Gosa-penned “tripping song” in which the talented singer channels FDR, the amazing love their “redneck fans” have for Baxley, Ga.’s (ahhh, God’s country) The Lacs.
— The food — from the Savory Sisters’ amazing Cajun cuisine to the Volkswagen-grilled ribs and barbecue at Raymond Barlow’s Do Wop Cafe — kept the music lovers full and happy.
— Colt Ford taking over drumming duties and ceding the spotlight. The former golf pro won a lot of new music fans with his entertaining set.
— But, maybe the best news of the weekend: Shugart’s “absolutely 100 percent sure” guarantee that there would be a Throwdown II. As the man who masterminded a reality that so many said was only a dream succinctly put it: “This is only the beginning.”