The Peach Pickers sure know how to pick their guests. Georgia-born songwriters Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip, who refer to themselves as The Peach Pickers, welcomed an all-star lineup of fellow composers and artists for Gretsch Presents the 5th Annual Georgia on My Mind benefit concert, June 26th, at the Ryman Auditorium. Chris Janson, John Berry, Randy Houser, surprise performer Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum, and other acts provided a number of uplifting tunes that had fans singing along to every familiar note. The concert benefited the Georgia Music Foundation.
The three hosts performed some of their songs that have become hits for other artists, including Blake Shelton’s “All About Tonight,” a collaboration by the trio of writers. A special highlight came early in the show when legendary songwriters Pat Alger and Tony Arata, who both hail from Georgia, were presented with the Georgia Music Foundation Flamekeeper Award. The honor is given to a Georgia artist who preserves and promotes the state’s musical heritage. In a touching moment, a special posthumous Flamekeeper Award was presented to Georgia native Daryle Singletary, who passed away earlier this year.
Singletary’s wife Holly and their twin sons Mercer and Jonah accepted on his behalf. Alger and Arata also took the stage to perform some of their best-known hits, with Alger leading off on his rendition of Hal Ketchum’s “Small Town Saturday Night.” Arata performed the iconic song he wrote for Garth Brooks, “The Dance,” as a hush fell over the large crowd. Following the two writers, Jamey Johnson drew a loud ovation for his take on Johnny Paycheck’s poignant “Old Violin.”
There were singalong moments galore throughout the show, beginning with Sugarland member Kristian Bush soloing on the group’s debut smash “Baby Girl.” The always-energetic Chris Janson had the crowd bopping to “Buy Me a Boat,” then displayed his frenetic harmonica-playing style on “Redneck Life,” working both sides of the stage and punching the air on the key lines, “I didn’t choose the redneck life/The redneck life chose me.”
Janson is the proverbial tough act to follow, but Michael Ray was up to the job. “I’m so grateful to be part of this night,” Ray noted before a powerful performance of his tune, “Her World or Mine.” Georgia native John Berry got everyone in singalong mode on “Your Love Amazes Me,” featuring soulful backing vocals by his wife Robin.
Dustin Lynch, who’s on the veritable roll these days, chose “Small Town Boy” for his selection. Appropriately for the evening, Lynch’s No. 1 hit was co-written by Peach Pickers Akins and Hayslip, along with Kyle Fishman.
Every concert needs a show-stopper, and surprise guest Kelley delivered. He told the crowd that “the biggest influence on me vocally” was Gregg Allman, the gritty lead voice behind the Allman Brothers. He brought out the entire show cast and exhorted, “Let’s make this a big old party,” before lighting into the Allmans’ classic “Midnight Rider.” Jamey Johnson and Dallas Davidson each took a chorus vocal along with Kelley, as fans rose out of the Ryman pews, singing and swaying to the timeless lyrics.
Johnson again took center stage for “Georgia on My Mind,” backed by Randy Houser on vocals and guitar. It was just one of the many highlights of a remarkable and well-paced show.
The big winner for the evening was certainly the Georgia Music Foundation. Sponsors Fred and Diana Gretsch presented a check for $50,000 to the Foundation, which will be used for grants to cultural and music programs throughout the state. The Foundation, established in 1994, has distributed more than $300,000 in funding music education and outreach programs in the past four years from “Georgia on My Mind” proceeds.