Rock collides with classical in 'A Night of Georgia Music' at Macon's Grand Opera House

"A Night of Georgia Music" will be performed at the Grand Opera House in Macon on March 5. (Courtesy of: Sacks & Co.)

Legends in music have poured out of the state of Georgia for decades, such as Ray Charles, Outkast, the Allman Brothers, James Brown and countless others. Three illustrious musicians with Georgia ties will perform Saturday at the Grand Opera House in Macon. Rock stars Mike Mills of REM, Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones and internationally acclaimed violinist Robert McDuffie will come together for “A Night of Georgia Music.” They’ll perform beloved Georgia classics along with an original collaborative rock-classical fusion concerto from Mills and McDuffie. The three musicians joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about the show’s concept and why they came together to honor Georgia musicians in this unique way.

Interview highlights:

A tribute to Georgia’s inspiring legacy of music:

“The South has always been known for storytelling, and music is one of the great ways that you can tell a story. Not just as a vehicle for words, but with the melodies and the music itself, you can create a mood and an environment and tell a story,” said Mills. “Why [Georgia has] so many great musicians is really hard to say. It’s just something about the state, the fact that we go from swamp to mountain, to beach, to pine barrens; it’s an incredibly diverse state with an incredible amount of history. And so there’s so much to draw on, for musicians to be inspired by so many different aspects of life.”

“It was when I was probably thirteen years old… and I’d seen a few live things, but I’d never seen anything like Ray Charles,” said Leavell. “Of course, Ray was amazing, but it wasn’t just Ray. It was the Raelettes; it was Fathead Newman on saxophone. Billy Preston was playing Hammond B3 at the time… and I just walked away, just profoundly affected by it. And I thought to myself if I could ever be in a band, not necessarily like that, but if I could ever be in a band that could move people the way that that moved me, that would be a pretty good goal to have. So I’m still hanging onto that.”

Mills and McDuffie’s “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra”:

“It helps me connect to a different culture, and we need to stay curious. And while certainly, I’ve learned so much from Mike and his musicianship and his work ethic and his fans, I think I had to have a glass of wine before I got the nerve up to ask him to do this,” said McDuffie. “I’ve been playing a lot of the standard – I call them the ‘dead white European male composers’ – I still love those guys, and…. I wanted to play another premiere of a great American composer, and so I went to Mike.”

“I thought, ‘Okay, well, that is certainly a challenge.’ There was a way to do something after REM’s disbandment that would certainly stretch any capabilities I may have had. But on a more macro level, both Bobby and I agree that while we are fans of classical music, it needs to bust out of some of the restrictions that it’s had, lo, these many years,” said Mills. “Classical music doesn’t have to be terrifying. It has a lot more in common with the music that you may like than you think.”

“I don’t want this to be an obsequious-fest here, but I’m telling you, playing with two icons, I’m telling you, usually ‘Oh, I’m playing with this icon or whatever,’ that means they can’t play anymore. These guys can still play. I mean, Chuck only has to practice two hours a day cause he’s already got the chops. I have to practice four hours to sound like Chuck,” said McDuffie.

“A Night of Georgia Music” takes place on March 5 at the Grand Opera House in Macon, Georgia. Tickets and information are available at