There are a lot of things I have come to expect from Rock Fore! Dough.
I expect a professional and polished production. I expect an enthusiastic and primarily local audience singing along to a country crooner’s latest hit. I expect to see people I know and perhaps some new introductions made.
I, of course, expect Darius Rucker. What I don’t expect is surprises. So imagine my surprise when surprises were offered and gleefully received.
There were no expectations that local product Charles Kelley would deviate from an established set, much less offer a sibling the opportunity to set aside the country vibe in favor of a Led Zep tribute. But that happened. I certainly did not expect Rucker to open his stage to all assembled acts, turning a Hootie & the Blowfish song into a raucous sing-along. But he did.
For the first time in more years than I care to admit, Rock Fore! Dough surprised me and, in retrospect, perhaps I shouldn’t be all that surprised.
In recent years, Augusta has been quietly building a brand among musicians – both local and visiting. It’s a place to play, both literally and metaphorically. Augusta is becoming known as a place where audiences are willing to accept – and are even excited by – the idea of collaborations and unexpected choices.
Rock Fore! Dough certainly isn’t the only recent example of this phenomenon. A few nights later, the Major Rager featured a covers-only set by Umphrey’s McGee that saw wild thematic swings and lots of room for guest players.
On May 3, James Brown’s birthday will be celebrated with a show built on a foundation of guest players and collaborations at James Brown Arena.
So why is this happening?
Can we find a Patient Zero for this welcome epidemic of Augusta’s musical matchmaking? I think so. I place the blame squarely on the fairly funky shoulders of our own Sharon Jones.
It’s no secret that when our Ms. Jones relocated from New York to the Augusta area, she meant to do more than put a novel new roof over her head. She quickly became part of the community, showing up at the occasional show and befriending local talent and tastemakers. Soon that relationship with the city evolved as she started taking the stage with local acts, often busting out a rousing rendition of a James Brown tune. Soon, she was appearing with touring acts in town as well.
It occurs to me that this makes it sound like Jones was jumping on any available stage. That’s not true and I think it’s because she understands that less is more. She chooses moments judiciously, ensuring that each one is special and means something for her, the other musicians on stage and the audience.
It remains to be seen whether this new collaborative proclivity is a flash in the pan or becomes a permanent part of Augusta’s allure. My hope is the latter and I feel fairly certain I am not alone.
After all, everyone loves a surprise.