Pop Rocks: Entertainment standbys remain, new thrills await

Today I ran into my past and found a remarkable document that proves how far we have come.


When writing about arts and entertainment for The Augusta Chronicle was my full-time job, I wrote all my deadlines, story budgets and interview appointments in a day planner, the kind that put a single month on a two-page spread. I did this not out of some Luddite attraction to pen and paper, but because that, before the ubiquity of the smart phone, was the most accurate and reliable way to keep a busy writing and reporting schedule from imploding.

Also, it gave me a good place to doodle. I would fill the pages not only with things that required addressing on or before a certain date, but also all sorts of other ephemera – phone numbers, story ideas, possible sources and the like. And then, as the new year rolled around, I would stash them in a desk drawer, inexplicably keeping them for posterity.

When I left The Chronicle in 2010, I discarded enough material to fill the better part of a 55-gallon garbage can. But I kept the day planners, transferring them from my desk to my car to a bookshelf where, until recently, they remained untouched and unopened.

This week, feeling the need to connect in some way with what turned out to be one of the happiest and most rewarding periods of my life, I pulled down a few of those calendars and began thumbing through them, reading them as a roadmap of where I had been. I looked up stories written around my birthdays and the birth of my children. I found where the Applause publication day shifted from Friday to Thursday – an event that though probably momentous at the time, I barely remember today. I also looked at the events that were going on at this time – the first week in October – over the course of my career.

I discovered, that while some things remain unchanged – the Greek and Oliver Hardy festivals were, for instance, pretty ubiquitous. The rest of my stories were a mixed bag of community theater performances, some out-of-town attractions and events and the odd human interest profile clearly produced as off-week filler.

For the sake of argument, let us examine a single story budget – 2001, less than a month after 9/11. The main story appeared to be an appearance by Police Academy alumnus Michael Winslow at Bonkerz, the long-forgetten comedy club experiment at the old Holiday Inn on Stevens Creek Road. Other highlights included the aforementioned Greek and Oliver Hardy festivals, a story on acoustic music at First Friday and a column about audience etiquette. If I recall correctly, that column might have been the first time I addressed Augusta’s notoriety as a last-minute ticket town – a rep it still has not shaken.

Were I to make a budget for this week – 15 years post-Bonkerz – it would probably include some stalwarts such as Border Bash and the Hispanic Festival. I would be tempted to make the I Love the ’90s concert at James Brown Arena my primary story (Editor’s note: Because of Hurricane Matthew, this show has been moved to Nov. 10) as its nostalgia will sell much better today than in 2001. I would also need to make arguments for the Yonder Mountain String Band and Futurebirds shows, the I Love Vinyl Sale/Dance Party, a feature on music at the Augusta Market, a look at the Newberry Harvest Festival and the Aiken Community Playhouse Open House. I’d also be interested in Game Day at the Lady A, a graphic novel workshop in Columbia County and the Tee Off Fore Tatas golf event. That, by my reckoning, is a lot. No Bonkerz, but still a lot.

What this demonstrates to me is that the city, both generally and certainly culturally, is growing and thriving. Those who continue to echo the tired refrain of ‘nothing to do’ are clearly not paying attention. Augusta has grown and grown up. This is a thriving entertainment market and I predict, as the high-tech sector continues to look toward this community, it will only continue to expand.

From where I am sitting the future looks very close and 2001, in many ways, seems very long ago.