On May 29-31st, 2023, the Music Tourism Convention will be travelling to Cape Breton Island in Canada. Although widely known for its natural sights, the region is a place where fiddles, Celtic melodies and Mi'kmaq beats harmonise, making it one of the most special music destinations on earth.
As we get ready for the event, we’re expanding our new #musictourismhub series, a place to discover stories, profiles and resources from people working at the forefront of Music Tourism from all around the world.
On this occasion, we head up to Macon, Georgia in the U.S.A., to talk with Marisa Rodgers, Director of Marketing at Visit Macon.
In this interview, Marisa shares some inspiring insights on Macon's destination music branding strategy and how it's leveraging its music heritage and vibrant music scene to attract visitors to the city. The text is also a great way to learn about all of the attractions that make Macon a must-see destination for music fans and learn about some of the exciting initiatives Visit Macon is carrying out, including the “I Am Macon” ambassador program, the Macon Music Trail, the Macon Music Revue, and more.
Hi Marisa, we know that Macon's branding is focused around music and the theme "Where Soul Lives". Could you tell us a bit about the context that led to the creation of this branding strategy?
“Where Soul Lives” was implemented in 2015 and the goal was to explain or illustrate the Soul of Macon. Macon’s soul tells the story of its rich historic past – from its historic architecture to its people. Macon’s soul reflects its central role and location for the state of Georgia. Macon’s Soul can be found in the people that are transforming it today – the students, the leadership, the musicians, the artists and the new opportunities. It is an energy. A vibe. An intangible of what can only be experienced here, where its roots live. It doesn’t hurt at all that the Soul of Macon wouldn’t be what it is today without being the forever home to ‘The King of Soul’ himself and his family that carries on that legacy. Or, that the “Birthplace of Southern Rock” was built on the soulful sounds of freeform guitar legends and a blend of musical genres that crossed cultural and racial barriers. “Where Soul Lives” is bigger than just the music, but music is what laid the foundation for what it is today and will be tomorrow.
What are the main ways in which Macon uses music to attract visitors to the city?
Macon celebrates its music heritage through the unique preservation of historic sites, creating new ways to explore our heritage (such as our Tour Macon mobile app, Macon Music Trail, the Macon Music Revue, and more!) and fostering the nightlife & music economy, as well as, music education and cultivation through Mercer Music at Capricorn and the Otis Redding Center for the Arts.
The history is here. The Macon Music Trail is a self-guided trail that takes you through over 40 spots and provides a glimpse into Macon’s storied music history. From well-known places like Grant’s Lounge to hidden gems like the Red Lamp Lounge, you’ll discover music heritage from all corners of Macon.
You can see rare memorabilia at Capricorn Sound Studios and Museum which still operates as a recording studio today thanks to renovations by Mercer University. They offer studio tours of the Historic Studio A, where Southern Rock’s biggest hits were made, or see artifacts, murals and interactive digital kiosks that have digital catalogs of the records at the Museum. Another look into Macon’s music is the Allman Brothers Band at The Big House, a two-story attraction that was once the home of the band members in the early 1970s and now has rare memorabilia and even hosts musicians on their outdoor stage. We also offer a guided van tour known as the Soul Sights Tour operated through our Downtown Visitor Center that takes visitors to architectural masterpieces to the places that inspired musical legends, this one-hour journey through the heart of Georgia is a can't-miss. Or check out Rock Candy Tours for a walking tour that takes you through downtown Macon and starts at Grant’s Lounge and includes major historic music sites with unique stories.
And Macon is always adding to its music story in new ways that visitors can enjoy, such as the new 10,000+ seat Macon Amphitheater that will open in March 2024 and will draw new music aficionados and larger touring acts to Where Soul Lives!
How successful have been programs such as Macon Tourism Ambassadors or Macon Music Trail?
Macon Music Trail was the first self-guided experience that we created utilizing historic plaques that had been graciously funded to the city in 2017 by the Charles E. Cox Family Trust. Macon, Georgia had these historic markers placed throughout the city, but visitors would only see them if they happened upon them, so we used these spots to create an experience instead. The stories are now enhanced with the digital component allowing for audio, video and photography. The Tour Macon mobile app has had over 4,000 users on the app which is the platform that houses the Macon Music Trail. It was such an easy way to create the experience, we have added several other trails since including the Macon Black Heritage Trail, our Film Macon Tour, Photo Spots and so much more. Visitors have enjoyed using the app as it gives them an independent roam-on-your-own-time type of experience that is an authentic look at our music history. It also has been used by meeting and convention guests as a new way to explore the city while they are attending an event.
The I Am Macon program educates individuals in our own community or from various businesses and organizations on how to give superior customer service to Macon visitors. The ambassadors are armed with useful facts, figures, and cool stories to use for interactions with customers, ensuring we keep that "soulful charm" in Macon for our visitors. Let’s be honest, visitors can learn more from their server at a local restaurant, a bartender at any drinking hole or the concierge at the hotel they stay at, then any research they can do online, so our ‘I Am Macon’ ambassador program allows us to foster civic pride and creates a Visitors Center much larger than what we would have otherwise.
Do you think that this music focus attracts the type of visitors that you're looking for?
The music focus, coupled with an increased focus on music throughout the community has been a great attractor of visitors. Partner organizations like the Otis Redding Foundation, Mercer Music at Capricorn, Big House Museum and Grant’s Lounge bringing more special events and concerts to the community has allowed Visit Macon to promote attendance at those events. When concertgoers come to town, there is a wider range of additional activities that give them a fully immersive experience. The increase in concerts at the Macon City Auditorium, the Coliseum, and the new Amphitheatre also bring more attention to Macon’s music story.
The Capricorn Series is also a great example of a music event successfully targeting and attracting a "high-value" visitor (from 35-65), attendees don't mind a higher-price ticket or coming and staying overnight in order to have a comfortable, intimate listening environment that even allows you to engage with the artists at times. No matter what shows. Macon offers events, venues and programs that target both young and affluent African American audiences, from Serenity Entertainment Complex to the Otis Redding Foundation events. We have so much crossover - people come here and want to do the Otis Redding Museum, the Big House, Capricorn and H&H - they all have interest for music fans of all ages, and when you combine with the variety of live music choices - which will grow even more with the Amphitheater, I would say - yes - Macon's music attracts diverse and desirable groups of visitors. Our diversity is one of its greatest strengths and with the Ocmulgee Mounds -- if we continue to enrich and expand that story of the original music makers and the sacred ground that Macon is on -- it just gets deeper and more compelling.
What would you say is the key to having a successful music strategy for a smaller city like Macon?
Macon is extraordinarily lucky to have artists who are known around the world who called, and call, Macon home. From Otis Redding to Little Richard to the Allman Brothers Band to Chuck Leavell, having the recognizable names whose legacies are part of the fabric of the community makes the story that much easier to tell. The connection that people have with the artists and their music is incredibly strong and the imprint the artists have made on the community has allowed others to follow in their footsteps. There is a recognition and appreciation for the history, which allows for others to stand on the shoulders of those who led the way.
Macon is fortunate in that, while it may be a small city, it punches far beyond its weight in terms of influencing the roots of American music and having multiple attractions and landmarks that visitors can engage with. A successful music strategy uses - and connects - those iconic artists and their stories to help shape and ground Macon's unique story but then focuses on the attractions, programming and live music scene to attract interest in visiting. Balancing the history and nostalgia with evidence of a vibrant current scene (strong social presence from attractions, videos like our Macon Music series (available on YouTube), and the 24/7 presence of The Creek 100.9FM and events) is key. Using the artists themselves as influencers and ambassadors validates and authenticates the music community messaging.
The music that is occurring today in Macon is a continuation of the successes. Thanks to the resurgence of Capricorn Recording Studio, today’s artists choosing to self-produce and record in this historic studio once more, current musicians that are topping today’s charts are helping establish the success of our continuing music story.
What does an ideal 1 or 2 day music itinerary in Macon look like?
Start your morning by chowing down on breakfast at H & H Restaurant, known for its delicious soul food and their unique connection to the Allman Brother Band (the owners, Mama Louise and Inez Hill, used to feed the band members for free in the early years of the career and would become life-long friends). We recommend the Midnight Rider biscuit, featuring crispy fried chicken with bacon jam & Betsy's pimento cheese.
Keep the exploration of all-things Allman Brothers going by visiting the house they lived at in the early 1970s which now is a museum! The Allman Brothers Band at the Big House has two floors of rare memorabilia! After, take a stroll through Rose Hill to visit the graves of four of the band members who are laid to rest there and discover why the band members found inspiration across the rolling hills. Take lunch downtown at another music tied restaurant, The Rookery, where bands used to play before their big days like Widespread Panic. Later that night head to Grant’s Lounge, to see the Wall of Fame which shows famous artists that used to frequent the venue and check out the Macon Music Revue, a band that plays there each Wednesday night and performs songs that have ties to Macon’s music legends. Wake up early the next day and head to Capricorn Sound Studios for a studio tour at 10AM of the historic studio that cranked out some of southern rocks’ biggest records or explore the museum which has interactive digital kiosks with records and memorabilia hung on the walls. At any time you can download the Tour Macon mobile app to find the Macon Music Trail and discover more music staples that tell the history of Macon’s music. Or hop on a Rock Candy Tour for a guided look told by music experts that takes you through downtown and see many music stops. For dinner catch another live show at any of Macon’s venues that are always buzzing like JBA, the Macon City Auditorium, and more. For dinner head to Downtown Grill for mouthwatering steak options, gourmet desserts and even a cigar lounge upstairs. The building is also where Gregg Allman proposed to Cher, so snap a picture in front of the plaque for memories. This is just a small sample of ways to experience Macon’s music history, other options include seeing a show at the Douglass Theatre, where the greats like Otis Redding and James Brown performed or visit the Otis Redding Mini Museum, ran and operated by the King of Soul’s family! There’s endless options!
We hope you enjoyed the insights Marisa shared about Visit Macon's strategies in this entry for the Music Tourism Hub. If you're looking for ideas and tools to turn your city into a music destination, or have a music tourism project that you'd like to bring to new cities, then join us on May 29-31st, 2023, at the Cape Breton Island Music Tourism Convention.
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