Giving Nashville The Boot

Last year, three of the top six moneymakers in country music were Georgia boys: Macon’s Jason Aldean, Leesburg’s Luke Bryan, and Dahlonega’s Zac Brown Band. Scroll farther down the country charts and the Peach State continues to represent: Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard (Monroe), Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood (both from Augusta), and Kip Moore (Tifton). Of course, Georgia has a long tradition of producing musical talent across all genres, from Otis Redding to the Indigo Girls to R.E.M. to Ludacris to India.Arie to 2 Chainz. Even the lyrics to “Moon River” were written by a Georgian. Rappers still come to Atlanta to be part of the city’s hip-hop scene. But country artists? They leave for Nashville. Or do they? Here in Georgia, a few country musicians are taking a pass on Music City, choosing not just to live here but to write, record, and perform here. The decision comes at a cost.

Levi Lowrey
Levi Lowrey on the road.


In a cluttered storage room above a friend’s garage in Dacula, 31-year-old Levi Lowrey hunches over a MacBook, playing back some vocal tracks he recorded. He hides a young face behind a bushy black beard, and if you didn’t know him, you might think he was just a computer geek sitting amid dusty exercise equipment and old boxes.

Those who do know Lowrey might think something different: that this is a dismal place to be at this point in his music career. He’s released two albums with Zac Brown as a producer; has recorded with Nashville legends like Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas and banjo master Darrell Scott; played Ryman Auditorium and Madison Square Garden as an opening act; and written two of Zac Brown Band’s biggest hits, including “Colder Weather,” which garnered Lowrey a Country Music Association Award nomination for song of the year.

But the songs coming out of his laptop are unlike anything you’d hear at the CMAs; they’re frenetic, bouncing among Southern rock, pop, bluegrass, alternative, and folk. There’s even a sea chantey. The lyrics are deeply personal: about his wife’s cancer and his own neglect of family in pursuit of professional success. Lowrey’s new album, “My Crazy Head,” which he recorded entirely himself in this room and his basement, is a liberation from more than five years of Nashville restraint. “The title song is my country anthem,” he says. “Now I can do whatever I want.”

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