Gram Parsons Guitar Pull & Tribute Festival Recap

There aren’t very many reasons to make Waycross, GA a travel destination. Unless of course you just can’t live without seeing the petrified carcass of Stuckie the mummified dog or the remains of Oscar, the largest known alligator in all of Georgia. Or perhaps you’re one of many who make the yearly pilgrimage to the birthplace of a man who lived fast and died young but still managed to change the course of music forever.
Gram Parsons was born in Winter Haven, FL but grew up in Waycross before attending the Bolles School here in Jacksonville followed by Harvard. Despite his prestigious schooling, Parsons chose music as his career and soon caught the attention of the Byrds. Parsons was largely responsible for the direction the band took with their classic album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, a record that has inspired many bands who fuse folky country and western music with rock and roll. His later projects included the Flying Burrito Brothers and two amazing solo albums. Had he lived to see old age he might have been known as the grandfather of country rock and perhaps even modern Americana, but his iconic baby-face could never allow such a moniker.
Gram Parson’s legacy can be seen in the countless covers others have done of his music and even in motion picture form in the 2003 comedy, Grand Theft Parsons. So it comes as no surprise that so many are eager and willing to pay tribute to the musician and what better place to do so than his hometown.
The 12th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull & Tribute Festival was a three-day event including concerts at Waycross College, Cypress Creek Bar and the Okefenokee Fairgrounds. We were only able to make the trip for the final day which featured Country Music Hall of Fame member, Charlie Louvin. And we did of course try and catch a glimpse at Stuckie beforehand, but unfortunately Southern Forest World is closed on the weekends.
At the fairgrounds we watched bands from across Florida and Georgia with a handful from further destinations (New York City?) play country music in the vein of Parsons and the Byrds. Some were strictly cover bands while others played a few original tunes among their tributes. For better or worse we heard renditions of such classics as ‘Love Hurts,’ ‘You Got a Reputation,’ ‘Hickory Wind’ and others. There wasn’t any beer for sale at the event so after hearing a few bands and checking out the obligatory festival vendors we took a break to find a local dive to wet our whistles before catching what we considered to be the main event, Mr. Louvin. A possible reason why Waycross is not Georgia’s most popular travel destination could have something to do with the gross lack of decent watering holes. We ended up at Applebee’s.
After a few, we returned to the fairgrounds to get what we came for. I half-anticipated seeing someone cart old Charlie out in a wheelchair up to the microphone so I was pleasantly surprised to see such a spry and energetic octogenarian take the stage. Perhaps best known to the world at large for the song ‘The Christian Life,’ which Parsons and the Byrds covered on Sweetheart, Louvin has been singing gospel and country music long before most people I know were born. It was a fitting homage seeing as how so many of the people who gathered have been inspired by Gram Parsons and there stood a man who influenced Parsons himself. Louvin’s charm and vivacity made the trip worth the drive (and the lack of proper refreshments).