There are two things people think of when they think of Augusta.
One, super obvious this week, is the Masters golf tournament. The other is James Brown.
This year, concert organizer George Claussen IV and his production and promotion company Friends With Benefits set out to combine those two things in a major way for the fifth annual Major Rager concert festival. It’ll be at the Augusta Common from 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, April 6.
The headliners include George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic and the James Brown Band (a band made up of people who actually played with James Brown).
In past years, the Major Rager has featured more modern artists like the Flaming Lips, Umphrey’s McGee and Gov’t Mule. And while Claussen appreciates that, this year he
really wanted to focus on artists who paved the way for modern musicians — and do it in a way that pays tribute to James Brown.
As a music fan, Claussen expressed how much he respects George Clinton an
d how exciting it would be to have him perform in Augusta. A contemporary of Brown, it’s fitting that he would come to Augusta during the biggest time of the year for the city.
If you take the time to read a couple of interviews with Clinton, you’ll see that he’s one of the funniest, most creative guys who’s ever lived. He’s mastered different genres — he started out in doo-wop in the ’50s with his first group the Parliaments, then branched into hip-hop, funk and whatever the hell he felt like with the Parliament-Funkadelic. That group (a.k.a. P-Funk) is a funk music collective of rotating musicians, and it’s been around since all the way back to 1968. The band’s style draws on psychedelic culture, sci-fi, “outlandish fashion and surreal humor,” as described by AllMusic.com.
Clinton was making wildly inventive music at the same time James Brown was — and he was doing things on stage that people at the time had never really seen before. One of the most well-known things he and his band did was land on stage the “P-Funk Mothership” — a big silver spaceship contraption complete with flashing lights — and Clinton would emerge from the Mothership as Dr. Funkenstein, the “cool ghoul with the funk transplant,” in order to better administer funk to the audience. (You can go see the spaceship for yourself at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.)
Clinton’s now in his upper 70s, an age when people are generally stereotyped to stop liking what the younger generations are into — but not him. Seeing what the kids are doing helps him stay relevant.
“Whenever I hear people – like older musicians – saying about something new, ‘That ain’t music,’ I rush and find that music,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014.
He’s also climbed out of drug addiction — Rolling Stone asked him about smoking crack, wondering how he stayed productive while he was doing the drug.
“That’s what got me in trouble! ‘Cause I was productive and I could do music, so wasn’t nothing wrong,” Clinton responded. “And that was far from the truth, ’cause the concept of getting high is, you get fucked up. And when you get fucked up, you do fucked-up things! I’m trying to get my copyrights back (from former managers), and that made me clean up my act, because I couldn’t concentrate on the courts and all that at the same time.”
He stopped doing crack nearly a decade ago, and he also talked of doing LSD in the past. When the magazine asked what advice he would give his younger self, he said, “Stop looking for anything else to be LSD. If you knew that it was never gonna be like that first hit, you could’ve stopped a long time ago. … As soon as Woodstock happened, LSD was over. It became commercial, $5 a tab. Then that mind-manipulation thing it did became, dangerous because anybody could program your ass when you’re on it.”
If that’s not a motive to never try LSD, we don’t know what is.
THE REST OF THE BILL
Among the many who will be playing at Major Rager is jazz and funk trombonist Fred Wesley, 74, who came up playing with both George Clinton and James Brown.
Wesley told the Irish Times back in 2014 that being in the Army was an easier gig than playing with James Brown.
“I guess the military (was easier),” he told the news outlet, laughing. “Both had everything mapped out exactly how they wanted you to do it, but with James Brown, you never knew if he meant what he said or if he’d change his mind or if he was going to trick you. You never knew what he meant when he said something.”
Also on the bill is Dumpstaphunk, a funk and jam band from New Orleans that formed in 2003 and features on vocals Ivan Neville. Ivan is the son of Aaron Neville, of definitive New Orleans funk band the Meters (formed in 1965). Bassist George Porter Jr. of the Meters will also be at the Major Rager, as part of the “Artists at Large” group.
Other Artists at Large (which Claussen defined as the musicians who will be there sitting in with the bands) include Elise Testone, a South Carolina native who was a contender on the 11th season of “American Idol,” Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, a teenage guitarist who has been highly praised in the music industry, and pianist Chris Rob of the Nasty Delicious.
The star-studded concert will be raising money for The James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils (J.A.M.P.), who also will be playing on the side of the stage between sets.
Claussen pointed out the significance of having these veteran musicians alongside the younger ones.
“So Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, he’s a kid that has just revolutionized the younger generation,” Claussen said. “I think he might be like 14 or 15 now, but he’s been showing up at a lot of these festivals, and when (musician) Col. Bruce Hampton died on stage on his birthday at the Fox Theatre (in May 2017), he actually fell right in front of Taz, and it was almost like a passing of the torch. He literally died on stage. It was very emotional for everybody, especially for Taz, but it was in the zone to have that, being at the Fox Theatre on your birthday with every single musician you could possibly imagine and the youngest musician there, (Hampton) falling down onto his knees and actually dying on stage was extremely weird and emotional, but it was almost like the passing of the torch to the next generation. Which is a lot of what we’re trying to do this year, with having Taz as an Artist at Large on here. This year is more meaningful because we’re trying to accomplish something that is looking down on what is, how music evolved and began, how the soul and funk music began. These bands opened up what music is today.”
Augusta Common, 836 Reynolds St.
5 to 11 p.m. April 6
George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, The James Brown Band ft. Fred Wesley, Dumpstaphunk, George Porter Jr., Elise Testone, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Chris Rob and more
$30, general advance; $40, general day of show; $100, VIP advance; $120, VIP day of show; group discounts available (proceeds go to the James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils)
fwbpro.com/major-rager, augustaga.gov or 706-821-1754
Everyone Orchestra (Major Rager after-party
Sky City, 1157 Broad St.
11 p.m. April 6
skycityaugusta.com or 706-945-1270