Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson & Ben Hayslip Return for Fifth Annual Georgia On My Mind Benefit

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Rhett Akins attends the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 15, 2018 in Las Vegas.

One of the newest traditions in Music City over the past few years is the annual benefit concert from three of the city’s top tunesmiths -- Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, and Ben Hayslip. Gretsch Presents the Fifth Annual Georgia On My Mind -- slated for June 26 at the historic Ryman Auditorium -- is a celebration of all things from the Peach State -- and serves as a benefit for the younger generation of musicians in the state, through their association with the Georgia Music Foundation.

Dallas Davidson -- writer of such hits as "All About Tonight" and "Kick The Dust Up" -- serves on the board of the Foundation, and told Billboard that he’s amazed how much the event has grown.

"We started off that first year with the attitude of just seeing what happens, and we would try to raise a little money," he says. "That was when I landed on the Georgia Music Foundation board. Now, this is our fifth annual event. We went from 3rd and Lindsley to the Ryman Auditorium pretty quick. It’s something that we are really proud of, and is a fun time of the year for us."

As one of the board members, Davidson says that the Foundation takes a lot of pride in its work. "What we’ve done over the past few years is develop a grant program where we’ve got schools in Georgia that apply for grants, and we actually write them a check and they can use the money to hire a teacher or to buy instruments. We are just trying to give it back directly to the kids. We want them to have the same opportunities that Ben, Rhett, and I have had. We had total access to all of that stuff growing up before a lot of those programs got cut. We are also preserving our history. We donated a lot of cool stuff that the Georgia Music Hall of Fame had to the University of Georgia, so now all of that stuff is protected, and the students have access to it. We’re just trying to preserve our past and help it going forward as well.”

The line-up this year includes Georgia natives Lauren Alaina, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush, and John Berry, but one not need to be from the state to perform, says Davidson.

"We certainly could have a show with an all-Georgia line-up, but I’ve got some buddies that I feel could make the show a little different. One of them happens to be my brother-in-law, Randy Houser, who’s an old Mississippi boy. Then, of course we’ve got Jamey Johnson, who’s from Alabama. All of have a lot in common, not just geographically, but the way we were brought up and the music we listened to. Having diversity is a good thing, and it all relates back to Georgia and what the purpose of our charity is -- to tell the people where you came from."

Also on the bill is Missouri native Chris Janson, who wowed the Ryman crowd last year. "He's a good friend of mine, and we’ve written a lot of songs together over the past dozen years. There’s no way to describe the energy he feels when he gets on the stage. He is turned all the way up at all times. You can be deer hunting with him or writing a song, he’s always turned to eleven. He brought the house down last year, so we definitely wanted him to come back. And, that’s not even mentioning that his daughter’s name is Georgia, and he has a tattoo of the state on his arm."

Over the years, guests have included Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Big Boi of Outkast, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Kip Moore, T. Graham Brown, but ask Davidson for a highlight of the past four years, and he steps outside of the Country realm a bit.

"I would quickly say that when the JAMP (James Brown Family Foundation) kids came -- and this six-year old boy came out and started dancing just like him with the band," he said. "They had actually come from a school that was funded by charitable contributions, and were taught by his daughter, Deanna. When they hit that stage at the Ryman, and the crowd wasn’t expecting it, that was the moment of all moments for me. That showed everybody what we were doing, and made us remember why we were doing this. They were so good.”

Each year, the show presents the Georgia Music Foundation Flamekeeper Award. This year, they are recognizing two of the state’s most prominent songwriters, Pat Alger and Tony Arata. "To have a couple of his heroes at the event is a big deal," says Davidson. “When you’re putting on a show, you want to get the big dogs -- the Luke Bryans, the Jason Aldeans, but we’re songwriters."

Hearing "The Dance" made the light bulb go off in Davidson’s head, spurring him on to a writing career. “Before I moved to town, I knew who Tony Arata was. When I heard ‘The Dance,’ that was one of the first times I realized that you could do that for a living... I’ve written a few that I would say that compare in idea to the song, but I’ll never write ‘The Dance.’ None of us will."


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