Digital editor Myrydd Wells (pronounced "merith") joined the Atlanta magazine staff as digital producer in late 2013. Previously she worked at the Naples Daily News in Florida and in her hometown of Indianapolis as an intern and later contributing editor for Indianapolis Monthly magazine. A proud alumna of Indiana University Bloomington, she enjoys writing about pop culture, television, local events, animals, internet sensations, and anything offbeat.
This morning on Instagram, Big Boi made a big announcement: “I’M AN AIRBNB HOST!” And the house he listed is no ordinary home—it’s the Dungeon, a piece of Atlanta music history. In the 1990s, it was home to Organized Noize founder Rico Wade’s mother, and in the basement, OutKast, Goodie Mob, and Organized Noize produced and recorded early tracks.
The house is listed on Airbnb at only $25 per night for two guests (a nod to the 25th anniversary of ATLiens), but you’ll need a good amount of luck to score a stay. As part of a collaboration with Airbnb honoring Black Music Month, Big Boi will host three overnight stays at the house on June 29, July 1, and July 3. Booking opens on Friday, June 25 at 1 p.m., and fans are promised “guided access” to the basement where the Dungeon Family recorded their music, access to an in-home studio, and a trip to and from the house in an Escalade.
The Lakewood Heights house, which Big Boi purchased back in January 2019, has been transformed into a stylish shrine to all things OutKast. The listing photos show a fireplace painted to resemble the black-and-white flag of the Stankonia album cover, a neon sign boasting Andre 3000’s famous proclamation, “The South got something to say,” and a peacock-feather-studded wicker chair resembling the one Big Boi posed on for the Speakerboxxx/The Love Below cover, among other memorabilia.
On the listing, Big Boi promises to welcome guests virtually upon their stay and that “a socially distanced concierge will ensure a comfortable stay for you and your guest—including setting out and arranging meals, coordinating your recording session, and more.” Meals are provided, and extra guests, parties, and pets are prohibited. You also have to have live in the U.S., have “a verified Airbnb profile, a history of positive reviews, and be 18+ to request to book this stay.”
Upon arrival at Candytopia‘s Steampunk-esque gate, a small group of people in blue jumpsuits walk the guests through the rules. Yes, you can touch all of the artwork on display throughout the 14,000-square-foot exhibition. But please, don’t lick it.
In the next room, a Victorian parlor, a 360-pound dragon made of 125,000 pieces of licorice, rock candy, sour belts, Swedish fish, and other sweets stands in a corner next to a fox comprised of jelly beans and candy corn (13,000 pieces), both waiting for you to take their pictures. As a cast member energetically explains the sugar-filled world of Candytopia, one the many enormous clocks suspended from the ceiling lowers to reveal itself as a plate filled with individually-wrapped chocolates. From there, a secret door opens to the rest of the exhibition, where you’re free to explore the various rooms—including a candy art museum and a trip under the sea—at your own pace.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the giddy joy of Candytopia, the nationally touring pop-up now back for its second run in Atlanta after an extremely popular debut at Buckhead’s Lenox Marketplace shopping center in February 2019. This time around, in 2021, it’s moved just a few minutes away to the Disco Kroger shopping center, set up in the former World Market space that also housed a fellow Instagram experience in 2019, Nickelodeon’s Slime City. Like Slime City, Santa’s Fantastical, and Lenox Mall’s TFTI, Candytopia is first and foremost a photo opp, with plenty of sugar sculptures and colorful areas to pose. But it also has interactive elements such as giant swings, colorful confetti, a massive foam marshmallow pit, and candy samples to keep you sugared up. Intrigued? Here’s what I learned while attending both the original Atlanta experience and the media preview for the 2021 run:
1. This place is designed for picture-taking, which can be a great or terrible thing depending on what kind of experience you seek. Personally, once I got over the initial awkwardness of worrying about accidentally walking through someone’s photo, it was pretty fun to come up with different ways to capture the various pieces of candy decor. Just be respectful—don’t do 20 different poses in the rainbow hall of mirrors for example, which while beautiful is the only pathway from one of the rooms to the next. There are also plenty of staff around to help you take photos, which is great for experiences like the marshmallow pit, where you might want to focus more on playing than pictures.
2. It is very kid-friendly—and if you go back and try to imagine what would happen if you were a child suddenly thrust into a colorful world filled with giant candy sharks, candy unicorns, candy paintings, swings, and a foam play pit, it’s easy to see why. But it’s also appealing for adults, who will appreciate the intricacy in the candy paintings of Prince, Cardi B, the Mona Lisa, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
3. There are candy samples in each of the eight rooms, plus another in the entryway, all with signs reminding you to take only a couple of pieces and not try to cram $30 worth of Twizzlers into your bag. Posted signs also display allergen info and ingredients for all of the candies offered, most of which are non-chocolate sugary fare such as Pixie Stix, Ring Pops, and Airheads.
4. Not too much has changed since 2019—most of the sculptures, paintings, and elements were included in the original Atlanta run, although there are some new pieces, including a massive candy portrait of Beyoncé, a candy replica of Prince’s guitar, and a swing in the shape of the “100” emoji. The underwater-themed room seemed a bit more robust, with new candy fish sculptures and an updated version of the scuba diver (made from sugar belts, gummy cola bottles, and gold gummy bears). So if you missed Candytopia the first time around or want to take someone new, this is a great opportunity to see what it was all about.
Of course, there was one major change between the 2019 exhibition and now—a global pandemic. But at this point, it hasn’t changed the experience too much. Folks are still allowed to touch the sculptures and choose their own pieces of individually-wrapped candy. Candytopia cast members will still happily offer to take photos for you on your phone, and they are required to wear face masks. For guests, however, face masks are recommended but not required, and since it is largely a photo-taking experience, it’s safe to assume many likely won’t be wearing them. So if you’re still not quite comfortable being around maskless folks, now may not be the best time to go.
5. The signs are filled with fun facts about each of the candy creations, so be sure to pause and read them, or snap photos to look at later. Each sign notes how long a candy sculpture took to make, how many pieces of candy are in it (and what types), and how many thousands of grams of sugar is in the creation. For example, a giant portrait of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka is made of 7,900 pieces of candy (including root beer licorice and Dr. Pepper jelly beans), took 108 hours to craft, and has 2,400 grams of sugar.
6. You will leave with confetti in your shoes. Perhaps the most absurd room in Candytopia—and arguably one of the most fun—is one that involves a lot of colorful tissue paper confetti. The absurdity comes from the fact that in the world of Candytopia, not only do the pigs fly, but they fart confetti. And literally, in this room, confetti comes streaming from a large candy pig’s behind. Your seven-year-old will not be able to get enough of it. Cast members will also throw buckets of confetti into the air and over your head, which makes for some pretty cool photos. Thankfully, large fans at the back of the room will help blow off any confetti left sticking to you, but you will bring home some of it in your shoes. I also highly recommend bringing a handbag with no open pockets—I made the same mistake this year and once again collected a solid handful of confetti in my purse.
7. The marshmallow pit is worth the wait. Located in the final room, this large pool is designed to look like it’s filled with huge Jet-Puffed Marshmallows, but these are made of foam. No shoes are allowed in the pit, so make sure you wear socks. The “marshmallows” are firm, not squishy like the edible variety, so don’t throw them at your buddy’s face. Instead, toss them into the air and splash around. Kids might be able to navigate the pit better than adults—I personally felt like a wobbly baby giraffe trying to make my way from one side of the pool to another, but it brought back plenty of fond memories of playing in plastic ball pits as a child.
8. The gift shop is cute but pricey. It stocks various types of candy and plenty of Candytopia-branded souvenirs ranging from T-shirts to lip balm to water battles to chocolate bars—and there are a few final candy sculptures in here too. If you love the cute, cartoony flying pigs and unicorns that appear on the walls throughout the exhibition, you’ll be glad to know they’re on a lot of the merch. While there are some fun finds in the candy selection—Super Mario mints, gummy tacos, various flavors of Hi-Chews—like any tourist attraction, you should watch out for price markup.
How to go: Candytopia is located at 3330 Piedmont Road Northeast in Buckhead, next to Disco Kroger. It opens June 11, 2021, and tickets are sold in time slots, every 15 minutes starting at 10 a.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m. You have to purchase your ticket in advance, which can be done here. Adults are $28, kids aged 4-12 are $20, and kids under three are free. It’s open daily except for Tuesdays. It takes a little over an hour to go through all the rooms. The event doesn’t have a set end date yet, but it will likely be around for the next six months. Face masks are recommended but not required; bring socks for the marshmallow pit.
Brew at the Zoo When: May 27 Where: Zoo Atlanta Cost: $60 zoo member, $65 nonmember What: The popular night at the zoo is back for 2021 and will take place completely outdoors. Admission is timed to keep track of how many guests are in the park. Expect live music, beer and wine tastings, free carousel and train rides, and, of course, the incredible animals themselves.
Georgia Renaissance Festival When: Through June 13 Where: 6905 Virlyn B. Smith Road, Fairburn Cost: Adults: $19.95 online/$24 at gate; Kids 6-12: $9.95 online and $12 at gate, free for children under five What: There are plenty of ways to stay entertained at this mostly outdoor annual event—watch jousting, devour one of those mammoth turkey legs, watch an acrobatics or birds of prey show, browse the vendors, watch an artist’s demonstration, ride a camel—there’s too much to list.
Alpharetta Arts Streetfest When: May 29 and 30 Where: The Grove at Will Park (175 Roswell Street, behind the Alpharetta Community Center) Cost: Free What: If you’re looking to keep up your quarantine redecorating project, you’ll find plenty of paintings, sculpture, decor, and other art at this festival, along with jewelry, food, and activities for kids.
SUPERnatural: Aerial Art in Motion, Glass Art in Bloom When: Through September 19
Where: Atlanta Botanical Garden
Cost: Ticket prices start at $22.95-24.95 for adults and $19.95-$21.95 for children aged 3-12; children under 3 are free
What: If you haven’t been to the Botanical Garden in awhile, the venue now books tickets for a certain date and entry time, with flexible options available. The Garden just unveiled a new attraction that includes a colorful “skynet” created by Patrick Shearn of L.A.-based public art group Poetic Kinetics, and awe-worthy, oversized glass plant sculptures from Seattle artist Jason Gamrath.
Decatur Arts Festival Fine Arts Exhibition When: May 27 though June 13 Where: Dalton Gallery at Agnes Scott College Cost: Free What: While the Decatur Arts Festival won’t hold most of its typical Memorial Day weekend events, it will host a juried art exhibition at Agnes Scott College’s Dalton Gallery, featuring photography, sculpture, paintings, and other artworks from artists across the country. Admission is free, but you can reserve a ticket here.
Memorial Day Weekend at Stone Mountain Park When: May 28 through 31 Where: Stone Mountain Park Cost: Varies, but a one-day attraction pass is $22.95 for adults and $19.95 for kids aged 3-11 (children under 2 are free) What: The park’s popular Memorial Day weekend fireworks and laser show is back this year, but will operate a little differently due to the pandemic. Families can purchase a socially-distant “square” (of up to four adults) for $20, or for $10 if it’s added onto a park pass. Walk-up squares can be purchased, but the park recommends buying in advance to guarantee a spot.
Atlanta United vs. Nashville FC When: May 29 Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium Cost: Varies, but Ticketmaster had tickets starting around $50 as of press time What: Just like State Farm Arena, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is also operating at full capacity, and that capacity is pretty high—the first full-capacity game brought out more than 40,000 fans. But the pandemic doesn’t seem to have weakened any of the energy coming out of the Atlanta supporters section. So if you’re ready to experience the chanting, standing, cheering fun of an Atlanta United game, it’s ready for you. (And yes, Josef Martinez is back on the field after recovering from a torn ACL last year.)
Live music at City Winery When: May 28 through 30 Where: City Winery at Ponce City Market Cost: Varies show to show, but ranges from $30 to $75 per seat What: The restaurant/music venue will host two artists during Memorial Day weekend—R&B singer Tony Terry on Friday, and electric violinist Ken Ford on Sunday. Tables are distanced and tickets can be purchased in quantities of 2 or 4.
Memorial Day Tribute at Brook Run Park When: May 31 Where: Brook Run Park, Dunwoody Cost: Free What: Just one of many of the in-person tributes to fallen service members on Memorial Day itself, this annual event in Dunwoody, held at the Brook Run Park Veterans Memorial, will this year feature DeKalb County District 4 Commissioner and Army veteran Steve Bradshaw as the keynote speaker. The event will also be livestreamed on Facebook. For more tribute events across the metro area, check out this AJC roundup.
The Falcons digital content team worked with Bleacher Report, the creator of the popular Gridiron Heights comedy web series, to produce their own Gridiron Heights special. The two-minute animation, a Bachelor parody, features NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell introducing Freddie Falcon to the Falcons’ regular season opponents, poking fun at each team along the way. Tom Brady arrives on a boat, stumbling and tossing the Lombardi Trophy, then panics when Patriots coach Bill Belichick shows up, asking the players around him, “How do I look? Do I look like I won the break-up?” Saints coach Sean Payton, meanwhile, is locked out of the evening’s festivities and asks Jameis Winston for a “Swiss army knife”—a.k.a. Taysom Hill—to help him open a massive iron gate, a nod to the team’s unclear quarterback situation following Drew Brees’s retirement.
There is a good chance that if you go up to someone and say, “Name an Atlanta food,” they’ll respond with, “lemon pepper wet,” especially after Donald Glover’s Atlantacatapulted the dish into the national pop culture lexicon four years ago. So the fact that the chicken wing favorite is the inspiration behind the latest collaboration between Atlanta United supporters group Footie Mob and Wild Heaven Beer isn’t all too surprising . . . until you remember that collaboration is a beer.
A lemon pepper wet beer? Could that actually work?
According to Wild Heaven president Nick Purdy, that was the same question he took to to head brewmaster Eric Johnson after bouncing around the unorthodox flavor idea with the Footie Mob leadership: “I texted [Johnson], We can make a lemon wet pepper IPA, right? He goes, Oh yeah, that’s easy, I know exactly what to do.”
Johnson used a hop variety known as “lemon drop” and whole black peppercorns—which Purdy notes are regularly used in saisons—to add just a bit of spice kick alongside the citrus flavor. “It’s a modern IPA with just the hintest hint of a savory note to it,” Purdy says, jokingly adding, “It does not taste like meat.”
But it does pair well with the dish that inspired it, Purdy says. The limited edition beer goes on sale Friday, April 23—the day before Atlanta United’s home opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium—in cans and on draft at both locations of Wild Heaven’s taprooms. The West End taproom will sell their usual lemon pepper wet wings if you want to test the pairing on-site, or grab a 4-pack of cans to take home and pair with takeout from American Deli, J.R. Crickets, Magic City, or whichever your Atlanta wing purveyor of choice.
One dollar from each 4-pack of cans sold will be donated to Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, an incubator for Black small businesses and entrepreneurs. Wild Heaven developed an ongoing partnership with RCIE last summer with the launch of its Silence is Betrayal IPA, and Purdy says the brewery continues to give a portion of the proceeds from that beer to RCIE each time it is brewed. “If you want to make long-term change, few things are more powerful than ownership of business,” Purdy says. “RCIE is helping create and empower and lift up future Black entrepreneurs. And this city needs as many as possible.”
Avondale Estates location: 135B Maple Street, Decatur, 404-997-8589, opens at 1 p.m. Friday; West End location: 1020 White Street Southwest, 404-254-2232, opens at 12 p.m. Friday.wildheavenbeer.com
“Look at what happened with the NBA, as well. Look what’s happened across the board. The very people who were victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports, and it’s just not right,” he said.
As of Friday afternoon, that decision is now official, with MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. issuing a statement:
“Over the last week, we have engaged in thoughtful conversations with Clubs, former and current players, the Players Association, and The Players Alliance, among others, to listen to their views. I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB Draft.
Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box. In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.
We will continue with our plans to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron during this season’s All-Star festivities. In addition, MLB’s planned investments to support local communities in Atlanta as part of our All-Star Legacy Projects will move forward. We are finalizing a new host city and details about these events will be announced shortly.”
The bill also reduced the time that voters can request a mail-in ballot from 180 days before an election to 11 weeks and requires a driver’s license/state ID number to be added to ballots and ballot requests; requires that ballot drop boxes be placed inside early voting locations and be available only during those early voting hours; and while the bill does expand early voting hours and added an additional Saturday, it shortens the time available for early voting before runoff elections.
The bill also removes the Secretary of State as the chair of the five-member State Elections Board (which also contains a member picked by the House, Senate, and both Democratic and Republican parties respectively), replacing them with a chair that must be appointed by the House and Senate. (The governor is to appoint someone for this role when the legislature is not in session; the 2021 legislative session ended this week.) The State Election Board now has more power over county election boards, giving the state board the ability to request a performance review, commissioned by an independent group, of a county elections boards and temporarily suspend ones that are “underperforming,” replacing them with a single person for at least nine months.
There has been mounting pressure for Atlanta-based companies to speak up in light of the bill’s signing on March 25, with some critics calling for boycotts. Both Delta and Coca-Cola released statements on March 31 calling the laws “unacceptable.” Microsoft, which is expanding in Atlanta, has also denounced the bill. Stacey Abrams told the AJC this week she thinks companies should not “yet” be boycotted, but that companies should speak out against the bill and invest in voting rights expansion and support federal voting rights expansion. After the MLB announced its decision on the All-Star Game, she tweeted, “Disappointed @MLB will move the All-Star Game, but proud of their stance on voting rights. GA GOP traded economic opportunity for suppression. On behalf of PoC targeted by #SB202 to lose votes + now wages, I urge events & productions to come & speak out or stay & fight.”
Governor Kemp released a statement saying, “Major League Baseball caved to fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies.” In the statement, Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston pointed blame directly at Abrams and President Biden.
The Braves released a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed” in the decision, writing, “This was neither our decision nor our recommendation, and we are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city. The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities, and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion. Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times, and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.”
Over four decades, Jonathan Waxman has built a small empire of convivial Cali-Italian restaurants, notably Manhattan’s iconic Barbuto. If the name of that restaurant (“bearded” in Italian) nods at Waxman’s now gray facial hair, his newest—Baffi—salutes the mustache. Situated in the old Donetto space in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood, Baffi is a leaner version of Waxman’s Ponce City Market restaurant Brezza Cucina, which closed in 2020. What’s amazing is how effortless he makes it all seem. True maturity, the art of not doing too much or too little, is in evidence everywhere—in Baffi’s modern-rustic look, its talented staff, and a menu that includes the same wonderful roast chicken with warm salsa verde (fresh herbs, capers, and garlic in extra-virgin olive oil) and crisp rosemary potatoes Waxman has served at his restaurants for as long as I can remember. Also on offer: a couple of simple but perfect wood-oven pizzas, one topped with burrata, burst tomatoes, and basil; roasted oysters with breadcrumbs; trout cooked in cast iron; and a dish of astonishingly tender and eerily smooth pork and veal meatballs served over rich mascarpone grits. The wines, including options from small producers in Italy’s Friuli and Abruzzo regions, are eminently drinkable. The patio scene is civilized. A pantry just inside the restaurant’s entrance, meanwhile, sells some of the same products the kitchen uses. 976 Brady Avenue, Westside, 404-724-9700 —CL
What’s apparent as you enter this new barbecue restaurant deep in the heart of Tucker: Someone here loves both Texas (as evidenced by the giant Tito’s vodka sign and the powerful scent of beef brisket greeting you at the door) and Ford automotive memorabilia. Like other restaurants from the same ownership group (Local No. 7 across the street, Stratford Pub in Avondale Estates), this spot feels mainstream cozy. Of course, you can order Saint Louis ribs by the rack and chopped pork by the pound, but the main deal at Ford’s is the beef. Answer the classic brisket questions (fat or lean? sliced or chopped?) and you are on your way to meat heaven. My standard answer is half and half and, of course, sliced. I don’t normally care to slather barbecue sauce on smoked meats, but Ford’s marvelously tangy and balanced house sauce is the ideal thing to elevate its deeply charred, tender brisket. While the platters feel generous, the sandwiches are a bit miserly. The skinny smoked sausage, for instance, arranged awkwardly on an onion bun, is no great shakes. But the sides and extras (chili con carne, queso and fresh chips, fried okra, vinegar slaw) make for a jolly experience in a place where families can be at ease. Heaters warm half of the patio, which is almost as big as the entire dining room and bar space, and there are good safety protocols in place. 2337 Main Street, Tucker, 678-691-7075 —CL
Scoville Hot Chicken
This brightly painted spot in a Sandy Springs strip mall does only one thing—fried hot chicken sandwiches with French fries—and does it extremely well. Made with tender, juicy breast meat, the sandwiches come in six spice levels ranging from “Not Spicy” to “Reaper,” which the restaurant claims has a blistering 1 million Scoville heat units—the scale used to rank hot peppers. (For comparison, a jalapeño ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 units.) Warning signs posted on the wall and floor caution that the Reaper could cause “stomach pain, sweating, hiccups,” and even “rare instances . . . of ‘thunderclap headaches’ that may require medical attention.” Yikes. But for lovers of spicy food, the “Hot” level is plenty. Don’t skip the coleslaw on top, which helps tame the heat, and consider springing for an extra container of creamy garlic aioli for the seasoned crinkle fries. The restaurant is optimized for takeout, with touchscreens to take your order and lemonade, tea, and a variety of cane sugar–based Stubborn Sodas on tap. (Go for the agave vanilla cream soda.) Word of Scoville Hot Chicken has spread, so if you’re going on a weekend night, think about ordering in advance online. 4959 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs—MW
When the polls closed for the general election on November 3, it took 10 days for Georgia to be called for president-elect Joe Biden. And with that exhausting trudge in our rear-view, returns for the January 5 runoff seemed to come in like a tidal wave once the polls closed at 7 p.m. By 9 p.m., about 40 percent state’s votes had been counted. By midnight, 97 percent of Georgia counties had been tabulated, with Democrat Raphael Warnock firmly ahead of incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue less than 2,000 votes ahead of Democrat Jon Ossoff.
A much shorter ballot and lower overall turnout was partially responsible for the faster count, but unlike in the general election, counties were required this time around begin processing absentee ballots in eight days prior to election day.
This was a relief, of course, for Americans anxiously watching the returns for the pivotal runoff. If either Loeffler or Perdue won, Republicans would keep control of the U.S. Senate. But a victory for both Warnock and Ossoff would lead to a 50-50 split for Senate control. With Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker, the Democrats would gain control of the Senate.
Just before 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Loeffler spoke to supporters gathered in Buckhead, telling them, “We have a path to victory, and we are going to stay on it.” But a few minutes later, Warnock delivered a victory speech via YouTube, thanking his supporters, his campaign staff, and his family “from the bottom of my heart.” He vowed to “work for all of Georgia, no matter who you cast your vote for.”
“We were told that we couldn’t win this election. But tonight we proved that with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible,” Warnock said. “May my story be an inspiration to some young person who is trying to grasp and grab hold to the American dream.”
The race was called for Warnock at about 2 a.m. Wednesday and as of noon Thursday, he was ahead by more than 74,000 votes. The senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Warnock is the first Black U.S. Senator from Georgia—or any Southern state—and will be only the 11th Black person to serve in the U.S. Senate.
The race for Perdue’s seat, meanwhile, was much closer. Just after 2 a.m. Wednesday, Perdue team’s released a statement, saying, “We will mobilize every available resource and exhaust every legal recourse to ensure all legally cast ballots are properly counted. We believe in the end, Senator Perdue will be victorious.”
But at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Ossoff, who had been ahead in the votes since the early hours of the morning, delivered his victory speech, thanking voters immediately addressing the Covid-19 pandemic: “Let’s unite now to beat this virus and rush economic relief to the people of our state and to the American people.”
“This campaign has been about health and jobs and justice for the people of this state,” Ossoff said, “and they will be my guiding principle as I serve this state in the U.S. Senate, ensuring that every Georgian has great healthcare, no matter our wealth. Ensuring that we invest in an economic recovery that includes all communities, that rebuilds our state’s infrastructure, that lays the foundations for prosperity in rural Georgia, suburban communities, and urban communities alike. And securing equal justice for all, following in the footsteps of leaders who have departed us in this last year like Congressman John Lewis and C.T. Vivian.”
As ballot counting continued across the state on Wednesday, Ossoff was projected as the winner at about 4 p.m. As of noon Thursday, he is ahead by more than 36,000 votes. At 33 years old, he will be the youngest U.S. Senator elected since Biden was won his seat in 1973 at age 30. He will also be Georgia’s first Jewish U.S. Senator.
And as the race for who will be the District 4 Public Service Commissioner, (yes, there really was more on the ballot than just Senate battle), Republican incumbent Lauren “Bubba” McDonald is the projected winner over Democrat Daniel Blackman, with a nearly 68,000 vote lead.
This story was originally published on January 6 and was updated at 1 p.m. January 7 with news that Ossoff was the projected winner.
The sheer volume of news coverage leading up to Georgia’s January 5 runoff—from general election drama and numerous recounts to President Donald Trump’s pressuring of state officials—has been overwhelming. As Georgia flipped blue on Election Day for the first time since 1992, many across the country suddenly became aware of what those of us living here have known for years—Georgia is changing, and it is absolutely a political battleground.
Now that Georgia has captivated national attention, who better to explain this political phenomenon than the residents and journalists who have been living and working here? That was the primary goal of Gaining Ground: The New Georgia, a five-part podcast hosted by Atlanta natives Rembert Browne and Jewel Wicker. The podcast—which chronicles Georgia’s blue flip in the context of the 2018 gubernatorial election, the 2020 presidential election, and the upcoming senate runoff—is a collaboration between two of the biggest names in podcasting: Tenderfoot TV, the Atlanta-based company behind Up and Vanished and Monster, and Crooked Media, best known for Pod Save America. As such, the podcast has a built-in national audience, giving Browne and Wicker a chance to introduce the country to Georgians on the ground—not just A-list names who are already familiar outside the state.
“We actually covered our bases and didn’t just do the things I think the podcast could have been, which was, Let’s find the biggest names we can find, and the shiniest people we can find, and do a very surface-level vanity project because everyone’s looking at Georgia,” Browne says. “I feel like we actually have been super purposeful in the voices that we’re bringing in and the story we’re weaving.”
Since its release on December 17, the podcast has consistently ranked on Apple Podcasts’ top 20 chart and held the No. 1 spot in its “government” category. We chatted last week with Browne—who has written for publications including Grantland, New York, the New York Times, and the Ringer—and Wicker—who has written for GQ, Billboard, Teen Vogue, and is a frequent contributor to this magazine—about how the podcast began, the importance of looking outside Atlanta, and the challenges of reporting a story without a clear ending. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.
How did this podcast come together? Browne: I got a call from [Pod Save America host] Tommy Vietor, who I’ve known for a while. I thought he was calling to just see what’s up. He mentioned that [Crooked Media was] looking to do a podcast with Tenderfoot. I was interested because [Tenderfoot does] true crime but is based in Georgia. Crooked does politics, but has never really focused on Georgia like this. I was staring down the holidays and actually about to take some time off from work, so I was a little hesitant, but then I remembered I had been wanting to do something that, hopefully, was impactful about keeping the energy up [for the] runoff.
When I talked to Donald [Albright, Tenderfoot’s co-founder], the first thing I said was like, Hey, I would love to do this, but I would love it if we could bring in someone else to help with writing and hosting. Jewel was the first person I thought of. Once Jewel was in and [Tenderfoot and Crooked] seemed to be down to really let us have a real say in the direction of the podcast, I was like, Yeah, let’s do it. I feel like [all of that] happened in like 48 hours. It happened a week before episode one came out.
The first episode of the podcast talks a lot about the 2018 gubernatorial race, and the second episode sets up the political atmosphere in 2020, moving to Election Day in episode three, and then to the runoff. The final episode will air one week after the runoff. What has it been like for you to report this story in real time as a weekly podcast?
Browne: I love projects that have a defined, definite end, [but] it is really interesting to know that we really have no idea what that last episode is going to be like, because it’s really dependent on what happens [on January 5]. I’ve never been a part of a project like that. So it’s madness, but it’s also extremely exhilarating, and I think it’s forcing us to really tap into lots of journalistic tools that we’ve been gathering over the years to try to pull this off.
How did you decide whom to feature on the podcast? Wicker: We only wanted to do this [podcast] if we could make it as local as possible and bring in [as many] Georgia voices as possible. So, let’s not have a [national] pundit when we could have a local reporter who works for the paper, who has been on the ground covering this for years, not just months. And credit to [Albright] and our producers, because they’ve been really great at letting us do that. I think one of the first things we did was make a list of voices that we thought were really important, from reporters to organizers to everyday people. And for the most part, the voices we said were important have been included. I think that’s what has made [the podcast] interesting for people who don’t live in Georgia, but still feel local enough for people who live [here] to feel attached to it.
Browne: We didn’t want it to be, Look at us, look at us. We wanted it to be, Look at everything else. It’s very clear that we want this to be about the people who didn’t just wake up a couple of weeks ago and be like, Oh, we care about Georgia. Our focus has been [on those who have been] really thinking about this and busting their ass for years to get us to a point where we can have a podcast like this.
I think it’s telling, too, that the podcast doesn’t just focus on what is happening in Atlanta, but features interviews with leaders in Savannah and Albany, and reminds folks that the cities and towns outside Atlanta are no less important.
Wicker: I think that was something that was a number one priority for me. A few weeks before I signed on to do this project, I had done another article about Black organizers [in Georgia]. I talked to a young woman who had been organizing in Albany, who talked about organizing for not only the senate runoff, but also for the public service commissioner runoff. She said something that really stood out to me, like, I can’t organize here by saying we want to get the film and TV makers who are big business and all those things. That’s not going to bring people to the polls, because that’s not what people in Albany care about. I have to tailor my message to them. If we were going to talk about Georgia, we couldn’t just make it seem like Atlanta was the only place in Georgia that mattered, or the only place that has Black people, or the only place where these organizers are focusing, because that’s not true. Organizing is very, very different if you’re in a community where there’s low broadband [access]. You have to do things differently. Stacey Abrams had to go on the gospel radio stations to meet fans. I just didn’t think we would be telling the story right if we weren’t encompassing all of that.
Browne: For me, it’s part of an ongoing process of confronting some of my past ignorance and biases. I have, for most of my life, treated Atlanta like the center of the universe, and everything outside of it was like, whatever. It came from a place of pride, but it also can also bleed into ignorance. So much of making this podcast was not falling into very easy traps. And I think [with] the election, there’s this narrative of, Atlanta did it. Atlanta played a huge part in Georgia going blue, but Atlanta didn’t do it on its own. It is possible to still think Atlanta is the greatest place, but also put it on this false pedestal where nothing else outside of Atlanta is important and influential. So, I’m [rethinking] some of the ways I’ve thought in the past and trying to make sure those familiar trappings don’t happen.
Wicker: It’s the same way we in Atlanta don’t like to feel like we’re being “othered,” so why would we do that to communities here in Georgia? I think Rembert is right; sometimes, us Atlantans have to check that tendency to do that and be better about it, and I think this podcast has been a really great opportunity to do that.
What has been the most difficult part of making this podcast so far? What’s been biggest challenge you guys have run into?
Browne: One is, even before an episode goes up, we’re already thinking about the next one. But it’s also really difficult to do [a podcast] like this in Covid. It’s hard to do everything in Covid. There’s lots of situations where it’d be super easy to just roll up on someone and be like, Hey, let’s knock this [interview] out right now. But we might have to do it on Zoom. There are just more things to consider, even down to just getting equipment to [record] the podcast. A lot of things that I wouldn’t have expected are these little hurdles that make things not impossible, but a little harder.
Wicker: Doing a podcast that spans a little over a month would be difficult regardless, but we’re doing this over a holiday break. We’re not even getting true full weeks between episodes because you have to account for Christmas, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve. We’ve been able to navigate around it and get the interviews we need, but it certainly has added a bit of a challenge.
What have been your favorite or most impactful interviews?
Browne: Some of the interviews have been really fun for me because I’ve chatted with folks I’ve known for decades. I’ve known [the New Yorker journalist] Charles Bethea since I was a kid. It’s been great to watch him become a trusted national reporter who actually is local. He didn’t show up in Georgia six months ago and start writing about Georgia. He grew up here, he lives here. It’s very cool for me to do interviews that feel more like conversations.
Wicker: For me, it was the interview I did [in episode two] with [photojournalist] Alyssa Pointer from the AJC. We never worked together [when I was on staff at the AJC], but we had mutual friends. When I saw the news that she had been detained [by police while covering a protest for the AJC this past summer], it really impacted me. I had a hard time with it. I remember being really upset because I knew [Pointer] was the type of person that would brush it off and go right back to work. And I was really worried, not just about her, but the trauma that all of these reporters [in similar encounters nationwide] were dealing with—Black reporters who were going back to work and not having the time to really sit with what had occurred. I was so grateful [to do the interview with Pointer]. It was just such a touching moment. It’s a testament to the character [of these reporters that] they brush it off and go back to work, but it’s kind of sad they feel that they work [in an environment] where they have to be like, Oh well, go back to work, and not really take a second for themselves. That really sucks.
What do you want listeners to take away from this podcast?
Browne: I want this podcast to serve as almost like a time capsule that you can pick up and listen to at any point to find out about the heart and soul of the moment—the nuts and bolts of what happened, but also how it felt and how this moment impacted people. But the thing that also moves me the most is when I think that the voices we’re highlighting in this podcast include a series of people who made very purposeful decisions in their lives—whether it was five years ago, two years ago, whatever—to look at Georgia and want to change it. We started the podcast with [Nse Ufot, the executive director of the New Georgia Project,] telling that story about how she drove from Canada back home to Atlanta because she believed in something. That’s a purposeful position that someone made that literally has impacted an entire state and nation. Yes, there’s Stacey Abrams. [There are] people like Nse. But in order to get here, there were thousands and thousands of people that made little or massive decisions and changes in their lives to push Georgia a little bit.
Where we are now is the sum of a lot of really purposeful, powerful decisions. It’s really beautiful to see [how] a lot of people can come together in a state that [many] don’t really understand, and can really, collectively change the place they live. I just feel honored to be able to give these people some shine.
Wicker: When I think about my role as a reporter, it’s to document these moments and create that time capsule so we can have an accurate depiction of what this [election] looked like and what it means for years to come. That’s why I love that we’re doing this documentary style, because for me, it’s mainly just telling the story of, How did we get here? What happened and what’s become of it? We still don’t know. But being able to tell that story and provide that context is the most important thing for me.
The 2020 election is over . . . not. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re well aware that Georgia is going to be the center of the political universe for the next two months while incumbent Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock duke it out for the state’s two U.S. Senate seats. And while there will be plenty of analysis, attack ads, debates, and tweets, what you need to know the most right now is how to vote. Below, a handy quick-start guide:
Can I register to vote in the January 5 runoff even if I wasn’t registered for the general?
Yes! The voter registration deadline for the January 5 runoff is December 7. You can register online here through the Secretary of State’s office. To register online, you must have a valid Georgia driver’s license or ID card issued by Georgia DDS. If you don’t have either of these things, you can apply using this mail-in form, which will ask for the last 4 digits of your social security number in lieu of a driver’s license or Georgia ID number. Print and complete the form and mail it; the postage is prepaid. If you don’t own a printer, you can get one of these forms at the county board of registrars’ office, or an election office, libraries, schools, recruitment offices, or if you’re a college student, from your school’s registrar office.
To be eligible to vote in Georgia, you must be a U.S. citizen, a legal resident of whichever county you live in, and at least 18 years old on Election Day (you can register once you hit 17 and a half years old). You also cannot be serving a sentence “for conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude,” and you cannot have been found “mentally incompetent” by a judge.
What if I was 17 on Election Day but I’ll be 18 by the January 5 runoff? Yup, you can vote as as long as you will be 18 on or before January 5 and register to vote by December 7.
Can I request an absentee ballot for the January runoff?
Sure can. Complete an application online (you’ll need your county, state ID number, birth date, and legal name). Alternatively, you can fill out this PDF and return to your county board of registrars via mail, fax, or email. You’ll need to sign the PDF application, so make sure it matches the signature the state has on file on your ID. Just as in the general election, absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, January 5. Request and send your ballot sooner rather than later; while state law says that absentee ballots can be requested through the Friday before the election, for the January 5 runoff, that Friday happens to be New Year’s Day, so you’ll want to have thought ahead. Also be mindful of postal delays due to the holidays. Remember that you can also drop off your ballot at an official county drop box up until 7 p.m. on Election Day. Check your county’s election website for details and drop box locations: Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton.
Will there be early voting for the runoff?
Yes, indeed—early voting for the January runoff starts on December 14. Check your county’s elections website for polling place locations and hours.
Wait, aren’t there two elections coming up? One in December and one in January?
Yes, and it can be confusing. The election on January 5 will be runoffs for federal offices, most notably, the elections for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats. This is the one that is attracting national attention.
However, there is another election on December 1 for local and state runoffs. Ironically, here in Atlanta, the most high-profile runoff on that ballot is, in fact, a federal one: the runoff between Kwanza Hall and Robert Franklin to determine who will hold 5th District Congressional District seat for the rest of the current term, which is just a few weeks. Nikema Williams, who won the November 3 general election, will hold the seat for the next full term and will be sworn in on January 3, 2021.
For those living in State Senate District 39, there is also the Special Democratic Primary on December 1 to determine who will fill Nikema Williams’s vacated state Senate seat. Sonya Halpern and Linda Prichett are the candidates. An important thing to know about this one: it is on its own separate ballot. This means that if you already voted early for the 5th Congressional District runoff (early voting began on November 9 and runs through the 25th), you have not yet voted in the state Senate runoff and will still need to do so. Early voting for this state Senate runoff will be held on November 23-25. Furthermore, Fulton County elections chief Richard Barron also told the AJC that voters who arrive to vote in-person on December 1 will have to check-in twice to vote in both the 5th Congressional District and State Senate District 39 runoffs and that there will be separate voter check-in lines for the congressional runoff and the state Senate runoff. So, just know that if you live in both of these districts, you are eligible to vote in both runoffs, and be sure to ask poll workers on-site for help if you are confused. (You likely won’t be the only one.)
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