We are home, sweet home
Let New York City and Los Angeles have their tired narrative about the starstruck singer, just off the bus with only a guitar, who hits it big or whose dreams are crushed by the merciless music scene. It may not be easy to hit it big in Atlanta, but this city is a lot more comfortable and comforting for musicians. And so they stay here, or they find their way back.
This is an age-old tradition in Atlanta, where blues empress Bessie Smith relocated from Chattanooga in 1913 to develop her fledgling act at the Eighty One Theatre on Decatur Street while, outside in the street, Fiddlin’ John Carson—who’d recently moved his family to Cabbagetown for work in the cotton mills—was busking for spare change. Carrying on this tradition today are musicians like Bradford Cox, the lead singer of indie rock band Deerhunter, and Prince’s former bass player, Mark Brown, also known as BrownMark.
“There’s no way I could afford to own a house in New Jersey, much less New York, and let’s not even mention Los Angeles or San Francisco,” says Cox, 35, who grew up in Marietta and now lives in Grant Park.
He doesn’t feel like he’s missing out by being in this city and says he likes to haunt Wax N Facts in Little Five Points or pick through old books at a local Goodwill. “People laugh at me when I say it, but I’ve always thought the main branch of the Atlanta–Fulton County Library is better than the New York Public Library,” he says.
BrownMark, who played in the Revolution for Prince, moved here to be closer to his sister and take advantage of the growing movie industry and music scene. “I’ve always wanted to try scoring a movie, and I can’t imagine a better place to do it than Atlanta, the Black Mecca,” says Brown, 55.
His sister, who has multiple sclerosis, was living in San Francisco when she decided to retire. The cost of living there—87 percent higher than Atlanta—posed a problem. “So, we looked around at other cities,” Brown says.
Atlanta made the cut. With a vibrant music scene, powerful producers, affordable housing, and an easy-to-access airport, the city has all the comforts of home. And so, for a growing number of musicians, it is just that.