Friday, March 30, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

NASHVILLE—Earl Scruggs’ immortal soul left this city and his beloved Southland and for a few moments I pondered what he meant to me. While I was a student at Emory University, I saw the quiet, soft-spoken man who literally elevated the 5-string banjo to its exalted status as a purely American instrument. Scruggs was a member of The Foggy Mountain Boys and a then unknown Bob Dylan was the opening act. The students loved the music.

Years later in Boston, booked into the Parker House, I turned on the radio to Harvard’s radio station. The program was “Country in Cambridge,” and there was Earl playing one of his signature songs, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Scruggs’ bluegrass music and banjo recordings traveled well, earning him a multicultural fan base. I still have the vinyl recording of the Foggy Mountain Boys at Carnegie Hall.

The South’s voice is found in the art forms, particularly our indigenous music. It’s core Americana, a synthesis of Europe and Africa. In Bluegrass, gospel music remains indistinguishable from secular. This is the birthplace of rock and roll, jazz, blues, gospel and yes, bluegrass. Earl Scruggs mastered each form (check out his recordings with his son Randy as “The Earl Scruggs Review”), and earned acclaim, garnering awards including the National Medal of Arts.    

During the Vietnam War, Earl appeared in Washington to perform at anti-war concerts, a very brave act during those turbulent times. Scruggs, usually along with his son, performed throughout the world, taking his music to new generations.

Earl Scruggs with the Byrds and many other rockers, inspiring other musicians including the cerebral comedian, actor, author Steve Martin, who plays Scruggs-style banjo

Johnny Cash, Elvis, Hank Williams, the Eagles, Marshall Tucker Band, Bill Monroe, Gram Parsons, Bella Fleck, the Carter Family are part of Earl Scruggs’ music legacy. I plan to walk the grounds of Emory University to recall that night long ago when the music from Earl Scruggs transformed my life. Strength, I learned, was made of dignity, modesty, immeasurable talent and skill blended with a measure of courage.

 Weekend trips or major vacation planning? Visit

Thursday, March 29, 2012




By Doc Lawrence

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL—Baseball’s spring training is a Florida ritual that dates back to the earliest days of America’s national pastime. The older parks like the Detroit Tigers facilities in Lakeland may host some of the ghosts of baseball’s greats. A few cocktails and it’s possible for even the casual fan to feel the presence of Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantel, Roger Maris or Casey Stengel.

The 2012 Atlanta Braves train and play in comfort at Disneyworld, close enough to the attractions to keep the games sold out. Spring training isn’t designed to produce a winning season, and good managers never concern themselves with losses. The objective is to get into shape, look at players in a competitive environment and decide the official roster for this year.

Bad memories of last year’s monumental collapse still linger and still defy explanation. Deep inside, there is a longing for something good to happen again. Like 1991 and 1995. All things are possible in baseball where surprises and miracles still happen.

This is Chipper Jones’ last year in uniform and chances are he will take on a high profile position with the Braves next year wearing a business suit. Baseball might be a great team sport, but by September, it is more about pitching than anything. What about the resiliency of Messrs. Hanson, Hudson and Jurrjens? Will the bullpen be able to meet the extra demands of the Braves’ system which has them pitching in every game?

Fredi Gonzalez, nice guy and likeable, has a season for redemption. Baseball fans can be very forgiving, but the specter of collapse has to be met with renewed enthusiasm and a positive record. Realistically, this team could have a great season. McCann and Ross are the best 1-2 catchers in baseball, Freeman at first base is a winner, Haywood is still a kid getting better, and Martin Prado should return to form.

Keep you fingers crossed about the pitching. Like all other teams, it’s the critical ingredient.


A vacation in the South? Visit Wines Down South:

Thursday, March 22, 2012


                LOSING A FRIEND

By Doc Lawrence

MARIETTA, GA--News of the closing of this lovely city’s Theatre in the Square felt like a kick in the stomach. This was where I took my kids to learn about life’s components: interpretation, the power of performance, music and dance, cultural heritage, risk and most of all the time-proven, soul-enriching gifts created on the live stage. I always believed that Tennessee Williams, Bernard Shaw, Arthur Miller and Oscar Wilde haunted the theater building. Blanch and Stanley, Big Daddy and Maggie the Cat, Willie Loman, Truman Capote, Reverend Thomas Dorsey, Maria Callas and Patsy Cline were there in spirit.

During the 1996 Summer Olympics I took new friends from foreign countries to see the wonderful musical “Zion,” a tribute to things spiritual and an anthem of reconciliation. Later, I “met” Mahalia Jackson as portrayed by the incomparable Bernadine Mitchell, a singer/actress that we in Georgia proudly call our own.

Theatre in the Square spawned actors, set designers, musicians, playwrights, directors and producers that did the South proud. Never just another local community theater, it was at times on the level with some of the great stages in large cities: Miami, Washington, New York, Chicago, Houston and yes, Atlanta.

According to Atlanta lawyer Sarah Mallas Wayman, who is Greek-American, “the art of performing stories before audiences came from ancient Greece. How many realize that great Biblical stories were often performed in Greece by early Christians?”

Like all great theatrical companies, Theatre in the Square stayed on the edge, refusing to put a wet finger to the air. It lived according to a high standard. However, let it be said that they gave the community a healthy dose of diversity. “The 1940’s Radio Hour,” The Gospel of John,” “The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” had a good home there.

I am grateful for all the blood, sweat and tears, and pray this is not a harbinger of things to come. As Kenny Leon says, the magic in the live stage performance is that, unlike movies, we all breathe the same air.

My flesh and blood had the blessing of watching actors become so real they made them-and me- laugh and cry. That is part of the legacy of Theatre in the Square.

A society that relegates the arts to the trash heap temps triggering the law of unintended consequences. I didn’t say that, but a very prominent Georgia business leader did.

Enjoy a journey along Georgia’s Civil War Trail, following the path of “The Great Locomotive Chase” from Atlanta to just south of Chattanooga:

Friday, March 16, 2012


                  Father Thomas O’Reilly

By Doc Lawrence

Since childhood days, I’ve known about the incident. Every word is true and remains one of the most fascinating stories I know about the Civil War and St. Patrick’s Day.

This wasn’t about battlefield courage, a strategy that resulted in a monumental victory, or a stirring, inspirational speech. No, it was about how an Irish immigrant priest acting alone on behalf of God and innocent civilians, confronted a mighty warrior, faced impending execution squarely in the eye and peacefully won a victory that somehow escaped history books.

A native of County Cavan, Ireland, Thomas O’Reilly, appointed as pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, arrived in Atlanta in 1861. Atlanta was a strategic transportation center for the Confederacy, and in 1864, the Union army, commanded by Gen. William T. Sherman, held Atlanta under siege with intense artillery bombardment. During the horror of Sherman’s extended assault, Father O’Reilly ministered to the wounded and dying of both armies, along with civilian casualties.

After the Battle of Atlanta, the city fell, and the decision was made to destroy Georgia’s infrastructure as part of Sherman’s well-known “March to the Sea.” Sherman issued the order for Atlanta to be burned, including all homes and churches. Enraged, O’Reilly gained an audience with Sherman at his headquarters, which is now the site of the Carter Center and Presidential Library.

The confrontation was unpleasant. O’Reilly, failing in his efforts to persuade Sherman to spare the city, was told by Sherman that he was pondering whether to have the priest summarily executed by firing squad. Undeterred, O’Reilly reminded Sherman that his army was substantially Irish Catholic conscripts who would likely mutiny before burning a Catholic church. O’Reilly also informed Sherman that, in the event of the destruction of churches, he would take official measures to have every Irish Catholic soldier in Sherman’s army excommunicated.

Sherman relented. Although the city was destroyed, five Atlanta churches were spared—three (Immaculate Conception, Trinity Methodist and Central Presbyterian) remain active today.

O’Reilly was not executed. Upon his death in 1872 at age 41, he was buried in the basement of his church. A few possessions are on display. His resting place, which may be viewed by appointment emits the feel of a sacred shrine. I have visited there regularly over the years.
Each year, at the end of Atlanta’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta places a wreath at the memorial for Thomas O’Reilly, which stands on the corner of Atlanta’s city hall. It was erected long ago by the congregations of the churches he saved.

The courage and tenacity of Father Thomas O’Reilly embody the ecumenical spirit
that continues to make Atlanta an international beacon for human rights.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!