Anyone who’s a fan of music has their mainstream favorites, but we all know those hometown musicians who are beating the pavement all the way to local watering holes day in and day out. From Arizona to Georgia, I’ve seen talented artists who will never be seen by a major record company perform on the same patios every weekend for the sheer love of the music and the people who come to listen.
Dive bars, breweries, restaurants, and town centers are home to singers and instrumentalists, duos, and garage bands. Every town in America has one thing in common- there’s always at least one person who is willing to pick up their instrument, play on that patio, and bring joy to patrons’ hearts through song. Woodstock, Georgia is no different. Sitting just south of the Appalachian Mountains, this small town is home to a number of musicians who are local legends (and some international as well). Mr. Kurt Lee Wheeler is one of those said legends.
Those who know him personally will tell you that whenever you speak with Kurt, you get a sermon out of it, despite Wheeler arguing that fact. One of the most genuine and caring people out there, this small town musician makes a big noise when it comes to doing what he loves.
“It’s not a ‘got to’ for me, it’s a ‘get to’ when it comes to music. I’m just your everyday guy playing one hundred thirty shows a year within a twenty-mile circle”
says Wheeler. “I don’t really know when I started doing the music thing… I feel like music has been doin’ me my whole life. I grew up in church and music was just part of my every day. Around age 12, a lady in my church told me that I needed to sing louder! It was embarrassing for me, but I listened and went from there. At some point in my youth, my mom showed me a few chords, which I wasn’t very good at, on a 1956 Deca- which she actually had rebuilt and gave to me for Christmas this last year. In high school I found out a friend of mine played guitar and sang during a talent show. I saw him get on that stage and thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life. That night I went home and saw an advertisement on TV for a Roy Clark Big Note Guitar Book. I got my parents to write me a check and ordered it. After football practice that week I bought myself a $35 Regal guitar from Sears. Music became my solace.” Kurt reminisces.
“I’m not trying to make it big. My mission in life has always been to strengthen, support and sustain those around me to be the best they can be. That mission doesn’t change- whether I’m at the cattle market with my dad or playing guitar at the local brewery. What keeps me going is I ‘get to.’ I don’t know that I’ve ever dreaded playing a show. I just feel blessed to be able to do what I do. I get to go out and support people. I get to give them a moment, maybe to forget the stuff going on in their lives, maybe remember some things and reclaim some things that they lost. I get to just make people feel good.”
Taking the time to speak with local musicians is something I encourage anyone who is a fan of music in any town to do. The quote goes, “where words fail, music speaks” and those words could not be more true. Music is a lifeline for so many as it allows us to tell stories about our past and dream of the future. It helps preserve our ever-fading history for future generations.