red letter day
• Locals' band hitting it big
in Atlanta, will
play The Roxy March 25
By Parish Howard
"When people hear us, they're shocked to find out we're from here," Russ Norton, Red Letter Agent's percussionist said last week. "Our sound is more European. They don't expect our southern accents or to find out we grew up in a small town."
But it's as much their growing up in Jefferson County as their leaving it, their influences here as the contrast between it and their new home in the big city that is molding the four local guys' band, Red Letter Agent, into something that is forcing the Atlanta music scene to take note and nod their heads to the beat.
"In a city known primarily for its prospering hip-hop and R&B scene, Red Letter Agent could easily be the band that reminds the rest of the country that Atlanta can produce amazing rock music as well," said 99X (WNNX) Music Director Jay Harren. "REM did it in the 80s, the Black Crowes in the 90s, and Red Letter Agent seems poised to do it now."
Making the Band
Ever since its first real Atlanta gig opening for another band at The Hardrock Café two years ago, Red Letter Agent has been turning heads in the area music scene. More and more people in the industry are recognizing the potential in these four guys from Jefferson County and the as yet unsigned band they've become.
Red Letter Agent, also known as RLA, features Norton on the drums, Louisville native Travis Jones on guitar, Wrens natives Chris Collins at bass and James Templeton as lead vocals.
Their newest CD, "Burn the Good Ones Down" was released this week in Atlanta Best Buy stores and the band is scheduled to headline a March 25 concert at The Roxy. Singles from the album are already seeing regular rotation on 99X. In the radio station's history, only a few unsigned artists have been added to this prestigious spot, including The Marvelous 3 and Shawn Mullins. Already the band has earned and caught the attention of award winning program director Leslie Fram who helped launch the careers of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and John Mayer.
"She was a key player in breaking the early 90s grunge movement," Norton said.
RLA's "Burn the Good Ones Down" follows their "Under Starlight" EP which garnered "Best Local Release" at the Atlanta Music Guide Awards last fall.
"Smart hooks, intelligent lyrics and amazing vocals set Red Letter Agent apart from your everyday rock band," 99X's Harren said. "This is the band to watch break out of obscurity and into the limelight."
While the band, RLA, has only existed for two years, these four musicians have known each other nearly all their lives. Collins said they've been jamming together on and off for 10 years, but it was only in the last few that the guys really started taking their love of music to the next level.
After Jones and Norton graduated from Thomas Jefferson Academy in 1993 and 1994, followed by Templeton and Collins from Jefferson County High School in 1996, the four found themselves in Statesboro at Georgia Southern University.
"Russ and James got together and started writing these songs," Collins said. "They'd work like six and eight hours a day, just writing, writing, writing."
Hoping to get closer to the scene, the four moved to Atlanta with the intentions of playing music.
"There's a huge interest right now in the Atlanta rock scene," Collins said. "I don't know how we ended up there, but we're leading the pack."
According to those studying that scene, it appears that RLA has the right mix of talent and luck to be doing the right thing, in the right place at the right time.
Norton sees Atlanta changing, growing, embracing an influx of people from the North East, California and Eastern Europe.
"We have the right sound, we're very Eurocentric," Norton said. "We seemed to pop out of obscurity. Usually it takes bands four or five years to get some attention. We were playing Music Midtown the first year. After that it seemed like everyone knew who we were. The heavy hitters in town heard us, liked us and were backing us. There is this resurgence of interest in unsigned rock right now, but a lot of them are looking to us to be the first ones to break out, kind of like Collective Soul did. Right now we're touring regionally."
Like the rest of the band, Templeton, the lead singer, comes from a long line of musicians.
"Songwriting, for me, is about being open," he said. "It's always about an emotion, finding an emotion and focusing on it."
The title track from the new album, "Burn the Good Ones Down" began in his mind with images he had of homeless people.
"It's about freedom, what it means to be free and about breaking through the walls," Templeton said.
Another song from their new album getting some attention is "Hide Your Love Away."
"There are times when we all feel unimportant," Templeton said, "like you don't have anything to offer. But you do. You can't see it but you do. So, in the song we're asking you not to hide your love away."
"Sure, growing up in Wrens, the groups we were a part of and the culture there, it all plays a part in who we are," Templeton said. "It's a lot different from where we are now. I mean, back then if someone had an earring or long hair, people looked at you weird. And the peer pressure, how you had to be on the baseball team if you were going to be considered cool. I'm not saying that it was a bad thing, no, I think it was a good thing. It's just so different here, so much more free. But no, we definitely appreciate where we come from. It was good for us as people and as a band. It's a part of who we are."
"We're finally getting to a place where we're finding out who we are," Norton said. "We don't have the same muses we had back when. Growing up, all the pop culture we had was piped in through the radio and TV. You know how it is. Now we're living in this artistic scene, we're participating in it. The music, the art, everything is a lot more open and experimental."
Still, Templeton said, the band owes a lot to where it comes from, to the place its members call home.
"Our folks have been great," Templeton said.
A lot of people wouldn't have been so supportive in helping them chase this dream, he added.
Norton is the son of Spence and Nancy Norton, formerly of Wrens, and the nephew of Jefferson County Commissioner Sydney Norton. Jones is the son of Jefferson County Clerk of Court Mickey Jones and Debbie McMillan of Wadley. Collins is the son of Lindsey Collins and Darlene Collins, Wrens Baptist Church's pianist. Templeton is the son of classical pianist John and Roberta Templeton of Wrens.
The guys, who hope to see some hometown faces at their upcoming show at The Roxy March 25, can be reached through their website at www.redletteragent.com.
"This is going to be a big show for us," Templeton said. "We've played up and down the East Coast, New York, Boston, Birmingham, Athens, Charlotte. But this is going to be the first show we're headlining."
Representatives from such major labels as Epic Records and ANR are expected to attend the show. Other unsigned Atlanta bands performing include Second Shift, The Whigs and Y-O-U.
"These are the hottest of Atlanta's unsigned bands," Templeton said. "We're the ones carrying the torch for Atlanta rock."
Tickets are available at www.atlantaconcerts.com and www.ticketmaster.com. The doors open at 7 p.m.
The band is also scheduled to play the mainstage at Music Midtown June 10-12.
Anthrax drill will be Saturday
• More than 200 volunteers to participate with drill in Glascock County
By Parish Howard
Is rural Georgia ready for a terrorist group's biological assault? Say, if the Gibson Post Office was to receive a package laced with anthrax spores, would the right people know what to do, and would they be able to get it done in time to save lives?
These are the questions the East Central Georgia Health District (ECHD) hopes to answer this Saturday when it launches the first full-scale exercise to evaluate operational procedures and policies involving the dispersal of Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) medical supplies for a terrorist attack in rural Georgia.
"Dr. Frank Rumph, the Medical Director of the ECHD has made the decision that in the event we face a biological attack, then everyone in the effected county will be receiving antibiotic treatments," said Nona Lord, Facility Administrator for the Glascock County Health Department. "That way, if an incident were to happen, we would save as many lives as possible."
For any agency charged with the responsibility of taking care of the public's health in a situation like this, the toughest part is organizing the logistics involved in getting treatment to each of the county's residents within 48 hours.
Lord, with the help of more than 200 volunteers, intend to take this Saturday to see if it is possible to treat 52 people per hour at Glascock County Consolidated School, the area's designated dispensing site.
"Through the Strategic National Stockpile program we can receive a push pack within 12 hours that will contain medications, antibiotics and other medical supplies to treat everyone here," Lord said. "We're working out the process of how this will be done."
The SNS program has 12 stockpiles, each containing 50 tons of pharmaceutical supplies, scattered throughout the United States ready and waiting to ship supplies to any area that has suffered a terrorist attack, whether it involve small pox, plague, botulism nerve agents or any number of other possibilities, Lord said.
In Glascock's drill, Lord and her cohorts will be responding to an anthrax contamination. The same day, in Emanuel County, health officials will be responding to a drill involving a chlorine chemical spill.
"The point of this is to learn where our weaknesses are, to address those and to prepare for the future," Lord said.
In addition to the many local volunteers who will be participating, evaluators from the Center for Disease Control, the State Office of Public Health and South Carolina health officials will be participating. Between 120 and 130 employees of The ECHD from other counties will be participating as "victims." A class of 16 nursing students and four instructors from Sandersville Tech particpated last week along with school officials, local law enforcement from a number of agencies and quite a few citizens.
"I've really been impressed by the dedication our volunteers have shown," Lord said. "I borrowed eight public health nurses for this exercise, and there are so many people who have taken time off of work to come out and participate in this. Not only does it show their support for the community, but it also shows how important they believe it is for us to be prepared for something like this. Everyone thinks terrorists are more likely to target large metropolitan areas, but you never know. If small pox were released in a busy airport, just think of all the cities, states, and countries it could spread to before anyone recognized the symptoms."
While the focus of previous drills has predominantly been on metropolitan areas, the ECHD and other health agencies across the country are taking notice of the need to train individuals in rural areas for situations like this. Representatives for the SNS know that different communities require different plans.
"This is the first time in the state of Georgia we've done this test in a rural county," Gary Scattowitz, SNS biological training coordinator told the volunteers gathered at last week's dry-run. "It's very important to look for ways to make the flow better. Ms. Lord and others have put an inordinate amount of work into this exercise."
Lord said that its going to be the volunteers, the training and the cooperation of various agencies that make the difference in a real life situation like this one.
According to ECHD Emergency Coordinator Charles Reneau, the best hands-on-training is that which leaves the participant with a clear sense of the correct actions to be implemented or performed in a specific situation or event.
Saturday's event is designed to do just that, to train, and to save lives.
BOE asks fellow school boards to join landfill fight
• Legislators Powell and Lord fail to introduce requested legislation
By Ben Roberts
The Jefferson County Board of Education is looking to enlist broader support after their requests for statewide legislation to limit the location of regional landfills failed to be introduced by State Senator J.B. Powell (D-23rd) or State Representative Jimmy Lord (D-142).
At its March meeting last week, the school board unanimously passed a resolution by a vote of 4-0 formally requesting the Georgia School Board Association (GSBA) to “endorse a proposal to pass legislation that would prohibit the permitting of a new regional landfill within two miles of any existing public school.” They also asked that the legislation would bar any attempt for a change in permit from local to regional as well.
Board chairman, James Fleming Jr., was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, but Superintendent Carl Bethune said Fleming had asked that he go ahead and put the resolution before the board to meet GSBA’s deadline for legislative requests.
The resolution is similar to one passed by the board on Oct. 14, 2004, requesting Georgia’s General Assembly to take up the issue. The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners has give their support to the Board of Education’s request as well, unanimously passing a resolution of support at their Feb. 8 meeting.
Bethune provided The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter with a Jan. 24, 2005 letter he wrote to Sen. Powell formally requesting the introduction of the statewide legislation. Bethune said he met with Sen. Powell before the letter was written and explained the school board’s position on the matter. According to Bethune, Powell never indicated in that meeting, nor in conversations or e-mails since, that he would not introduce the legislation.
Bethune said he met with Lord as well in late 2004 in the representative’s Sandersville office and Lord told him at that time that he would not introduce the legislation, saying it would never pass statewide.
"It would be a waste of effort,” Lord said in a phone interview from the capital on Tuesday. Lord went on to say that too many of Georgia’s large municipalities deal with regional landfills and that representatives from those areas would not support limitations restricting the locations of much needed landfills. Lord said that while he would not introduce such legislation, he would support the Board of Education’s efforts should it ever make it to the House floor.
“I’ll vote for it, but I will not take it on as a project,” he said. “I’m not going to introduce it.”
In a Feb. 21 email sent in response to the superintendent, Powell told Bethune that he and Lord were “working on some legislation that will help your situation.”
That legislation was a request from the Jefferson County Commission to introduce “local” legislation requiring that any sale or lease of the county landfill would have to be approved by a majority of commissioners and ratified by two consecutive Jefferson County Grand Juries.
According to commissioners, such legislation would be an impediment to any sale of the landfill, and Lord agrees with that sentiment.
“There’s no way in the world they’d be able to get two consecutive Grand Juries to vote for it (the sale of the landfill),” Lord said.
Bethune disagrees however and would prefer something stronger.
“I think statewide legislation that prohibits the (landfill’s) location is what we’d like to see,” he said.
Powell did not return a phone call placed to his office on Monday of this week, but during a phone interview with The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter in late February, he said it would do no good to introduce the statewide legislation because it did not have enough support to pass. Bethune disagrees with that statement, as well.
“I’m very, very disappointed in that the school board and the county commission of Jefferson County both requested this legislation and they represent the people of this county and still our local senator and representative couldn’t get it introduced,” he said. “Their reasoning is that the bill would not be successful in passing, but it certainly won’t be successful if it’s never introduced. I’d just like to see it get its day in court.”
The Board of Education’s legislative proposal will be considered by the GSBA’s Governmental Operations Committee (GOC) at its meeting on April 25, 2005. Recommendations from the GOC will be voted on by GSBA delegates at the Delegate Assembly in June.
Lord said the county commission’s local legislation will pass without any question. He said it has been drafted and introduced in the House and he expects it to be on its way to the Senate by the end of this week.
Commissioners vote to continue operations at county landfill
By Ben Roberts
After months of speculation and numerous rounds of discussions in recent weeks, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners voted at last Tuesday’s regular meeting to continue operations at the county landfill without a single comment from the audience for or against the action.
No more than 10 minutes discussion among commissioners was all that was needed before Johnny Davis made a motion for the county to begin the construction of new cells at the facility. That motion was seconded by Tommy New and then passed by a vote of 4-0. Sidney Norton was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’ve exhausted all avenues,” New said in reference to alternatives to making a choice between keeping the landfill open or closing the site altogether. “We’ve got to make a decision tonight. We don’t need any more input or more research or more studies. It’s time for us to act.”
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New and commission Chairman William Rabun traveled to McDuffie County to look at how that county handles its waste collection and disposal. McDuffie County does not operate its own landfill, however, instead it uses a transfer station to combine its waste and haul it to another facility outside the county.
New said he didn’t believe Jefferson County could operate in the same manner because of several differences between the two counties. New said Jefferson County’s population is much more spread out than McDuffie’s, which is based largely in its county seat of Thomson. New also said Jefferson County has many more miles of dirt roads to contend with when it comes to collection trucks making rounds.
“In my opinion, we’re in a completely different situation, there’s no way we could do it (like them),” New said.
“Any way we go on this issue, the landfill is going to be expensive,” Rabun said, talking about the facility’s continuing drain on the county and municipalities versus closing it for good and paying for the collection and transfer to another location.
“We’ve got to do what’s best for ourselves,” Davis said before making his motion to begin the construction of new cells at the site.
A crowd of close to 50 in the audience made no comments regarding the landfill vote. Representatives from Jefferson County’s six municipalities told commissioners at a Feb. 25 meeting between the cities and the county that they would like to see the facility remain open.
The commission also unanimously voted to approve two resolutions originally adopted by a previous commission in 1996. One of those resolutions is an agreement with the residents of Mennonite Road stating, among other things, that no out of county or out of state waste will be accepted at the landfill. The other is an agreement with the Citizens Committee regarding agreed upon practices for the landfill’s operation.