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A Joyful Noise

A & E

Celtic-Angels-ChristmasCelebrate the holiday season with songs that have a classical, country, contemporary or Celtic twist

Worship services, baking, shopping, gift wrapping and family fellowship are some of the traditional hallmarks of the holiday season. However, it would be impossible to celebrate Christmas without music. Two upcoming holiday concerts will showcase the place that holiday tunes hold in our hearts – especially when the music comes with a folk music or a Celtic twist.

The Annie Moses Band will perform a Christmas-themed show with a blend of folk and classical music on Wednesday, November 28. The band, made up of musicians from the same family, has a sound all its own. The siblings call their style “chamber pop,” a blend of classical, jazz and pop, mixed with some good, old-fashioned country. Tickets are $49.

On Monday, December 10 the Irish Cultural Academy, in association with CMI Entertainment (USA), will present the first Christmas tour of the Celtic Angels Christmas production, a holiday celebration of Christmas in Ireland, highlighting yuletide music from across the centuries. The show features vocal and instrumental seasonal favorites alongside Irish, contemporary and original Christmas themes – with Celtic flair, of course. Routines by world champion dancers will accompany the music. Tickets are $44.50.

The shows will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Hardin Performing Arts Center. Dinner reservations for a pre-concert meal are available as well. For more information or to order tickets, visit augustaamusements.com or call (706) 726-0366.

Wonderful Christmastime

A & E

Joan-Ellison-3x3Augusta Symphony brings the community two new yuletide concerts
The only thing better than one holiday concert is two holiday concerts, and Augusta Symphony is offering music fans a double dose of yuletide tunes this month.

The first show, Augusta Symphony Holiday Spectacular, will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 6 at the Miller Theater.

In this inaugural holiday concert, the symphony will perform with the Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School Chorale and Joan Ellison, who specializes in reviving Judy Garland’s repertoire from the golden Hollywood years to her Carnegie Hall concert and television show.

“It’ll be really fun to perform with these great artists,” says Dirk Meyer, the symphony’s music director. “Joan is a truly outstanding performer, and I am also looking forward to working with the exceptional chorus from Davidson.”

The concert will include holiday favorites ranging from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” to tunes from Home Alone and It’s a Wonderful Life. Tickets range from $36 – $100.

The second concert, Family Holiday Spectacular, will begin at 4 p.m. Sunday, December 9 at Hardin Performing Arts Center. This one-hour concert, the first of two family concerts in Columbia County, is part of a new series designed to introduce children to the symphony. 

“Introducing children to symphonic music at a young age is a wonderful opportunity to instill a love of music, art and culture in them,” Meyer says. “It sets them off for a lifetime of enjoyment of this amazing art form.” 

The family program will feature highlights such as Polar Express, It’s a Wonderful Life and “Chestnuts.” Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets for the Columbia County series, which also includes Peter & the Wolf on March 24, are $52 for adults and $20 for students. 

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit augustasymphony.com.

It’s a Holiday Soul Party — Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Listen To This

Holiday-soul-partyIn a season of all things spice, the essential ingredients in your holiday soundtrack are a must. And there’s no tastier playlist to serve on your musical tabletop than It’s A Holiday Soul Party by our local late, great native sister, Sharon Jones, and her Dap Kings.

An old-school soul platter of 11 funky holiday jams is on tap as Sharon takes traditional Christmas numbers and stirs in some heavy-whipping soul.

A smooth-clackin’ rendition of “Silent Night” and a tassel-prancing “White Christmas” set the mood as original tunes like the deep-funky “Just Another Christmas Song” and horn-riffin’ slap-count of “8 Days of Hanukkah” take the spice cake. Released in 2015, It’s a Holiday Soul Party is still the complete spread of funky sprinkles and sugar power.

Whether you are hosting a holiday party or ripping through a mountain of gifts, this classic record will make you want to jump back and kiss yourself under the mistletoe.

- Chris Rucker

Holiday Magic

A & E

CarolersHave yourself a merry little Christmas at Evans Towne Center Park

Local residents can celebrate Christmas in Columbia County with lots of lights, cameras and action. From Friday, November 30 through Tuesday, January 1 Evans Towne Center Park will be filled with lighted Christmas trees, animated light displays and a Holiday Market where children can be photographed with Santa.

The festivities will begin with a sneak peek at the lights on November 30 from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m., where visitors will see the new, LED-programmable, 46-foot tree this year as well as a 1,000-foot white light tunnel.

Other attractions include an animated 12 Days of Christmas display, gingerbread houses, Santa’s sleigh with reindeer, lighted toy soldiers, musical nutcrackers, a caroling family, Santa on a golf car, a waving snowman, elves, Peanuts characters and a multi-colored light tunnel.

Sparkle Express train rides will be available near the playground, and special activities include a scavenger hunt and movie nights. Free photos with Santa will be available at the Holiday Market on Saturdays, December 1, 8 and 15. 

If You Go:
Friday, November 30
Sneak Peek 6 – 8 p.m.

Saturday, December 1 – Tuesday, January 1
Light Display 5 – 10 p.m.

Saturday, December 1
Tree Lighting with Holiday Market and Santa 2 – 6 p.m. 

Thursday, December 6
Holiday Market 4 – 8 p.m.

Friday, December 7
Holiday Market and Movie Night 6 – 9 p.m.

Saturday, December 8
Holiday Market and Santa 2 – 6 p.m. 

Thursday, December 13
Holiday Market 4 – 8 p.m.

Friday, December 14
Holiday Market and Movie Night 6 – 9 p.m. 

Saturday, December 15
Holiday Market and Santa 2 – 6 p.m.

Meeting Its Match

Features

Dr.-Ravindra-KolheMCG is part of a groundbreaking approach to cancer treatment
People always hope that there will be a breakthrough in cancer treatment. Now, local researchers will be involved in a new medical trial to assess the effectiveness of targeting cancer-causing genes rather than cancer types.

The Georgia Esoteric and Molecular Laboratory at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University has been selected as a laboratory for the National Cancer Institute’s Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice, or MATCH trial. It is the seventh academic lab in the nation designated for the trial.

The NCI-MATCH trial will enroll up to 6,500 patients at 2,400 participating sites across the country. These patients have solid tumors or lymphomas, which have progressed despite standard treatments, or rare cancers with no consensus treatment. 

For the trial, physicians send patient biopsies to these labs for analysis of cancer-causing gene changes, including mutations and amplifications. Patients are enrolled in one of nearly 40 treatments based on identified changes, regardless of their cancer type. 

“We are privileged to join the laboratory network for this groundbreaking national trial that we all hope will improve cancer treatment by precisely targeting a patient’s gene variants,” says Dr. Ravindra Kolhe, molecular pathologist and director of the GEM Laboratory in the MCG Department of Pathology. He also is the primary developer of a new test called Augusta OncoTarget.

One of the latest additions to MCG’s GEM Lab, Augusta OncoTarget includes next-generation sequencing that enables large numbers of genes, and an unprecedented number of known cancer-causing variants in those genes, to be tested simultaneously. 

“We believe this comprehensive analysis will help provide scientifically sound and personalized therapy targets for consideration by patients and their physicians,” Kolhe says.

The Noel Stranger by Richard Paul Evans

Literary Loop

The-Noel-StrangerMaggie Walther feels like her world is imploding. Publicly humiliated after her husband, a local councilman, is arrested for bigamy, and her subsequent divorce, she has isolated herself from the world.

When her only friend insists that Maggie climb out of her hole, and embrace the season to get her out of her funk, Maggie decides to put up a Christmas tree and heads off to buy one —albeit reluctantly. She is immediately taken by Andrew, the kind, handsome man who owns the Christmas tree lot and delivers her tree. She soon learns that Andrew is single and new to her city and, like her, is also starting his life anew.

As their friendship develops, Maggie slowly begins to trust again — something she never thought possible. Then, just when she thinks she has finally found happiness, she discovers a dark secret from Andrew’s past. Is there more to this stranger’s truth than meets the eye?

This powerful new holiday novel from Richard Paul Evans, the “King of Christmas fiction” (The New York Times), explores the true power of the season, redemption, and the freedom that comes from forgiveness. 

“Witty and interesting,” says Kirkus Reviews. “Evans’s fans will appreciate this tale of finding the good in everyone and loving people for who they are,” says Publisher’s Weekly.

Center of Attention

People
Photos courtesy of Meybohm Real Estate

Photos courtesy of Meybohm Real Estate

Planning and discussions for a downtown area in Columbia County have been years in the making, and the project finally is coming to fruition with the opening of The Plaza at Evans Towne Center.

Columbia County had a prime piece of property in Evans that was ripe for development into a town center. Meybohm Real Estate was looking to establish office space in the rapidly growing county. Their goals had all the makings of a great alliance between two heavyweight players. 

After all, E.G. Meybohm, chairman of Meybohm Real Estate, says, “Columbia County has been a big part of our business for a number of years. It has a lot of growth going on. We thought we had a chance to do something special for Columbia County as well as for ourselves.” 

Meybohm-119That something special turned into a public-private partnership between Columbia County and Meybohm to build a $65 million, mixed-used, downtown development in the heart of Evans at the intersection of Ronald Reagan Drive and Evans Town Center Boulevard. 

After almost three years of working together, the first building in Phase I, the Meybohm Building, is scheduled to open by the end of September.

Meybohm-102Thoroughly Modern 
The four-story, 58,000-square-foot Meybohm building includes a basement; retail space on the second floor, which is on street level; the Meybohm headquarters on the third story and a special events venue on the rooftop. The building includes four restaurant spaces, and Your Pie, a pizza and craft beer establishment, will be located on the second floor.

Other potential tenants include cyber and computer software companies, medical and legal offices, and insurance companies. 

Meybohm-123“This is a good spot for anyone who is looking to relocate, add another location or come to this market,” says Lionel Prather, senior vice president of commercial development. “We’re down the street from the courthouse, so having a law office close by would make a lot of sense.” 

The new Meybohm office allows the company to consolidate services such as its new homes and relocation divisions into one space. The office features polished concrete flooring; throw rugs; open, collaborative work space; a Success Center for training and lots of windows.

Meybohm-120“There is such a beautiful view on the back side of the building, and we incorporated a lot of glass on the back to take advantage of it,” says Meybohm. “The floor-length windows make it very inviting.” 

The brick building was designed to have an industrial look like an old mill. “You want something that’s new, but looks like it has always been there,” says John Cates, chief operating officer. 

The building has other modern amenities such as a high-speed wireless network. There is a public network for the lobby and parking areas and a private network for Meybohm. 

“From a real estate perspective, our business is changing,” says Mike Polatty, president and chief executive officer. “We wanted to create an office where the younger generation and existing Realtors want to come to work every day.” 

Along with the available retail space, the rooftop is a welcoming feature for the community as well.

With 1,300 square feet for corporate events and other parties, the rooftop includes indoor space with a bar, an industrial warming kitchen, five TVs and a partially covered veranda with ceiling fans overhead and heaters in the winter. The space can accommodate up to 300 people and seat 120 to 140 people. A preferred list of caterers is available.

More to Come
The 22-acre site, which will be anchored by the Columbia County Performing Arts Center that is under construction, will include two additional phases. Each phase has the capacity for three buildings. 

The second building in Phase I will include 45,000 square feet of retail and professional space, and the third building will house 20,000 square feet of professional or retail space. The second and third buildings will front the PAC.

However, the 225-space parking deck, which is part of Phase II and has been put out for construction bids by the county, will be the next structure built. 

“It’s going to maintain its integrity,” Polatty says of the development project. “It’s going to look like it all belongs together as new pieces are added.” 

The county sought public input about the development of the area, and Cates says community members offered good ideas, particularly about potential retail tenants. 

“If retailers in places like Atlanta, Charleston and Charlotte can see that there is a consumer demand for them here, it helps us pitch this space to them,” he says. 

A farmer’s market as well as additional green space for events will be built next to the PAC. 

A raised crosswalk across Evans Town Center Boulevard connects The Plaza with Evans Towne Center Park to slow traffic and to make it seem like a typical downtown area. The road also is designed to be closed during events. 

“It slows the road down to make you feel like you’ve arrived somewhere,” says Cates. “There are world-class events here. This will turn an isolated venue into a gathering space.”

Most of the events at Evans Towne Center Park and Lady Antebellum Amphitheater attract 8,000 to 12,000 people. “This is a natural adjunct to that,” says Meybohm. 

The PAC will attract even more events – and people – to the area. In addition, a terraced green space in The Plaza allows for concerts and other uses of the venue.

“We want the community to feel like they can come here and stay here,” says Prather. “They can spend quality time in the area.” 

Residential development is shifting to Columbia County, Meybohm says, and The Plaza could include residential space “if there is a market for it.” The residential spaces could include apartments or townhomes. However, says Meybohm, “it has to be affordable.”

“This is part of something much bigger. This will give Columbia County an identity going forward,” says Cates. “A lot of this doesn’t exist in Columbia County yet. This building and this area is a little bit ahead of its time. Everything we’re doing is new, and it’s different. It’s something you’re seeing in larger markets.” 

By Betsy Gilliland

Ride on Time

People

Buzz-Bike-appColumbia County has a new app to help small vehicle operators safely navigate through traffic signals at area intersections.

Traffic mitigation is one of the biggest concerns in Columbia County, and officials are offering a mobile application to make traveling easier countywide for small vehicles such as bicycles and motorcycles.

The county’s traffic engineering department has partnered with EmTrac Systems to design and implement the app, Ride on Time Columbia County, which is available for a free download in the Apple and Google stores for iOS and Android. Columbia County is the first place in the United States to release this app, which initiates phase sequence for traffic signals, to the public.

Phone-picAs a small vehicle enters the detection zone, or virtual loop, of a traffic signal, it sends a notification to the intersection for triggering a green light. As part of the pre-emption system, the Ride on Time Columbia County app will not necessarily trigger a green light for the motorist, but will ensure they are not skipped during a traffic phase. This will increase riders’ safety on county roadways by discouraging them from making illegal turns while waiting for signals to change.

Currently, 67 units have been installed at intersections with traffic signals throughout the county. Only intersections in construction zones are not yet equipped with the technology, but units will be installed and activated at these intersections once construction is complete.

Any future intersections in Columbia County will be required to have the EmTrac receivers installed once they have been completed and released to the traffic engineering department. Any user who has a problem with the app should contact the traffic engineering department at (706) 868-4223.

Tribute to Veterans

People

Carol-with-bench-A-A mosaic artist honors veterans with a patriotic bench at the All Wars Memorial.

Veterans Day is a time to remember all service members, and local artist Carol Ayer is using her talents to show her appreciation for the sacrifices of area soldiers.

In an 80-hour project, Ayer recently covered a 61-inch-by-13-inch bench at the All Wars Memorial in Augusta with a mosaic design that features an American eagle and an American flag.

“I’m doing it as a gift to the community and to create mosaic artwork in the city,” she says.

She began working on the bench in September and finished it in early October. “I used tile instead of glass because tile is a better surface for seating and a more durable material for the outdoors,” Ayer says. “I had to do it in three pieces to transport it because it’s so big.”

She hopes to secure funding to create more mosaic benches at other local memorials including a Vietnam War Memorial, which the city of Augusta plans to erect downtown. Excess funds that are raised for the memorial can be used to finance the bench projects.

More than 15,000 area men and women served in Vietnam, and 163 of them made the ultimate sacrifice and never returned home. For more information about the Vietnam War Memorial or to make a contribution, visit vwmi-augusta.org.

2018 County Fair Schedule

A & E

Candy-applesThe Columbia County Fair kicks off November 1 with new attractions that include Jurassic Kingdom, Banana Derby and ZEGA the Robot. Proceeds benefit area charities and provide scholarships to seniors from each Columbia County public high school. For more information, visit columbiacountyfair.net.

Thursday, November 1
Hours: 4-11 p.m.

Admission: $7; free admission 4-4:45 p.m.

Unlimited Rides: $20

FFA Judging: 6 p.m.

Musical Entertainment: Elvis tribute artist Jason Sikes – 7 p.m.

Friday, November 2
Hours: 5 p.m. – midnight

Admission: $7

Unlimited Rides: $20 from 9 p.m.-midnight

Musical Entertainment: Love & the Outcome

Senior Night: $5 admission for adults 55 and older with ID card

Saturday, November 3
Hours: 11 a.m. – midnight

Admission: $7

Unlimited Rides: Buy unlimited ride stamp 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for $30 and use it all day

Free Ride Special: All rides free 11 a.m.-noon

Musical Entertainment: Tony Howard’s Motown Review – 7 p.m.

Sunday, November 4
Hours: 1 – 11 p.m.

Admission: $7; $2 off with church bulletin

Unlimited Rides: $20

Musical Entertainment: Little Roy and Lizzie, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Monday, November 5
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.

Admission: $7

Unlimited Rides: $20

Demolition Derby: 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, November 6
Hours: 4 – 11 p.m.

Admission: $7 or free admission with 8 cans for the food bank

Unlimited Rides: $15 if purchased 4-4:30 p.m.; $20 after 4:30 p.m.

Musical Entertainment: Dayz to Come – 7 p.m.

Wednesday, November 7
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.

Admission: $7

Unlimited Rides: $20

Musical Entertainment: Mr. Haney

UGA Georgettes Dance Team: 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, November 8
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.

Admission: $7

Unlimited Rides: $20

Musical Entertainment: Bethany & the Southside Boys – 7 p.m.

Friday, November 9
Hours: 5 p.m. – midnight

Admission: $7

Unlimited Rides: $20 from 9 p.m.-midnight

Demolition Derby: 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, November 10
Hours: 11 a.m. – midnight

Admission: $7

Free Ride Special: All rides free 11 a.m.-noon

Unlimited Rides: Buy unlimited ride pass between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for $30 and use it all day

Musical Entertainment: Mayhem on a Monday

Chainsaw Carving Auction: 9 p.m. 

Sunday, November 11
Hours: 1-11 p.m.

Admission: $7

Unlimited Rides: $20

Military Appreciation Night: $4 admission with military ID

Beatles Vs. Stones

A & E

beatles vs stonesThe boys next door take on the bad boys of rock in a musical showdown for stage superiority.

The debate between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones has raged ever since the two groups first crossed paths on the charts 54 years ago. Back in the day, the Beatles were regarded as the mop-topped boys next door while the Stones were the bad boys of rock. Pop versus rock. 

To settle which band reigns supreme once and for all, maybe, two tribute bands – Abbey Road and Satisfaction – will put on a musical showdown.

“Music fans never had a chance to see the Beatles and the Rolling Stones perform on the same marquee,” says Chris Legrand, who plays Mick Jagger. “Now, music aficionados can watch this debate play out on stage.”

The show, which has been touring since 2011, is part of a 110-stop tour of the United States, Australia and Canada. The production includes some of the more popular songs from the two rock pioneers and covers the scope of their musical careers. However, the set list for Satisfaction usually includes Rolling Stones songs up to the 1980s. 

“They certainly have more pop songs, but we’re a really great live show. The fans are in for an incredible night of music,” says LeGrand.

During the two-hour show, the bands perform three sets each, ending the night with an all-out encore involving both bands. There’s a lot of good-natured jabbing between the bands as well.

“Without Beatlemania, the Stones might still be a cover band in London,” said Chris Overall, who plays Paul. “There’s no question that the Beatles set the standard. It’s just a fun time and a cool back-and-forth, nonstop show.” 

Legrand agrees. “We’re going to bring it all,” he says. “It’s going to be an evening of high-energy music.”

If You Go:
What: Beatles Vs. Stones, a Musical Showdown

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 10

Where: Imperial Theatre

How Much: $25 – $65

More Info: (706) 722-8341 or imperialtheatre.com

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Literary Loop

crawdadsFor years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life — until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps. 

“Lyrical,” says Booklist. “Its appeal rises from Kya’s deep connection to the place where she makes her home, and to all of its creatures.”

“Slow down and let this lush nature-focused story unspool,” says Garden & Gun. “A mystery will pull you along, but stay awhile in the descriptions of shifting tides, shell collections and the mottled light of coastal Carolina.”

Bottle It In — Kurt Vile

Listen To This

kurt-vile-bottle-it-inAmerican rock ‘n’ roll is surely not dead. Thanks to Kurt Vile, the insurgence of pure heart-rock-folk is re-exploring territory originally cultivated by the likes of Jackson Brown and Bob Dylan. 

Vile’s eighth studio release, Bottle It In, is probably one of the finest releases of 2018. With 13 musically refreshing, lyrically stout and steel-cable-tight songs of raw emotion, it is inspired by the nuances of life and love. 

His unpolished, sturdy, low-fi vocals slink around the gentle power chords and jangle loops to create a deep tread that grips the rocky terrain of every track, creating a vibe that is infectious and endearing. Jazzy improvisations crescendo into fuzzy-lush, melodic tones of structured hooks that make you long for more. 

Like a perfect batch of goulash, every track is superbly seasoned and cooked, serving up warm spoonsful of soul that leave you satisfied inside. It’s the perfect soundtrack for welcoming long sleeves, fire pits and road trips into the holiday season.

- Chris Rucker

Football, Film & Standing in for Burt Reynolds

Features
Photos courtesy of Stan Byrdy, Donnie Hixon and Georgia State Prison at Reidsville

Photos courtesy of Stan Byrdy, Donnie Hixon and Georgia State Prison at Reidsville

A Martinez resident recalls his gridiron glory days, Hollywood-style.
To hear Columbia County resident Donnie Hixon tell it, the best days of his life were those spent at the Georgia State Prison at Reidsville in the fall of 1973. It is also where Hixon received numerous punishing blows to his body over the course of five weeks.

After one such barrage early after his arrival in which he was nearly knocked out, Hixon recalls thinking to himself, “What the hell am I doing here?”

3.-Hixon-&-ReynoldsHowever, his time spent inside the walls of the maximum security prison, a massive, white structure situated about 110 miles south of Augusta, was of his own volition. He was part of the cast of The Longest Yard, the box office sensation that starred budding movie icon Burt Reynolds.

And not just in any role, mind you. Hixon, a former semi-pro quarterback was selected as Reynolds’ stand-in double for the film, a role that the Augusta native says he was honored to play.

2.-Eddie-Albert-(Warden-Hazen)-with-Hixon“Let’s make this clear,” says Hixon, “he didn’t need me or anyone else to stand in for him. Had they let him, he would have been two times better — he was that good of an athlete. Being his stand-in was an honor, and like my time spent in the Marines, it would turn out to be another life-changing experience for me.” 

Like a Dream
Reynolds, who died in September at age 82, played college football at Florida State, and the chance to return to the gridiron as a quarterback in a major motion picture was a dream come true. Hixon had been a standout football player in the Marines and afterwards as quarterback with the Augusta Eagles semi-pro team. As luck would have it, a select number of Hixon’s teammates also were chosen to take part in the film.

ID-frontAfter a prison riot in Oklahoma at the movie’s original prospective location, the Reidsville facility was hurriedly selected as a replacement.

As Reynolds’ stand-in, Hixon took the physically punishing shots from a cast of former NFL greats, including fearsome Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke.

on-the-setReynolds and Hixon both donned number 22 jerseys in the film, but after calling the signals at quarterback, the actor went back to the sidelines and watched from an easy chair as the other number 22 took the ensuing blows. Both were in great shape, and looked enough alike that with helmets on and slick film editing, it was nearly impossible to differentiate between the two onscreen. Defensive players didn’t care which number 22 they tackled — they just wanted a shot at whichever pretty boy was toting the football. 

4.-Reynolds-HixonHixon admits to not getting much sleep the night before heading off to the prison, and he was nervous on his drive to Reidsville. “Working with Burt Reynolds?… you’ve got be kidding.” It felt like a dream.

“Prior to reporting to Reidsville Prison for filming,” Hixon recalls, “I was told the movie with Burt was going to be a football game played inside the prison between inmates and guards. When I first heard this I thought to myself, ‘That’s going to be a hell of a game.’ At first, this sounded very dangerous to me — what if a riot breaks out like the one at the prison in Oklahoma? Maybe that’s why I got selected, because others turned my role down. Up until the time I reported to Reidsville, I thought the movie people were taking a hell of a chance — filming a football game inside the walls of a maximum security prison… would have to be very risky.… There were a lot more prisoners there than us.” 

6.-Actor-Richard-Kiel-(right)Protection for the star-studded cast of actors and former professional football stars that converged on Reidsville was job one for the Georgia Department of Corrections. Still, Hixon’s mind was set. 

“After weighing all this, I admit I did have some concerns, but never any second thoughts about taking part in the film. After all, ‘I can’t turn down a once in a lifetime opportunity like this, one that doesn’t come along every day. I’ve got to go for it, it can’t be that unsafe,’ I kept telling myself. As it turned out, the only person I would need to fear was Green Bay Packer legend, Ray Nitschke, and not the prisoners.”

After all, it was Nitschke who delivered the most punishing blows. 

A Nostalgic Return
In February Hixon returned to Reidsville for the first time in nearly half a century (this writer accompanied him to document the visit), and fresh memories flooded his mind. He recounted his first day at the prison in 1973.

“Outside I was greeted by a guard and escorted through large steel doors at the main entrance. I had an insecure feeling once those doors closed shut behind me. That’s when realization set in. Here I was, inside a maximum security prison around some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. I felt trapped. I was taken to a processing office where I produced identification, was given instructions and had my picture taken for the Paramount Pictures ID card. The identification card was secured on a string and had to be worn around my neck upon entry or exit of the prison. I still have that ID card today.”

It was Hixon’s Paramount Pictures ID card and a scrapbook full of rare photos from the production that played a large part in getting us inside the prison. One look at Hixon’s old ID and warden Marty Allen knew this was something he hadn’t encountered before.

Sure, he had seen the pictures on the fifth floor prison walls that documented the event, but never had anyone shown up looking to get inside the prison to re-live those days. The warden quipped that Hixon’s 45-year-old ID card came without an expiration date, then made a few phone calls and warmly welcomed Reynolds’ stunt-double back to Reidsville for a tour.

High atop the prison, one floor up from death-row, rests a small room that houses the now obsolete electric chair, one that was still in use when The Longest Yard was filmed. A barred window not far from the chair overlooks the one-time field put in place for the production. The movie’s original script and countless pictures from those days line the walls in that same room.

Warden-Marty-Allen-and-Hixon-in-2018Recipe for Success 
The actual recipe that went into making a motion picture at Reidsville went something like this: Carefully select a dozen or so choice Hollywood stars, add a dozen seasoned former NFL standouts and make room for Hixon, 14 of his Eagles teammates and three of their coaches. Stir slowly, sprinkle with inmates (who auditioned for and won roles in the film), and top things off with a Hollywood production crew. Place in the oven and bake for five weeks at south Georgia outdoor temperatures. Contain the mixture within a perimeter of razor sharp wire – and be sure not to let it boil over. Remove and serve hot to movie-goers worldwide, popcorn optional.

The finished product — an irreverent and not politically correct low-budget production — was a smash hit with moviegoers, grossing $43 million. With similar box office numbers in back-to-back movies, (Deliverance, 1972 and The Longest Yard, 1974), Reynolds cemented his name as a bona fide leading man.

Hixon’s life also changed dramatically as his persona was suddenly and forevermore connected to Reynolds. “I never met anybody like that before, with that notoriety… It kind of changed my life. I took on a new identity,” he says. “Today I went to Walmart, a guy came up to me and introduced me to his wife and said, ‘He’s the one who did The Longest Yard.’ I get it all the time. It never stops.” 

Hixon kept in touch with Reynolds through the years and even paid his acting acquaintance a visit in Florida several years ago. While he was saddened to hear of Reynolds’ passing, Hixon was not completely caught off guard. “I’m sorry that he died, but he had been in bad shape for years and years and may be better off,” he says.

But Hixon still has his memories of Reynolds and the fall of 1973 at the Reidsville prison— the time of his life.

 

By Stan Byrdy

———

In collaboration with author Stan Byrdy, Hixon’s stories from The Longest Yard are recounted in the upcoming book, Behind the Scenes with Burt Reynolds at Reidsville State Prison. The book, due for release in December, includes never-before-seen photographs of Reynolds, Hixon, Hollywood legends and former NFL standouts in the making of the film.

Works of Art

A & E

ChalkArtist2Artisans and entertainers take center stage at Art in the Park Fall Fest 
Creativity will be on display Saturday, October 20, at the 15th annual Arts in the Park Fall Fest, where artisans and entertainers in the area will showcase their talents. 

“From visual to performing arts, anything is fair game for Columbia County’s own fine arts festival,” says Regina Brejda, Columbia County Arts Inc. president.

The festival will feature a variety of performers including Columbia County Ballet and Musical Theatre Workshops. Fall Fest had 64 vendors from a variety of mediums last year, and event organizers are hoping to have even more artists at this year’s festival. 

“Along with music and dance, you’ll see everything from pottery, paintings and wood carvings to handmade brooms, jewelry and soaps,” Brejda says. “It’s a day of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional art.” 

The popular sidewalk chalk contest will be part of the festivities again this year as well. Local elementary, middle and high schools can enter a team for a chance to win money to support their schools’ visual arts department. The individual portion of the competition begins at 10 a.m. Participants can register at the main Columbia County arts booth. Registration is $20. Categories will be divided into age brackets, and prizes will be awarded for first and second places. An overall best of show winner will be named as well. 

If You Go:
What: Art in the Park Fall Fest 

When: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, October 20

Where: Columbia County Library Amphitheater

How Much: Free admission; food and beverage vendors on site

More Info: columbiacountyarts.org; columbiacountyarts@gmail.com; Regina Brejda, (706) 267-6724