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Country music helps boost tourism in Peach State

Tourism in the Peach State is booming with a little help from some good old fashion country music.

The music trio Lady Antebellum is featured on the cover of Georgia tourism board’s latest travel guide where the band members list their favorite spots. Both Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley list Athens, where they went to school. Haywood mentioned Augusta as one of his favorite cities to visit, and Hillary Scott dropped her favorite shopping spot – Atlanta.

“We were thrilled to have Georgia’s own Lady Antebellum on the cover of our 2012 travel guide,” said Kevin Langston, the deputy commissioner of the Georgia Tourism Division. “Charles and Dave are both from Columbia County, Georgia and spent most of their lives here. The band is part of Georgia’s music history and heritage.”

And each city seems to think highly of them.

“Lady Antebellum performed in Augusta in 2011, and tickets sold out within minutes,” said Staci Cooper, the communications manager for the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Their return to Augusta for a 2012 show on May 22 for their We Owned the Night tour -- sold out so quickly.  There was such a demand that a second show had to be added on May 23. We've also seen several large country performers come to Augusta in the past year: Sugarland and Blake Shelton for example.”

Cooper went on to say there are several hidden gems in the area -- such as the Augusta Canal. There you can hop on a replica Petersburg boat and tour the canal. The boat used to move supplies, especially cotton in the 19th century. She also said they hosts several music cruises during the Spring and Fall, from country, jazz, to the blues.

“It is so rewarding to see the country recognizing Atlanta and Georgia for the wealth of musical talent that is here.”

- Kristen Delaney, director of marketing at Atlanta's Fox Theatre.

The second city making the band’s list is Athens, home to the University of Georgia.  

“Athens has been a hotbed of live music for decades now,” said Hannah Smith, the director of marketing and communications at the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Some other well-known bands of the 70’s and 80’s include the B-52's -- who are returning to perform at The Classic Center on Feb. 9, as well as R.E.M. and Widespread Panic. Visitors come from as far away as the United Kingdom and Germany.

“Athens goes beyond offering music history tours, though-- hundreds of bands still call Athens home and perform nightly in downtown clubs,” Smith said. “With little or no cover charge, it is very easy to take a "Pub Crawl" and sample a wide variety of current Athens sounds in various locations.”

It is great getaway, even for Georgians. It’s about an hour and a half away from Atlanta.  The college town offers entertainment at a great value compared to major metropolitan areas.

“While our bigger cities are pretty well-recognized, our small towns are less well-known,” Langston said. “We encourage travelers to get off the interstate and discover these small towns. Our small towns offer visitors locally-owned restaurants, unique attractions, bed & breakfasts, small town squares and so much more. We often refer to our small towns as ‘Genuine Georgia.’”

What if you’re a city person? There’s plenty in the heart of Atlanta. The city also made Lady Antebellum’s list.

“It is so rewarding to see the country recognizing Atlanta and Georgia for the wealth of musical talent that is here,” said Kristen Delaney, the director of marketing at the Fox Theatre. “Whether it is country like Sugarland or Zac Brown Band -- it all helps to put our rich musical culture on the map for the entire country.”

The Fox Theatre is on Peachtree Street in the middle of Atlanta, you can’t miss it. It’s on the National Historic Register, and one of the most beloved landmarks in the city.  

And for some of these home-grown talents -- they’re coming back home.

“Many performers from Atlanta attended shows here at the Fox as children and may have decided to pursue their performing career while sitting in our theatre,” Delaney said.

The Fox Theatre opened on Christmas Day in 1929. Now, it is booked more than 300 nights out of the year, and is often ranked as one of the top three theatres in the world for its size.  

If you’re not in for a concert this summer but you’re looking to enrich your musical knowledge, Georgia still offers you a great option. There’s a new traveling exhibit dedicated solely to early traditions of American music. Starting in April, 12 cities have been selected to host the Smithsonian exhibit, “New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music.”

“Georgia is one of the best states for roots music, along with country, other traditions include Native American music, gospel, blues, work songs and southern rock,” said Arden Williams, the senior program officer for Museum on Main Street Exhibits. “So many traditions and artists have originated here. Host communities will showcase the roots music stories of their region through companion exhibits, programs, and performances. Each of these towns has a captivating story to tell.”

The exhibition stops in Calhoun, Madison, Darien, Perry, Moultrie, Toccoa, Bremen, Thompson, Nashville, Americus, Waycross, and LaGrange from April 2012 through November 2013.

Elizabeth Prann currently serves as a Washington-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). She joined the network in 2006 as a production assistant. Click here for more information on Elizabeth Prann