This Is What Masters Week Looks Like for a Local Musician
For some artists in Augusta, music and the Masters are inseparable elements of the same experience. The week-long blur of golf, concerts, house shows, private parties and connections with heavy hitters from around the world also gives some musicians a unique opportunity to rub shoulders with A-list celebrities and businessmen who can help pave the way for local talent to get a taste of musical success from coast to coast.
Phillip Lee knows better than anyone that forming the right relationships on Masters week will change your life, because it has changed his. Going into Masters 2018, the Augusta-based singer-songwriter had plans to escape to the beach or the mountains to decompress from a week of utter chaos. Instead, when tourists leave the city this week, he’ll be close behind on a plane to Nashville for a gig that didn’t exist until a few days ago. He’s currently trying to set up an event in Huntington Beach, CA, where a billionaire and longtime energy sector executive both have connections. Luckily for Lee, they both love music and the Masters, and Lee is a talented musician in the hometown of golf’s Holy Grail.
But for Lee, playing back-to-back shows during Masters Week isn’t about fame or fortune. It’s not about playing shows in L.A. or New York. It’s not about gaining a status among the country’s elite. It’s about Augusta. Locals know Augusta is on the rise, but in Lee’s experience, Masters’ tourists want in on it, too. For one week, Lee’s music becomes something more than his livelihood or even his personal passion. It creates a relationship with people who live very different lives than he does, and yet, they want to know what Augusta is all about. I talked to Lee about his typical Masters week, the stories that changed his career and why outsiders care more about Augusta than you might think.
Walk me through your Masters week and the variety of shows you play.
From Monday night of the first day to Sunday night, Michael Baideme (local musician) and I usually have a mixture of two gigs a day, an early one and a late one. Early ones are usually private events or small functions that are great money, and the late nights have typically been music venues and bars. But it’s a huge variety of stuff. Mike and I started six to eight months in advance as far as having people contact us. We try to slow-play everything, because we know we’re going to get a huge influx of people needing and wanting music, both for private things and bars and venues. We’ve already been offered to fly to Canada to do a show, so the amount of connection and networking is probably the biggest thing for us.
Tonight we’re playing a private jam thing for a guy named Dirk Ziff who is a billionaire and is actually affiliated with the business that is professional surfing. He rented Sky City as a venue, and he’s only going to have 40 or 50 of his friends from L.A. and all over the world. And they hired us as the house band so they could jam, because they’ve been doing that for Masters week for a couple years, and they would get noise complaints. So Dirk was like “Screw this, man, I’m just going to buy a music venue for the night and just bring whoever I want in, and we can be as loud and have as much fun as we want.” Just the experience of that and meeting so many famous and A-list people and rubbing elbows with them…we want to make sure that the money’s good, and that it’s worth it, but also one of our main priorities is to also make this the biggest networking for ten days that we possibly can. And that sets us up for things that we can play or travel to during the year and also for the next Masters.
What is it like playing some of the private events during the Masters? Is that different than playing downtown?
To be honest with you, one of the things I love most about Masters week is the private things. They’re early, they’re usually not all that long and everyone is just having a good time and is so friendly. It’s a little bit a smaller and more intimate, and so I feel like I’m able to connect and speak with people. As far as bars and music venues go, it’s late at night, people have been drinking more. You’re just inundated with people. They’re just two very different ends of the spectrum of what it’s like to play them. It’s important to go in and understand what it is exactly that you’re there for. Sometimes you’re supposed to be live elevator music. Then there are other things where people are hiring you to come and entertain and perform because they want live music. We treat it truly like a job. And that’s important to us, to not just be musicians but good businessmen as well. You just have to kind of take a deep breath and hold on for the ride…and deal with people who in twenty minutes will be wheels up on a private jet, sipping cocktails, flying back to their place in Huntington Beach. They live a different life than you, but you’ve got to connect with them, because they want something you have. We’re dealing with people who are way outside of our league, but we have to act at least confident and professional enough to, you know, not sound like idiots when we’re talking to them. It really is like running a really, really fun small business.
How many years have you played Masters week?
This is three for me as a professional full-time musician. There are countless memories…situations like what I was just talking about. It’s very surreal sometimes because you’re just there playing a gig and that part feels normal. But at the same time, you’re having somebody come up, and they’re just asking for songs and telling you how great of a job you’re doing, and then you realize you’re talking to Ryan Dempster, a World Series Champion and MLB baseball player. I think that even people who have experienced a great deal of wealth and success come and want to mingle, which is why Justin Timberlake comes and plays at the River Golf Club and hangs out with kids and plays with them. It’s fun for everyone. We just happen to like being the ones that are entertaining, like the soundtrack of peoples’ good times for Masters week.
A couple years ago, myself and the band got hired to do Rock Fore! Dough, and we did it the year same year Sam Hunt and Darius Rucker and all those guys were there at Lady A. I found myself as a local artist lined up with Darius Rucker and Sam Hunt. And I’m sitting there sipping a beer with them talking about…not even music. Just life in general. And golf. It’s really surreal, but it’s also very uplifting to have experiences like that. For some reason, the Masters gives energy and not relaxation. You don’t care how tired you are, you don’t care how you’re feeling, you’re just going to push through and have a good time and everything.
You were saying one of the big adventures of the Masters is that this can potentially affect the rest of your year.
There have been things that happened on Masters that have affected the direction of my life.
What are some of those things?
Local artists, especially in Masters week, they get money hungry. Which is easy to do, because there’s a lot, man. There’s a lot of people who would throw $400 in your tip jar because they have it, and they don’t care, and they want to impress a chick, and they’re here to spend money. And so the musicians kind of grasp for that. But if you do that too much, you lose the fact of the matter that this is something that can set you up for so many shows throughout the year and set you up to play more gigs next Masters week. I also have met and have gone to play for another very successful man named Tom McDaniel in Huntington Beach, CA. And he does a thing called Songwriter Serenade, where I performed at his ranch in Texas. He also has a private loft in Huntington Beach where he hosts private concerts. So I got to thinking, he’s in Huntington Beach, that’s where a lot of surfing happens. Dirk’s here and loves music, Tom’s here in California and loves music. Why don’t I get these two people hooked up? So now I’m talking to Dirk’s secretary and Tom’s secretary about them getting together to talk about music and shows and how they can help artists because that’s what they want to do. So now, all of sudden, I need to know that there’s probably going to be a couple times this year that we’re going to have to fly to L.A. or New York or Texas to help with these connections and help with these things that benefit all of us. When it finally starts paying off to do things, and people make you feel valued as a musician, that’s like the best feeling that you can have.
Do you plan on being based in Augusta for a while, or is it kind of like, “Let’s see what happens?”
I’ve got to tell you, man, the price and the people and the growth that it’s now experiencing, I love living in this city. I just love it. Now, the reason that I don’t get tired of it and don’t hate it like some people in Augusta do is I get to travel all the time, so I’m not sick of and resentful against Augusta. There’s so much talent here that it keeps you working hard. It’s affordable, and with all these opportunities of going to Nashville, going to L.A., going to New York, going to Florida, this is my home where I get to come and escape and be around people I’m familiar with. I absolutely love it. So yeah, unless someone was to say, “We need you in L.A., we need you in Nashville if this is going to work,” then yeah, I would consider doing that. But until that point, you can find me playing Forest Hills Golf Club, sipping beers at local coffee shops and stuff. What’s not to like here? Every promoter knows each other, every musician knows each other, they play with each other, they promote together. It’s just fantastic. There is a sense in this town that if the bartenders and the owners and the musicians and all those people work together and act professionally, then it can make great money, and it can make great connections, and it can make great relationships that last a lifetime.
In the big picture, what do you feel like the Augusta music scene means for the Masters? When these big shots come in, have you found that a lot of them think “We want to find talented, local people”? Or is that just a sliver of people?
I think that most people truly want to be in the vein of what’s going on. What goes on here when we all leave? Cats just want to come up and talk to us about what it’s like because they’re just fascinated. They want to use local chefs for their hospitality houses. They want to buy beer from Savannah River Brewing Company because it’s made here. There’s been a huge transition in the culture that is getting back to an enjoyment and appreciation of the local aspects and removing themselves from the touristy parts. It’s mind-blowing sometimes that the most elite tradition of any sport sits where there’s an Arby’s about 16 feet away. They can’t wrap their head around it. And so whatever pieces of local people—whether its local music or local chefs or local residents—that that they can grab and attach to, it makes them feel like they can understand it better. “What’s the best place to go? What’s the fun thing? Where do the locals go? What do you guys do on a Monday when it’s not Masters?” They are extremely interested in this city and what goes on, and I think for us, musically and for the Masters, I think those have a completely massive relationship. You don’t think Masters without thinking music, especially with shows like Major Rager and Keith Urban. I believe that at some point, with the right decisions and the right mentality, what you see on a late afternoon on Masters week can happen all the time here. I really, truly do.
Contact Witt Wells at (901) 319-8877 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.