BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally filed on Jan. 11, 2014)
It wasn’t until 11 songs into the set that the man of the hour first showed his weathered, but happy, face.
Actually, the moment Gregg Allman’s empty Hammond B3 was wheeled onto the stage, the worshipful Fox Theatre crowd erupted in cheers at the sight of the brown behemoth.
Moments later, Allman, his flaxen hair flowing, sauntered out, hugged his stage partner of the moment, Taj Mahal, and climbed aboard his musical starship to delve heartily into “Statesboro Blues.”
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That was about the midpoint of Friday night’s musical marathon – nearly four hours of music – that enticed an all-star lineup ranging from Vince Gill to Robert Randolph to Jackson Browne to Eric Church to John Hiatt.
About a dozen more guitar-pickin’, lung-busting singers and players filled in the gaps all for the singular purpose of honoring one Gregory LeNoir Allman, Tennessean by birth, Georgian for life.
From the time “All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman” was announced in late October, speculation bubbled about who else might join the lineup and what they would play.
Earlier this week, Keith Wortman, executive producer of the show, which is expected to air on AXS TV May 11, provided some answers , but wanted to keep a few things secret – like Zac Brown sharing the stage with Gill and Allman for a perfectly ominous and swampy “Midnight Rider.”
From the moment Warren Haynes opened the show with The Allman Brothers Band classic “Come & Go Blues,” there was an air of joviality in the building.
Really, even before the show the mood was apparent at a mini red carpet event backstage. Those setups are usually claustrophobic shark tanks that yield a superficial 10-second soundbite from the stars. But in this room, Haynes, Browne, Gill, Derek Trucks, Keb’ Mo’, Sam Moore, Devon Allman and others coolly made the rounds, ready to talk at length.
Haynes candidly spoke about the surprising – to fans, anyway – announcement a few days ago that he and Trucks will leave ABB this year.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time. I’m proud to say that Gregg and I have been friends since 1981. There’s no bad blood with us,” he said, adding that for these last rounds of shows, “We all enjoy playing together so much that the joy will be magnified.”
Allman (in the above video) mentioned it was “time” for this to happen and how he might have “instigated” the change.
There was truly no indication of anything other than graciousness and professionalism emanating from the stage as the musical cast (minus Natalie Cole, a late scratch due to illness) paid homage to Allman’s meaty history.
While the Allmans repertoire was represented throughout the night by such diverse artists as Susan Tedeschi and her amazing, gritty voice on “Stand Back” and outlaw countryman Eric Church on “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” this show was about paying tribute to every facet of Allman’s five-decade-plus career.
Molasses-voiced Trace Adkins tackled Allman’s No. 1 rock hit from 1987, “I’m No Angel” (“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my career,” he said at the end of his appearance), while Train’s Pat Monahan – an underrated rock belter who also slayed “Queen of Hearts” – paired with Martina McBride for the Allman/Cher duet “Can You Fool.”
Allman’s recent output was also represented by the silken-voiced Keb’ Mo’ on “Just Another Rider,” from the 2011 release, “Low Country Blues.”
The show chugged along smoothly – a short intermission provided an opening for Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall and others to present Allman with various commendations – but by hour three, the well-lubricated, SRO crowd was itching for some ABB action.
But first, Allman, 66, joined his old friend Browne onstage, each wielding an acoustic guitar, to share “These Days” once again (Browne wrote it and each has recorded the melancholy ballad). Jackson, still bearing his floppy forelock and distinctive voice, traded verses with Allman on the song before seguing into a wistful “Melissa,” creating a moment that begged for lighter-hoisting.
Throughout the show, the rotating musicians were backed by a crackerjack house band directed by bassist Don Was. With onetime ABB members Chuck Leavell on keys and Jack Pearson on guitar, plus Kenny Aronoff on drums, Rami Jaffee on keys (“He’s one of the best B3 players out there,” Leavell said before the show), two additional band members, three backup singers and a horn section, there was plenty of muscular music provided.
That taut outfit respectfully left the stage, though, for an all-ABB encore of “Dreams,” featuring the see-sawing guitar between Derek Trucks and Haynes and drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe coloring in each others’ grooves, and “Whipping Post,” introduced by Oteil Burbridge’s steamrolling bass. Lights zig-zagged as Allman prowled across his keyboard as the epic song hit peak after peak, with sounds nearly convulsing off the stage.
It was a fitting appetizer to the show-closing assembly for “Let the Circle Be Unbroken,” a peaceful, low-key singalong peppered by gospel shouts from Moore and a keen representation of Allman’s legacy.
Set list from “All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs & Voice of Gregg Allman”
“Come & Go Blues” – Warren Haynes
“End of the Line” – Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks
“Stand Back” – Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks
“Can’t Lose What You Never Had” – Devon Allman, Jimmy Hall and Robert Randolph
“Please Call Home” – Sam Moore
“Just Another Rider” – Keb’ Mo’
“Just Before the Bullets Fly” – Brantley Gilbert
“Let This Be a Lesson To Ya” – Dr. John
“Queen of Hearts” – Pat Monahan
“One Way Out” – John Hiatt
“Statesboro Blues” – Taj Mahal and Gregg Allman
“Just Ain’t Easy” - Widespread Panic
“Wasted Words” – Widespread Panic and Derek Trucks
“I’m No Angel” – Trace Adkins
“Trouble No More” – Trace Adkins
“Multi-Colored Lady” – Vince Gill
“All My Friends” – Martina McBride
“Can You Fool” – Pat Monahan and Martina McBride
“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” – Eric Church
“Win, Lose or Draw” – Eric Church
“These Days” – Jackson Browne and Gregg Allman
“Melissa” – Jackson Browne and Gregg Allman
“Midnight Rider” – Vince Gill, Zac Brown and Gregg Allman
“Dreams” – The Allman Brothers Band
“Whipping Post” – The Allman Brothers Band
“Let the Circle Be Unbroken” – Full cast