“Eat a Peach,” with its soaring twin guitars, trippy double-fold artwork and tragic back story, represents a significant moment in American music.
The Allman Brothers Band was at the peak of its powers when the band went in the studio in the fall of 1971. Then, leader and slide guitarist Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident outside Macon. He was 24 years old.
The band completed the album anyway, with live and studio recordings. The album stands as a testament to their haunted beginnings and musical artistry. (Bassist Berry Oakley would be killed the following fall, in an accident a few blocks away.)
The ATL Collective, a rotating ensemble known for staging full performances of notable albums, will re-create “Eat a Peach” in its entirety, including the lengthy “Mountain Jam” (which takes up two sides of the double album), in a one-time-only performance at the Atlanta History Center on Saturday, Aug. 5.
The center couldn’t have picked a more appropriate piece of Southern history to celebrate. “A lot of us have grown up with it,” guitarist and co-music director Rick Lollar said of the album. “It is in our bones.”
With 12 people up on stage, including four vocalists and a handful of drummers, the band brings considerable forces to the project.
In the first set, the band will also re-enact another chapter of Georgia history, playing songs from the 1970 Atlanta International Pop Festival, where the Allmans shared the stage with Richie Havens and B.B. King, and Jimi Hendrix played a twisted version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on a blistering July 4.
The ATL Collective creates musical events, assembling local and national musicians to pay tribute to watershed recordings. Albums that have received the ATL Collective treatment include the Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” the Talking Heads’ “Speaking in Tongues,” Sade’s “Love Deluxe” and Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life.”
Attempting to capture the spirit of the music is as important as copying the content, Lollar said. “I want to be faithful and honor that music, but I don’t want to be slavishly trying to play the solos note for note.”
For that reason, the band will bring a new vibe to some songs, moving “Blue Sky” to a higher register, for example, to accommodate the range of female vocalist Kristina Train.
For many musicians from the South, the album provided part of the backdrop of life.
When Lollar got together with his colleague, guitarist Dave Yoke, to see how they would handle the interplay created by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, they barely had to practice, because each had practically memorized both parts.
“It took less than half an hour,” Lollar said. “We kind of switched off: You be Dickey, I’ll be Duane. You take the first solo, I’ll take the second. … At one point, I learned probably every note on ‘Eat a Peach.’”
The Allman Brothers’ music affected many musicians the same way. There will be at least two other tributes to the band’s music elsewhere in Atlanta on the same evening: one at the Ponce City Winery and the other (a salute to the late Gregg Allman) at the Avondale Towne Cinema.
The event at the Atlanta History Center will include food trucks and cash bars. Attendees can also wander through the Atlanta History Center exhibitions before the show. Chuck Reece of the Bitter Southerner will be the evening’s host.
The Allmans were known for using two drummers, and the last incarnation of the band had three. On Saturday, there may be four drummers on stage at a certain point, which brings its own challenges.
But Jamison Ross, 29, a winner of the Thelonious Monk competition in 2012, and a hard-core jazz drummer who is part of the project, said he’s glad Lollar decided to go all in with the rhythm. “I’m so glad Rick didn’t go safe and just have one drummer,” Ross said. The crowded stage creates traffic problems but also brings a locomotive momentum that was a part of the Allman sound.
Ross hasn’t actually performed Allman Brothers tunes before. But, he said, he’s studying the songs. “I’m doing my homework. They breathe so much of life, and a level of peace that we could really utilize in a day like this.”