On the night of Saturday, March 17, with a group of 112 friends, family members, and friends of friends and family members I walked into the Beacon Theater in New York City to see the Allman Brothers Band during the annual series of performances known to ABB fans as â€œthe Beacon run.â€ This yearly trek to New York to see the band play at this great venue began a number of years ago when my wife Tricia and I and six other friends went to the Big Apple to enjoy the music and what the city has to offer. Since then, our group has grown exponentially. Over the years we have learned a lot of things to do, and more importantly, what not to do on the New York junkets. Things go a lot more smoothly now than they did when we first began these adventures.
By heading up on Wednesday and returning on Monday we have time to take full advantage of this great city. This year, I thought we would be ahead of the pack, but Nancy Steele and her son John Paul had already seen the Black Keys at Madison Square Garden as well as a taping of the David Letterman show before we had even left Athens.
Although the Allman Brothers Band is the catalyst for the trip, there are so many other draws that members of our group enjoy: museums, including MOMA, the Met, the Frick and Natural History; Broadway plays and jazz clubs, as well as places that all tourists want to see: Rockefeller Center, The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero. It also seems that one of the favorite pastimes is just getting out and walking, as Manhattan seems to go on forever. Although the weather is always iffy in March, we were fortunate; except for one very cool, overcast day, we had some of the best weather on any of our trips.
When you have been doing this gig as long as we have, traditions tend to develop, and one of the first for us and Chris and Ed Novey is to hit the Grand Central Oyster Bar, where Ed and I suck down some Blue Point oysters while Chris and Tricia enjoyÂ lobster rolls.
This year promised to be a family affair as Triciaâ€™s sister Jackie, who was a late addition, as well as their brother Tav Sparks, his wife Cary and their son Bryn were all joining us. Jackie caught the train from Rhode Island and Tav and his family flew in from San Francisco.
The first music came Thursday night, when John and Barbara Timmons, Bob and Chris Pinkerton, the Noveys, Jackie, Tav, Cary, Tricia and I saw the Rodriguez Brothers at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Dizzyâ€™s Club Coca-Cola. The club is a sophisticated venue five floors above Columbus Circle, with picture windows overlooking Central Park. The club is named after Dizzy Gillespie, which explains the focus on Southern food, as Dizzy grew up in the South. Fried chicken and collard greens do not immediately come to mind when thinking of dining in New York City, but that was my dinner for the night.
I remember reading in Dizzyâ€™s autobiography that as a young teen he had put a little band together, but one day the trombone player, who was 14-years-old, disappeared and was never heard from again. The rumor was that he had been caught peeking in a white girlâ€™s window. Dizzy said he didnâ€™t really know what to think about that, but it did make him want to get the hell out of Cheraw, South Carolina.Â Thankfully for jazz, he did.
Robert and Michael Rodriguez (piano and trumpet) played a great set with an emphasis on Latin jazz. Their father had flown up from Miami to see them, and Ed Novey, who had attended medical school in Miami, got an opportunity to spend some time talking with him. The brothers were backed by a world class rhythm section with John Patitucci on stand-up bass and Jeff â€œTainâ€ Watts on drums. Tain has played on every Grammy award winning album by both Wynton Marsalis and Branford Marsalis. From previous discussions, I know that the community of jazz drummers in New York is very tight, so I told Tain after the gig that I was going to see Jaimoe (one of the ABB drummers) over the weekend. He told me to tell Jaimoe that he had been listening to his jazz bandâ€™s new album, and he liked it very much.Â I could see that Jaimoe was touched when I conveyed that message to him on Saturday night.
Take the A-Train
During dinner, Becca Crumrine texted me to let me know that she and Kyla Lines were in town and as it turned out were close to Columbus Circle. I let her know that Ed, Jackie and I were about to head to Harlem, and they readily agreed to join the party. After dropping the rest of the group at the hotel, we headed
north on Park Avenue, crossed 110th Street and, with the tracks of the â€œAâ€ Train on our left, rolled into Harlem.
I have dreamed of going to Harlem nearly all my life, and here I was finally fulfilling that dream. Itâ€™s hard to describe the feelings I had on that drive , maybe similar to how Paul Simon felt heading to Graceland. We turned on 125th Street to check out the Apollo, the theater where in 1966 a chance meeting between my brother Twiggs (road manager for Percy Sledge) and Jaimoe (waiting to rejoin Otis Redding when Otis returned from Europe) eventually resulted in their both being founding members of the Allman Brothers Band.
Our driver, Stu, dropped us off at the Lenox Lounge, at the corner of 125th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, where the joint was indeed jumping. A live band with male and female vocalists and backing DJ never stopped blasting out the house music. Jackie and I had exactly the same reaction: it reminded us of sneaking into the black clubs when we were underage in Macon and the only white people in the club. We enjoyed the scene for an hour or so and then headed to the Creole Blues Club. The band was packing up as we arrived, so Stu suggested The Groove down in Greenwich Village, where we finished up the night listening to an R&B/Funk band which features up and coming artists.Â Somewhere that night we got a great version of Purple Rain.
Thinking that three gigs, almost four, in one night, including a trip to Harlem, was not a bad way to begin the musical odyssey, I slipped into bed quietly so as not to wake Tricia, who had had another musical adventure that night with the Timmons, Pinkertons, and Carol and John Cuff in the hotel lounge, when a group of charming Brazilian businessmen serenaded them, in Portuguese, with â€œGirl from Ipanemaâ€ and John Timmons responded with â€œDanny Boyâ€ and â€œOld Man River.â€
On Friday my aunt Anne Watkins came into town to spend a few hours with us. At age 87, she is no longer up to seeing â€œthe boysâ€ as she calls the band, at the Beacon, but she is still in good health, and reconnecting with her is one of the highlights of these trips for Tricia and me. Carl and Bridgett Hawkins happened to be at an adjoining table at the hotel with a number of their crew, several of whom had flown in to see the ABB from England and Europe, so we got to spend a few minutes sharing Anne with them.
Hittinâ€™ the Note
Saturday brought us St Patrickâ€™s Day, with everyone checking out the green on everyone else. I thought the prize went to John Timmons, who was proudly wearing his bright green Irish World Cup jersey. John had managed early that morning to get into St. Patrickâ€™s Cathedral without a ticket to attend mass.
The parade began at 11 a.m., and we got to enjoy an hour or so of bagpipes and NYC bigwigs before lunch at an Irish pub where corned beef for everyone and Guinness for most contributed to the mood of the day.
But for me, the music beckoned, and it was to be kicked off that afternoon at the Hittinâ€™ the Note party at Terra Blues in the Village, a club two doors down from the legendary Bitter End. The party was sold out, but lots of our crew and their guests made the scene, including Ted Arnold, Tom Marshall, Bill and Rita Deck, Bob Pinkerton, Cliff Jolliff, Beverly and Chris Casey, Del Fetters, and Jackie, Tav, Cary and Bryn Sparks.
The real surprise for me was seeing â€Philly Boy,â€ one of the guys who manned the t-shirt booth for the ABB from 1973 to 1976, during the same time that my brother A J was on the road with the band. Philly and A J were great friends, but I hadnâ€™t seen him in over 30 years. John Lynskey and Joe Bell with Hittinâ€™ the Note magazine always put on a first-class event, and this was no exception, as Randall Bramblett and Geoff Achison, backed by Yonrico on drums and Ted Pecchio on bass, played two sets of top-notch music.
Both Randall and Ted are from Athens, so I felt right at home, and that may have contributed to my asking John Lynskey at the end of the first set if I could tell a story. I could see the hesitancy in Johnâ€™s face, because there are many stories that definitely do not need repeating, but he relented, and I took the stage. Looking out at all the fans of the Allman Brothers, I knew I was among soul mates, so I repeated the oft-told story about the ABB crashing at Aunt Anneâ€™s home in 1969 when they showed up in New York flat broke.
Del Fetters was our guide to the New York subway system, and after leaving Terra Blues we arrived at Cesca, an Italian restaurant, where Tricia had arranged dinner for 20. We were joined by John and Carol Cuff, Amber and Jonathan Tuggle and Steve, Nancy and John Paul Steele and Chris and Beverly Casey and Beverlyâ€™s friend Yvonne. Richard and Alice Nolen were also dining at Cesca with a party of 10. Also, I got to say hello to Tony Casazza who was getting a bite to eat with his friends at the bar. With ABB tunes playing in the background, we knew we were not far from the Beacon and a memorable night of music.
I wasnâ€™t sure I was up for another late night Friday night, but during and after dinner, Chris Casey and I texted each other about the possibility of seeing the Yonrico Scott Band play the â€œafter-partyâ€ at the Iridium Club. The gig was scheduled to begin after the ABB show at the Beacon ended, which would have been around midnight. However, we eventually convinced each other to go, so I ended up in line at the Iridium at 11:30. I soon realized that the line was to see the last set of Allan Holdsworth who was booked for the evening. Chris and I were two of the last people who were allowed to enter, as the club was packed. All I knew was that Holdsworth played fusion music, but when I entered, the band was in overdrive. My first impression was that they sounded like Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs, but without any melodyâ€”just three guys totally cranked on their instruments. It took a good 15 minutes for me to even begin to understand what was going on onstage.
The crowd thinned out when their set ended, and Yonrico took the stage at about 1 a.m. He is such a nice guy, and it really comes through in his playing, as he just seemed to be having the time of his life up there. A very enjoyable set, but I knew that Saturday was going to be a long day, so Chris and I called it quits at 2 a.m. As it turns out, Tricia, Jackie and John Timmons also had a late night, going off in search of the perfect pub to celebrate St. Patrickâ€™s Eve with a Bushmillâ€™s/Jamesonâ€™s tasting.
Time flew by, and we walked down the street to the Beacon for the show. I picked up my three backstage passes, and Barbara Timmons, Carol Cuff and I entered the venue by way of the stage entrance, as I thought they might be interested in a view of the Beacon not many people see. After saying hello to Bert Holman, the bandâ€™s manager, we walked out onto the stage where Jaimoe was fine-tuning his drums. I gave him a quick hug and walked behind the drum kits to say hello to Brian Farmer, Warren Haynesâ€™ guitar tech, and Jamo Van de Bogert, the drum tech for the band.
Then on to the seats for the show. I knew from previous nights that the concert would begin with a taped recording of Bill Grahamâ€™s introduction of the ABB on June 27th 1971, the night that The Fillmore East closed for good. The introductions by Bill Graham at both the Fillmore East and West had always been very short, an excellent example of which was his introduction of the band on â€œLive at the Fillmore East,â€ recorded in March 1971, when his now-legendary introduction was, â€œOK, The Allman Brothers Band.â€ But on the night the Fillmore East closed, he introduced the ABB, the last band to play the Fillmore East, as follows: â€œOver the years that we have been doing this, the introductions have usually been very short, this one is going to be short, but a little longer than usual. In the last few days we have had the privilege of working with this particular group, and in the past year or so we have had them on both coasts a number of times. And in all that time, I have never heard the kind of music that this group plays. And last night we had the good fortune of having them get on stage at two-thirty or three oâ€™clock, and they walked out of here at seven in the morning. And It is not just that they played quantity, and to my amateur ears, in all my life, I have never heard the kind of music that this group plays.Â The finest contemporary music: we are going to round it out with the best of them all, the Allman Brothers.â€
Back in my seat, I teared up over that introduction, but a big smile instantly appeared when the first notes of â€œMidnight Riderâ€ jump-started the night. I watched a couple of tunes and then decided to move around the theater to see the band from different angles. I ended up backstage as Randall Bramblett took the stage and joined the band on â€œDesdemona.â€ Randall blew a killer sax solo, and as he left the stage, I joined him and headed to his dressing room. The dressing rooms are stacked at the Beacon, and as we got on the elevator to go to the fifth floor, Susan Tedeschi stepped on and we rode up with her.
Randall and I talked as the Allmans finished the first set, and then Grace Potter entered the room to work on the vocals with Randall on the Fleetwood Mac tune, â€œGold Dust Woman,â€ which was coming up in the second set. Randall was to add backing vocals to Graceâ€™s lead.Â I realized I was superfluous and left.
Got to see a few more folks at intermission, including John and Nikolai McArthur and Lee Creasman. The second set (as on each night of the Beacon run) began with an acoustic set. â€œThese Daysâ€ was followed by the â€œDark End of the Street,â€ the James Carr R & B song that Gregg had previously covered on his Searching for Simplicity album. Gregg said it was one of Duaneâ€™s favorites, and it certainly is one of mine. If you want to see how packed with soul and emotion an R & B tune can be, download James Carrâ€™s version.Â No one has ever done it better.
At the end of the acoustic set, Barbara Timmons, Carol Cuff and I headed backstage to watch the remainder of the show. We were standing on the left side of the stage, and in some ways we had a $10,000 view, and in some ways a $10 view. I wish everyone could see the drums from the perspective we had. To us, Jaimoe, Butch Trucks and Marc Quinones were all in a line, one behind the other. It was stunning to see the coordination of the three drummers. One moment they were all in sync with a symbol crash, and several beats later each appeared to be doing his own thing, and then in a flash they all came together. I just donâ€™t think you can appreciate from the seats the degree of coordination that all this takes. However, if you want to hear the concert (and why else would you go?) it is one of the worst places to be, as all of the amplifiers are in front of you, pointed out towardsÂ the audience.
One of the high points of the second half was when Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, and Geoff Achison on guitars and Randall on sax were repeatedly swapping licks. Unfortunately, from where I was standing, I could hardly hear Randall playing. Thank goodness I can get a CD set of the concert from hittinthenote.com.
For another view of the gig, check out Spence Johnsonâ€™s excellent post about our trip at http://700pm.blogspot.com/
After the concert, Carl Hawkins, Jeff and Katy Daniels and John Cuff and I headed to the Iridium, where Jaimoeâ€™s Jasssz Band was playing the after-party. Got to say hello to Susan Tedeschi again as well as Derek. Oteil Burbridge, the ABB bass player, came over and sat with our group for a while. His wife is in Rwanda working to save the silver-backed gorillas, and it was obvious that her safety was on his mind. Bert Holman walked by with the comment, â€œJust like Grantâ€™s Lounge in Macon, isnâ€™t it, John?â€
After all the action, Sunday brought a low-key day in the city, the highlight being The Book of Mormon, just as funny and irreverent as predicted. I think it is highly unlikely that it will be showing in Athens any time soon.
Monday, and itâ€™s back to LaGuardia. Some debriefing with Lee Creasman and Chris NeSmith, and a smooth flight home. The ABB finished up the Beacon run the following weekend. Saturday night, Gregg left the show during the second set and was unable to play Sunday night as a result of pain from a bulging disc. He responded to fansâ€™ concerns by saying that there is plenty more music left in him. Letâ€™s hope heâ€™s right, because Iâ€™m already looking forward to next year.
I thought the quote of the week came at the after-party when the band finished their set and John Cuff said, â€œThey are only going to play one set?â€ I replied, â€œJohn, itâ€™s 10 minutes to three in the morning!â€ I think Johnâ€™s statement sums up the attraction of this music as well as anything. Once you get a hold of it, you donâ€™t want to let go!
Local attorney John Lyndon has been an Allman Brothers Band fan since his brother Twiggsâ€™ early association, and for years he has engineered this annual trek.
SET LIST AT THE BEACON
Set 1: â€œMidnight Rider,â€ â€œTrouble No More,â€ â€œWalk on Gilded Splinters,â€ â€œSky is Crying,â€ â€œStatesboro Blues,â€ â€œEgypt,â€ â€œDesdemona,â€ â€œHoochie Coochie Manâ€
Set 2: (acoustic) â€œThese Days,â€ â€œDark End of the Street,â€ â€œGold Dust Woman,â€+
(electric) â€œSouthern Man,â€+ â€œAinâ€™t Wastinâ€™ Time,â€ â€œMaydelle,â€ â€œManic Depression,â€ â€œThatâ€™s What Love Can Make You Do,â€^ â€œJessica,â€
Encore: â€œOne Way Outâ€*
*with Bruce Katz (keyboard), with Bruce Katz and Randall Bramblett (sax), +with Randall Bramblett and Grace Potter (vocals), ^with Randall Bramblett and Geoff Achison (guitar)
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