Atlanta’s Fox Theatre drew thousands last night for the celebration of Gregg Allman’s legacy in music, and the stage was as packed with talent as the theater was with fans. Joining Allman were Jackson Browne, Robert Randolph, Sam Moore, John Hiatt and a multitude of other legendary performers, many of whom had never before shared a stage despite decades of friendship.
“We’re all here to honor Gregg’s contribution to American music, which is invaluable in my opinion,” said Warren Haynes before the show. “Everybody in the audience and everybody on stage was moved by his music from the first time we heard it. I’m a huge fan before we became friends, and we’ve been friends since 1981. So for me, it’s a no brainer. I would be here, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Warren Haynes opened the show with “Come & Go Blues,” giving Allman Brothers Band fans a familiar sound with his fervent guitar and raspy vocals. From there, it felt like a relay race of brilliant musicianship and comfortable tunes. One major highlight was Susan Tedeschi’s other-worldly performance of “Stand Back” with Haynes and husband Derek Trucks. As a long-time tourmate and frequent collaborator of the band, it’s no surprise that Tedeschi’s powerful vocals earned roaring approval from the crowd.
Allman himself didn’t appear until almost an hour into the set for none other than “Statesboro Blues,” garnering just the kind of exaltation from the crowd that you might expect for a man who inspired so many.
“It’s like a surprise party. Like everybody you’ve ever known and loved and played music with is gonna come by, drop in for a little jam,” Allman said, and the tone of every performance reflected that mentality.
After “Statesboro Blues,” there was a 15-minute intermission and it was back to the music as bodies got moving to Widespread Panic playing “Just Ain’t Easy” and “Wasted Words.” There were pauses between each song all night thanks to the cameras (the entire set was being filmed), but the breaks didn’t seem to faze the crowd, which spanned all ages but hovered on the older side and included as much debauchery as any show (with a refreshing lack of smartphones hovering in the air). Regardless of pace, each song felt like a show in itself, with performers presented individually and greeted by warm applause.
Country artists showed up in full-force to honor the Southern rocker, too: Trace Adkins’ deep voice registered well with “I’m No Angel” and “Trouble No More,” and Vince Gill’s rendition of “Multi-Colored Lady” was on-point. Martina McBride powered through “All My Friends” before being joined on stage by Train’s Pat Monohan for “Can You Fool.” Eric Church really illustrated the rock undertones in his music with his performance, first raging through “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” and continuing to thrill with “Win, Lose or Draw.” He worked the audience like a pro, allowing plenty of glory for the band with instrumental breaks (and with a backing band like that one, how could you not?).
The real highlight of the show, though, came when long-time friends Allman and Jackson Browne emerged for a duet, playing through Browne’s “These Days” and the familiar Allman tune “Melissa” together for the first time in front of an audience.
It wouldn’t have felt complete without the encore, which drilled through “Dreams” with the full Allman Brothers Band followed up by the always-powerful “Whipping Post.” Seemingly every member of the audience belted what lyrics they could between the band’s bold impromptu musical interludes. For many in the crowd, it might be the last chance to see Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks perform as a part of the legendary group: the two announced this week that they would be leaving the band at the end of 2014.
“It’s been a long time in the making, and it was something we’d been talking about,” said Haynes before the show. “It’s not a shock to any of us, you know. I think a lot of us feel like the 45th is a good stopping place. It’s been a wonderful experience, for me, and I am deeply indebted to the Allman Brothers Band for giving me the opportunity that I’ve been given. I’m amazed it went this far. I’m proud of everyone and I love everyone.”
It seemed a consensus among the performers that this was a natural split.
“I might have instigated it, you know,” said Allman before the show. “It’s about that time.”
The full cast of the show appeared for the final song, a sing-along-style rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” and capping off the outpouring of love and admiration for Gregg Allman, it was clear that these performers had found a degree of respect for one another, too. Swaying and clapping, shooting fists in the air, this talented bunch was visibly tickled to be performing together, embodying the kind of musical camaraderie that Allman perpetuated throughout his career.