By: Gray Beverley
For the Macon Telegraph
In the alley outside, a group gathered around three guitars and a harmonica playing “Melissa.”
Few lips were sealed. One person sang at full strength, two others joined in with a somewhat softer accompaniment, and still others could not resist at least mouthing the words to a favorite song of the Allman Brothers.
The 2003 GABBAfest is this weekend. Part tribute to hometown legends, part “family reunion,” the annual GABBAfest brings hundreds of fans of the Allman Brothers’ music to Macon.
One fan inside the Douglass Theatre on Saturday came from Tampere, Finland, for the fourth time.
“It’s nice to be here. I like Macon,” said Timo Nieminen. “Sometimes it feels like coming home.”
Like most others at the festival, Nieminen has been a fan of the Allman Brothers since his teenage years, when he heard “It’s not my cross to bear” on Radio Luxembourg late one night.
Nieminen said he had to wait about three months for his local record store to get the album. Since then, the 48-year-old has more than 100 Allman Brothers vinyls and many more CDs.
This year’s festival was dedicated to Joe Dan Petty, a guitar technician and original member of the extended Allman Brothers family who died in a private plane accident near Macon in 2000.
Petty’s son, Jody, and his band, Big Willy and the Wingtips, were jamming the blues for a crowd at the Douglass that included longtime Allman friend Chank Middleton.
“It brings a lot of the fans together,” Middleton said. “And good music. That’s what I like the most.”
When he was 18 or 19 years old, Middleton shined shoes at a barber shop next door to the Capricorn Records studio in Macon where the Allmans spent much of their time. Duane Allman would take a break there – for the air-conditioning, not for a haircut, Middleton joked.
Allman invited Middleton to the recording sessions, but the teenage fan of jazz and rhythm and blues was reluctant to accept.
“I just knew these guys couldn’t be playing what I wanted to hear,” Middleton says with a laugh.
But Middleton said as soon as he heard them play, from that point on, people wanting a shoe shine had to go next door to find him. And Middleton, 53, has been a close friend of the Allmans ever since.
Middleton’s favorite song, “Dreams,” reminds him of picnics at the farm, hanging out at the swimming hole, late nights at the studio and waiting in line at Lee and Eddie’s Barbecue.
Greg Potter’s favorite song is “Little Martha,” which he said is usually played at the close of an Allman Brothers concert. Potter, the president of the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association, or GABBA, said he goes to at least 10 such concerts each year.
“If it wasn’t for my music habit, I could retire,” Potter joked.
Potter said GABBAfest is a time to meet up with old friends, some of whom he said came this weekend from New York, Canada and Michigan.
“I just can’t explain it to people,” said Greg Potter. “It’s a real closeness.”
Today at noon, GABBA is sponsoring a clean-up at Rose Hill Cemetery as well as a tree dedication there.
For more information, visit www.gabba.org.
To contact Gray Beverley, call 744-4494 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.