The Allman Brothers Band

The Beacon is Booked, so the ABB Will Move

By: Dave Itzkoff
For: The New York Times

No rock ’n’ roll tradition lasts forever. Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar. Kiss (temporarily) washed off its face paint. And now the Allman Brothers Band is leaving the Beacon Theater.

On Tuesday night the Allman band, whose annual routine of residencies at that Upper West Side theater once seemed as permanent as the bathroom-wall graffiti at CBGB, announced that when it came to New York in March, it would not appear at the Beacon, where it has played 190 shows over the past 20 years.

Instead the band will perform at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights, having lost its longtime Manhattan home to another group.

“Cirque du Soleil came and bought it out from under us,” Gregg Allman, the band’s singer and keyboard player, said in a telephone interview.

“It’s a drag,” Mr. Allman added. “But one monkey don’t stop no show.”

Mr. Allman and his roots-rock band have been associated with the Beacon since 1989, having made it their concert hall of choice for monthlong, multinight stands after a lengthy diaspora that followed the closing of the Fillmore East in 1971.

In 2000 the group released a live album, “Peakin’ at the Beacon” (Epic), culled from performances there. Its 2008 dates there were canceled while Mr. Allman underwent treatment for hepatitis C. But when the 2,800-seat theater was reopened last year after a seven-month renovation, executives at Madison Square Garden Entertainment, which operates the Beacon, made sure that the Allman Brothers Band was among the first acts to play the refurbished space; a 20th-anniversary run in 2009 featured high-profile guest stars like Eric Clapton.

Melissa Ormond, the chief operating officer of MSG Entertainment, told The New York Times last March that the band was “a mainstay, a staple of the Beacon and everything it stands for.”

But in June, said Bert Holman, the band’s manager, he received a phone call from an MSG executive informing him that she had bad news: the Beacon had been booked for a new show by Cirque du Soleil, the Montreal circus troupe, that would use the theater from January through June — and possibly into August.

Mr. Holman said the band might have considered rescheduling its residency to February or April, but “that answered that question.” The MSG executive, whom he did not name, was “very chagrined.” He added, “She didn’t have her marquee booking.”

In a statement Bob Shea, the executive vice president for bookings of MSG Entertainment, said: “We are proud of our long-standing history with the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theater. We hope to have them back at the Beacon in 2011 and beyond.”

MSG executives did not say why they offered the Beacon to the Cirque du Soleil show, called “Banana Shpeel,” instead of the Allman band, but economics may have played a role. The theater stands to gross far more from “Banana Shpeel,” which is booked for nearly 100 performances at the Beacon, than it did from the Allman Brothers Band, which played 15 shows there in 2009. (Last month Cirque du Soleil said it had postponed the New York opening of “Banana Shpeel” by three weeks so the production could have more rehearsal time at the Beacon, after a Chicago run was poorly received by critics there.)

In the meantime, the Allman band and its representatives contemplated several other New York spaces for its residency. But the Hammerstein and Roseland Ballrooms and the Nokia Theater were deemed too small, as were several Broadway houses, which do not typically host rowdy Southern rock bands and their fans. Radio City Music Hall, another MSG property, seemed better suited to other acts.

“Forget about it,” Mr. Allman said. “That’s Hannah Montana’s place. I think she’s great, by the way.” So, “by process of elimination,” Mr. Holman said, the group came to the United Palace, a 3,293-seat auditorium, where it will play eight shows from March 11 through 20. (More dates may be added if those shows sell out.)

Though the space has been criticized by concertgoers for its echo-filled acoustics, Mr. Allman said, “With our sound system, we’ll make our own damn acoustics.”

The band is also looking into other ways that it could make the Washington Heights neighborhood more familiar to its itinerant followers, who might not have spent much time there. Mr. Allman said he and his colleagues might rent a bar there during the residency that would offer “a safe, safe place to get loaded or talk to the pretty women — do the things that us guys do.”

Anticipating the reaction of his audience, Mr. Allman lamented the loss of the Beacon. “The location was perfect,” he said. “But then we went through the same thing with the Fillmore.” He, too, was frustrated for making fans follow him from theater to theater, adding, “It’s not us that’s running them around, though.”

Mr. Allman said the band’s coming performances at the United Palace were an experiment. “If for some strange reason it doesn’t work,” he said, “then next year we’ll try a different place.”

But one way or another, Mr. Allman said, his band would remain a fixture in New York. “I’ll play up there till I drop,” he said. “You can print that.”


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