By: David Schultz
Many venerable traditions accompany the annual arrival of springtime in New York. Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the finals of the “We’re 66” N.I.T. Tournament will turn even the most oblivious minds towards thoughts of warm weather and the end of winter. Although not possessing the same storied longevity, The Allman Brothers Band are quickly establishing their own seasonal tradition, a March residency at the Beacon Theater. The weather for their two and a half week stay may have unreasonably dipped below the freezing point but the Allmans fiercely battled the cold with a series of fourteen scalding hot performances. Inviting numerous guests to the stage throughout the run, the Allmans joyously acknowledged their blues-centered roots while also looking ahead to the future by graciously sharing their spotlight with those whom they have influenced.
The current band blends both young and old. Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe remain from the group’s most bountiful years and although aged on the outside aren’t one step behind the younger guns they’ve welcomed into the band. The venerable Warren Haynes and wunderkind Derek Trucks comprise one of the most staggeringly virtuosic guitar tandems to ever play together and bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Mark Quinones add youthful fire to the rhythm section.
Indicative of their entire run, their last Monday night show, their ninth in twelve days, the Allman Brothers Band put on a classic rock clinic for the ages . . . and had a blast in the process. In between sets, Butch Trucks could be overheard backstage expressing his excitement over the Allmans’ Beacon performances, explaining that whenever they seem to be in need of a lift, they were getting it from somewhere. An experienced touring veteran, Trucks’ refreshing enthusiasm proved contagious for both the band and audience. When he wasn’t being inspired, he inspired others. Soon after, during the lengthy tribalesque drum solo, Derek Trucks stood just off stage, his excitement at the energy generated by his uncle Butch and the percussion trio palpable in his beaming grin.
On this night, guitarist Cornell Dupree, bassist Jerry Jemmott and drummer Bernard Purdie, all members of legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tenor saxophonist King Curtis’ band, as well as Derek Trucks Band lead singer Michael Mattison joined the Allmans to start the second set with a sizzling funk workout of Curtis’ “Memphis Soul Stew” that had Oteil Burbridge giddily jumping with delight behind Butch Trucks’ drum riser. The Gregg Allman & Friends horn section, Jay Collins (tenor sax), Jim Seeley (trumpet) and Chris Karlic (baritone sax), frequent guests throughout the shows, provided Curtis’ signature solos. Duane Allman revered King Curtis and Burbridge channeled that love, dropping to his knees and bowing at Jemmott’s feet at the song’s end.
In a first set that included “One Way Out” and “Stormy Monday,” Warren Haynes’ powerful cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” brought down the house. Accompanied by Jaimoe, who played in Redding’s band in 1966, and the Allman & Friends horns, Haynes offered a smoky, burning rendition of the heartbreaking classic. Derek Trucks’ wife, Susan Tedeschi, another frequent guest, joined the band for another cover, a fun romp through Derek & The Dominos’ “Anyday.” Later in the evening, with Gregg Allman on his familiar lead, the Allmans turned “Statesboro Blues” into a paean to the great blues musicians of yesteryear. “Revival” captured the backstage atmosphere, turning into a raucous set-closing jam. Everyone returned to the stage for an all-hand-on-deck encore of “Southbound” that saw the band yield large portions of the song to King Curtis’ band and the horn section. Burbridge even took time out to set down his bass and boogie with Tedeschi near the rear of the stage. In keeping with the family motif, Duane Trucks, the spitting image of his older brother Derek, kicked off the encore on drums before yielding his chair to Jaimoe halfway through the song.
On practically every night, the Allmans offered something special. On the 35th anniversary of the concert memorialized on At Fillmore East, they recreated the album as their first set and then brought out ABB alumnus Chuck Leavell to play keyboards with Gregg Allman during the second set. When they weren’t reconstructing their prior albums, the Allmans brought a wide variety of venerable bluesmen, classic rock legends and present-day stars to the stage, with each night bringing a new special guest. The Allmans offered the most deference to master bluesman John Hammond, allowing him to open the second set on the last two nights with solo acoustic versions of “Drop Down Mama” and “My Mind Is Rambling.” At his first appearance, Warren Haynes joined Hammond for an acoustic rendition of “Just Your Fool” and the next night Derek Trucks played with Hammond on “Stone Pony Blues.” Both nights featured Hammond joining the entire band for an electrified “Shake For Me.” Blues greats Hubert Sumlin, Robben Ford and Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Elvin Bishop of “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” fame made separate appearances early in the run. On the Saturday before his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Gary Rossington appeared for a run through of Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” with Peter Frampton joining in later on “Born Under A Bad Sign.” The song reemerged on another night with Mountain’s Leslie West. Robert Randolph, the “Hendrix of the pedal steel guitar” showed his stuff on a “Turn On Your Lovelight” jam and Ben Harper brought his lap steel guitar for renditions of “Midnight Rider” and “Southbound.” The Allmans jammed not just with friends but family too. Trucks’ wife Susan Tedeschi appeared on numerous nights and Devon Allman, Gregg’s son, collaborated on a reading of “Midnight Rider.”
With the Beacon residency concluded, the Allman Brothers Band will play together and with their other bands on April 14-15 at the two day WANEE Festival in Live Oak, Florida before going their separate ways for the summer. Of note, Derek Trucks will embark on a quick southern tour with his eponymous band before heading overseas to accompany Eric Clapton on his European tour. Oteil Burbridge will rejoin Oteil & The Peacemakers and tour the south on the Sweet Soul Revival Tour, hitting up the Wakarusa Festival along the way. Warren Haynes, the hardest working man in rock and roll, will put the finishing touches on a new Gov’t Mule album before commencing a summer tour which will include four dates opening for the Dave Matthews Band. Haynes will also present his Second Annual Mountain Jam on June 3-4 at Hunter Mountain in upstate New York. Gov’t Mule will play both nights of the festival which will include Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Keller Williams, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and Mike Gordon & Ramble Dove.
While some traditions suffer under the weight of outdated rituals and slavish adherence to rote, the Allman’s Beacon Theater March residency remarkably avoids falling into such a rut, remaining outstandingly fresh. Incorporating the blues and roots rock of the past, the Allmans are reinvigorating their classic material while also taking it in new directions. Most significantly, the Allman Brothers Band are exposing that music to a whole legion of younger fans.