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Still Peakin’ at the Beacon

On June 1st, the legendary Allman Brothers Band officially announced their final tour dates, ending a 45 year long career. They will performing, of course, at the Beacon Theatre, their traditional New York City home. ABB has been tearing up the Beacon for decades now, including a powerful bout of performances celebrating their 35 year anniversary. Author Randy Poe reminisces about the profundity of these performances in his book Skydog: The Duane Allman story. Enjoy the excerpt below!


Still Peakin’ at the Beacon

One night at the Beacon I looked down and realized, I was the only one left on the front line.” – Gregg Allman

It’s a Friday night in New York City. In the tradition of more than 150 previous Allman Brothers Band shows at the Beacon Theater, the joint is packed tighter than a subway car at rush hour. This is a ritual that shows absolutely no signs of losing its decade-and-a-half-long head of steam. Throughout the week, the band has been giving the crowd exactly what they’ve come for: exemplary musicianship, a light show straight out of another era, an impressive array of guest musicians sitting in night after night, and classic songs from the Allman Brothers Band’s 35 year career. In fact, on this night – March 26, 2004 – the band and audience are celebrating exactly 35 years of Allman Brohters history. the first half of the show includes plenty of old chestnuts – “Statesboro Blues”, “Can’t Lose What You Never Had”, “One Way Out” (with guest guitarist Lee Roy Parnell sharing slide duties with Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes) – as well as “Rockin’ Horse” and the heart-wrenching  “Old Before My Time”, both from Hittin’ the Note, the band’s well-received album of the previous year. As if that weren’t powerful enough, after the intermission there is a seismic shift upward in the energy level as the band opens the second set with “Mountain Jam.” All of us behind the stage – “grizzled road warriors, music industry veterans, various ABB family members, assorted friends and associates – are struck by the stepped-up intensity. The backstage chatter stops. We inch forward, ignoring the white stripes painted on the floor that both the fire marshal and tour manager Kirk West have already pointed out as the line not to be crossed under any circumstances (excluding, presumably, fire.). The “Mountain Jam” drum solo has begun. The other band members drift offstage. Whether or not he’s conscious of the anniversary date at this moment, Jaimoe has figuratively caught fire. The years fall away as the trade-offs between Jaimoe and Butch seem to conjure the same magic they had at the Fillmore East more than three decades ago. The only difference is the adddition of Marc Quinones on percussion, bringing congas, timbales, and cymbal crashes into the mix. After the drummers have done their thing, the rest of the band returns to the stage – but instead of resuming “Mountain Jam” they segue into “I Walk on Gilded Splinters.” The song was originally written and recorded by Dr. John, but the version that comes to my mind tonight is Johnny Jenkins’s 1970 rendition with Duane Allman on dobro. Duane stays on my mind as Gregg Allman begins to sing “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, the song he wrote immediately after his brother’s death. The historic night ends with encores of the Otis Redding ballad “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and “Southbound” from Brothers and Sisters – the first Allman Brothers album without Duane. Watching the band walk past me as they head offstage and into the night, I wonder if the set list for the second half of the show was intended as a tribute to Duane Allman, or if it was simply a selection of great songs that worked well together in that sequence. I also think back to the show of three nights earlier and a rather unsettling moment that has stuck in my head. At the Tuesday night Beacon show, the band’s pre-encore closer was “No One to Run With,” one of the standouts from their 1995 album, Where It All Begins. The lyrics tell the story of a man whose friends have all left town. As Gregg sang, the screen above him was filled with images of musicians now gone. The New York crowd, amny of whom probably weren’t even born at the time of Duane Allman’s death, had virtually no reaction as flickering images of Duane appeared on the giant backdrop. Footage of Berry Oakley was met with the same eerie silence. A few cheers could be heard when pictures of former ABB bassust Allen Woody came up, but when Jerry Garcia’s face splashed across the screen, the crowd erupted in a loud roar. Garcia’s voluminous contributions to American music and culture notwithstanding, observing the audience’s reactions – or lack thereof, with respect to Duane and Berry – was nothing short of disconcerting to me. I couldn’t help but wonder if Duane Allman has begun to fade from the public’s collective memory – even from the memories of many fans of the very band that bears his name. A year earlier, the Allman Brothers had added “Layla” to the set list – an overt tribute to Duane. Did the audience who attended Allman Brothers concerts that year really grasp the connection, or were they simply cheering the band’s decision to cover an old Eric Clapton record? In September 2003, Rolling Stone published its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” placing Duane at Number 2, just behind Jimi Hendrix. “I thought it was a very wonderful gesture,” Gregg told Hittin’ the Note‘s John Lynskey. “And I thought, ‘You made your mark, man. You didn’t make any money, but you made your mark.'” Rounding up the top five Rolling Stone‘s roster were B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Robert Johnson – pretty impressive company for a kid from the South who didn’t even live to see his 25th birthday.