Rock & Roll Rewind: Allman Brothers at Atlanta Pop Festival
c d kaplan is a lifelong rock & roller. He’s got stories. Lots of ‘em. Here’s another.
Merrily, Don, the Mailman and I arrived in Byron, Ga. on the 2d of July in 1970.
The Atlanta Pop Festival would start the next day.
Little did I know it would change my life.
Arriving ahead of time allowed us to avoid the heavy traffic which backed up
the interstate for miles. We set up camp on the grounds by a grove of trees,
just a short walk to the festival stage area.
That Thursday night I meandered over to a small stage back in the woods
across the road. I listened to a couple of bands, the name of only one of
which I recall.
Chakra. How very 70s.
The other remembrance of that evening -- the weekend was generally a
blur for reasons that needn't be explained -- was a guy at the mic kept
saying, "Stick around, Sky Dog is gonna come and jam."
I had no idea Sky Dog was Duane Allman. I’d never heard him play — that
I was aware of at the time — or even of him.
Then, oh my, did I.
The Allman Brothers Band had taken up residence in nearby Macon, at the
behest of Phil Walden, who founded Capricorn Records to record them.
Thus, they were the only group to play twice during the festival. Opening.
On the 3d, our gang headed over toward the stage mid afternoon as the
music was about to start. Walking in, I recall the MC espousing some hippie
palaver about sperm twirling around eggs and infinity and Life Magazine,
He was introducing what immediately became my favorite band.
My head jerked back with Duane's slide intro to "Statesboro Blues."
What is this magical sound? I kept glancing at the stage as we were
spreading our blanket and getting situated?
Soon enough, our spot a hundred or so yards back from the stage wasn't
close enough. Wendy What Went Wrong, the companion of Tookie, a pal
from Louisville we'd run into by chance, asked who wants to get closer?
I jumped up, she grabbed my arm and we forged our way through the
crowd closer and closer to the stage.
ABB was playing "Every Hungry Woman" when we got close enough, finding
a spot to stop.
What is this? Two drummers. One of them, Jaimoe mostly syncopated; the
other, Butch Trucks, Derek's uncle in perfect complement.
There was the guy I figured was Duane and the other guitar -- Dickie Betts.
They would play against each other. Then in tandem.
Berry Oakley was too dang solid providing bottom on the bass.
And that blonde guy at the B3, singing with an incredible gut bucket
blues voice like he'd grown up on Stovall outside of Clarksdale. Younger
I. Had. Never. Heard. Anything. Like. It.
Because no band had ever done what they did. Playing the blues so soulfully,
yet lyrical at the same time. At times raucous as when they riff it out on "Whipping Post."
At one moment they were melodic and calming, as with "Dreams."
The next moment, combining it all, as on my singular favorite song ever which
I've listened to in tens of different versions, hundreds of times over. "In
Memory of Elizabeth Reed" was first song Dickie Betts ever wrote.
Their music was both concise and expansive and cut through to the core of my soul.
In too many ways to go into here, I've never been the same person since.
I recall little of the band's second set there early Monday morning. I was
too wasted, too sleep deprived.
I heard that original lineup -- before Duane and Berry were killed in eerily
similar motorcycle accidents -- play a couple more sets with the Mailman
and Doody that winter in Cincy at Reflections.
I listen to their sets at Atlanta Pop on CD regularly.