When it was announced Phil Lesh and company would be sharing a bill with the Allman Brothers Band, one’s first instinct may have been to recall the famous Watkins Glen show in 1973 when The Dead, The ABB and The Band drew over 500,000 to the legendary speedway in upstate New York. And while Lesh has been creating some history of his own of late, pairing with the likes of Bob Dylan and, most recently, reuniting with former bandmate Bob Weir, somehow you knew this could be the best co-bill yet.
Then you realized Warren Haynes would be playing with BOTH acts, for over four hours, and maybe you thought, What is this, “WARN-FM, All Warren, All the Time”? And when you realized just how cool that was, and this would indeed make some new history, you were bummed it would “only” happen four times, and then only in the southeast. Well, THAT figures, you thought
But being a Phil and ABB junky, you couldn’t resist and realized that since limited resources dictated you could do one and only one of the shows, you picked Atlanta, the ABB’s old stomping grounds and the last show of the Phil tour. It seemed a sure thing the night would be magical.
And you weren’t wrong.
Although Atlanta is experiencing a somewhat cool summer by their standards, it was pretty steamy when we rolled into the dusty, unpaved parking lots of the venue formerly known as the Lakewood Amphitheater. The tickets stated the show would start 5pm, but being savvy concert-goers, we knew that timeframe couldn’t accommodate the pre-show opener, Susan Tedeschi and her brand of fire-spewing blues rock. We missed much of her set, enjoying some of the local nectar and soaking up some southern sun in the dustbowl, but we did coordinate our arrival at our seats with special guests Jimmy Herring and Derek Trucks joining Tedeschi for a Bob Marley cover. Trucks stayed for the rest of her brief set, and we would see Susan again later too.
Remnants of Tropical Storm Barry were an uninvited guest during Tedeschi’s set, greeting lawn dwellers with a brief downpour, and tapers whose rigs were on the floor had to deal with unwanted runoff.
Things cooled off only a bit, though, as Phil Lesh and Friends promptly upped the ante and the temperature with their set. Dressed in a patriotic red, white and blue tie-die, Lesh led the ensemble through their now familiar opening improvisational jam sequence. But when the first number of the night turned out to be “Help On the Way,” you just knew Phil wasn’t messing around tonight.
Rob Barraco added some nice keyboard leads on the “Slipknot!” that followed, and, in the second moment of high excitement of the young set, wound into an unexpected, crunching “Viola Lee Blues.” John “Mount St.” Molo multitasked, with some maraca-shaking while laying down a heavy drum beat, and the Barraco-Haynes harmony tandem was already in fine form.
Out of “Slipknot!,” Haynes led another jam which would give way to a guitar-fueled “Mason’s Children.” Jimmy Herring took a wicked and extensive first solo on the uptempo number, the band chugging away behind him. Haynes followed that with some superb slide playing of his own during his solo the slide would seemingly never leave his finger all night.
Following some distinct “Cosmic Charlie” teases, verse two of a triple decker “Viola Lee” sandwich appeared and left quickly into an “The Eleven”-ish shuffle jam. Haynes led the band in an effort to slow things down a bit indeed even a band could get overheated lest it rock too hard in the early evening Atlanta heat and “Sugaree” seemed appropriate. Haynes’ voice is a deadly weapon in his arsenal, possibly moreso than his playing (can you imagine a Haynes-Tedeschi duet CD?), though his slidework continued to solidify his reputation as a master guitarist.
The bottom layer, verse three, of the “Viola Lee Blues club sandwich followed a long jam out of “Sugaree,” and ended over 45 minutes of straight playing. After a quick breather, Tedeschi joined the crew, Molo laid down a familiar beat which kick off a spirited “Lovelight.” The playing wasn’t as lively as, say, the Tweeter Center (Great Woods) version from earlier in the tour, but the Tedeschi-Haynes vocal interplay made up for that, to the point where you would swear the two wrote the song themselves. Then a hug and a kiss for an exultant Phil and Tedeschi was off.
The Lesh-sung “Bird Song” slowed the tempo but took the sweaty crowd back into the stratosphere; his lengthy pause before the final “I’ll show yousnow and rain” lyric was reminiscent of those Phish take in “Divided Sky.”
More jamming out of “Bird Song” touched on “Caution” and “Viola Lee” again, before finally settling into “China Cat Sunflower.” As if on cue, “Slipknot!” rematerialized and fed into a set-ending “Franklin’s Tower,” to wild applause.
Haynes took the vocal duties again with a stirring “Soulshine” encore, and the set fittingly ended with a drawn out version of the gospel nugget “We Bid You Goodnight.”
The two hour set left most of the crowd exhausted, yet we were only 2/3 of the way home: we still had a full Allman Brother show to go (talk about value for the money!).
At 9:00pm the Allman Brothers Band hit the stage to a heroes welcome. Haynes, dressed in his traditional black ensemble, looked none the worse for wear. The Allmans picked a non-traditional opener, “Revival,” to kick things off, to the delight of the hometown crowd. Setlist staples “Statesboro Blues” and “Don’t Keep me Wonderin’” followed, but the guitar content of the evening picked up as Haynes and Trucks swapped extended slide solos as an intro into Muddy Waters’ “Hootchie Cootchie Man.”
One of several special guests next joined the fray, old friend Chuck Leavell joined on electric piano on stage left, as he had in March at the Beacon Theater in New York. Sitting in on “All Night Train” which appears to be making it back in setlist rotation and Gregg Allman’s new “Desdemona,” Leavell displayed his world class chops; Trucks’ aggressive peak-reaching slidework, Haynes’ own frenetic playing combined with Leavell’s expert fingering to make the latter tune arguably the highlight of the night.
Leavell and Haynes also stood out on “Jessica,” with Haynes teasing The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” before turning in some ferocious eggbeating.
An electric “Midnight Rider” was greeted with some of the loudest applause of the night, but when Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools took over on bass for Oteil Burbridge on Gov’t Mule’s “Rocking Horse,” he was greeted with an ovation befitting a hometown boy; he kept the beat strong and loud in backing Haynes’, but left too quickly as the band segued into “Done Somebody Wrong.”
Herring, Leavell came back out along with percussionist Count M’Butu, who added some spice to a drum solo on Marc Quinones’ rig, during a real family jam session on “One Way Out.”
And just like back in the day, the band flexed it jam muscle on the “Mountain Jam” encore, taking it for a 30-minute ride, hitting heights eerily reminiscent of the old Fillmore/Ludlow Garage days. Butch Trucks’ pounding on the kettle drums signaled the end was nigh for a tremendous night of rock and roll, an East Coast meets West Coast (well, South meets West, really) smorgasbord of different ideas and styles.
As we filed out into the still-humid night, it was only fitting a bevy of fireworks were being launched by ecstatic, wet fans. Was the night as legendary as that night in upstate New York in 1973? Well, probably not, but then I wasn’t there. And neither were most folks at the amphitheater that night. But some of those guys who were there in ’73 put on a helluva show and made a little magic that will surely be remembered for years to come.