The Allman Brothers Band:
Back in Piedmont Park


by Ron Currens
photos by Frank Mullen / Matteblack

My story of the Allman Brothers Piedmont Park show begins back in June. Tom Dodd (Buzzy82 on the ABB Web site) called me out of the clear blue to tell me some big news. His buddy who worked for a production company let him know a contract had been signed for the Allman Brothers' return to Piedmont Park, and I was the first person he told. I was in my car with my kids in the parking lot for Einstein Bagels when I took the call – it was one of those moments that I'll never forget.

Oh boy.

The Allman Brothers Band in Piedmont Park? I got chill bumps. Tears formed in my eyes. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that the Brothers would return to Piedmont Park. In my youth, I had seen the band play for free in the park, the People's Park, and I thought those days were gone forever.

This was big news.

I couldn't really tell anyone about it, since it was as yet unofficial – but man, was I grinning!

Eventually the Dave Matthews Band made their announcement, followed shortly by the Allman Brothers acknowledgement. I will have to admit it kind of irked me that the Brothers were opening for another band, I don't care who. This was Piedmont Park, the Brothers' Park!

Once the news was known, the kind folks at Hittin' the Note asked me if I would write an article about the upcoming show. I was told to build upon my experiences from the early days and bring the story home, full circle. Why, yes, I said, of course I'll write this story!

Unlike many pieces I've written, the pressure of a deadline never entered into the equation. I started writing within just a few days of the assignment and writing has never been easier – the words just flowed out of my fingertips!

I used John Ogden's magnum opus, "First There Is a Mountain," for historical reference and then contacted some buddies of mine who had also seen the Brothers at the Park. Digging around in the basement, I came up with a box stacked completely full of old issues of Atlanta's hip, underground newspaper, The Great Speckled Bird. I have no idea why I decided to save all these old issues so many years ago, nor do know how I have managed to hang on to them for nearly 40 years – but they are a fantastic resource. The Birds represent a snapshot of the hippie culture in Atlanta, a look at a time long gone.

When I started writing the article I thought it would be appropriate to use some of the words from that very first report of the Allman Brothers and my conversation with Buzzy82 - my editor gave me the OK. Those passages from our conversation truly added a flavor of the past to the finished piece. As a nod to Tom Dodd and his family, I began the last sentence in my conclusion with the words, "Love is the answer...", the same as the title of a thread he'd started about his wife's tragic illness.

So I finished my assignment well ahead of deadline and submitted it to Hittin' the Note. I'd been told it would be printed with a number of never-before-seen photos of the Brothers at Piedmont Park taken by Twiggs Lyndon – I was really looking forward to seeing those – plus I lent a precious copy of the Bird with Duane on the cover to HTN to get scanned.

But no one at Hittin' the Note thought to mention to me that the story was going to be featured on the cover of Issue #54! So I was thrilled beyond words when I first saw a copy – it's my very first cover story! Jokingly, I said that if I'd realized it was to be a cover story I'd have asked to be paid – then the next thing I know, I had a check in my hand. The very first time I've been paid for something I wrote!

I was very pleased with how the article turned out and tickled to get a paycheck. Even better, when the issue was mailed I received numerous compliments – everything was in readiness for the Brothers at the Park.

Then about a week before the show, I read a blurb in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Writer Bo Emerson was looking for folks who had seen the Brothers at Piedmont Park... and remembered it! I contacted Bo by email, talked to him by phone, and sent him some photos. Unfortunately I sent one photo too many!

Having talked to Bo I expected the paper would feature a story about the triumphant return of the Brothers to Piedmont Park. On the Saturday morning of the show, I fetched my newspaper out of the driveway and immediately turned to the Living section to look for Bo's article. Not there. Then I grab the Metro section and it's not there, either. Getting frustrated, I glanced at the other sections. Wait a minute... what the heck is this? Oh-my-freaking-God... the story is on the Front Page! Section A, page 1. Wait a minute... that's MY picture on the front page of the paper! Before and after, as it were...

Oh, I woke up this morning
With my face on page one.

Well, I woke up this morning
With my face on page one.

I started out an
Allman Brothers fan
And ended up the
Geico cave man.

Oh lord, what have I done,
What have I gone and done!

Remember that one photo too many? I'd sent Bo several shots. In most of them I felt I appeared as a handsome young bearded man – Hippie Ron, I was thinking.

But I had also included a shot I'd posed for back when I'd been working on a hog farm. That photo was snapped after a hard day's manual labor on a blustery, windy afternoon – and I was holding a pig in my arms! When cropped to show my face only, there is an uncanny resemblance to a certain advertising icon. I can't tell you how many folks have pointed that out to me...

Still, it was some kind of thrill to be on the front page of the newspaper!

The clip from the AJC

The original photo from the hog farm

And the photo I wish they had used!


No matter, the day of the show arrived and I couldn't be more ready. Following the much publicized advice, I took MARTA to the Midtown Station and walked. A mile is a bit far to stroll to the final destination, but it was a pleasant sunny day, I was in the company of hundreds of other concert-goers, and it was all downhill. Entering the gates couldn't have been easier, much to my surprise. I quickly located the Hittin' the Note booth and said hello to the many peach heads gathered nearby – it has become a wonderful tradition to use the HTN tent as a gathering spot. There was even a chair where I could rest before the music started.

In 1969 the Brothers had played for free in the park on the stone steps. This concert location was about as far from the stone steps as it could and still be in Piedmont Park, but it was well-situated for crowd control. The stage was enormous, at least 50 feet high. There were huge video screens on both sides and mountains of speakers. It looked good, real good.

It was kind of overwhelming to view the crowd waiting for the music to begin. Coming full circle, as it were, for me to have seen the Brothers perform in Piedmont Park so many years ago and to be there for their return; having a well-received article gracing the cover of the magazine I started, never expecting it to grow where it is today; and having my picture on the front page of the AJC that very day – well, I was filled with emotions very difficult to describe. The only thing I needed now was for the music to start.

Noticing activity up on the stage I decided it was time to get moving. When navigating a large crowd I can be very persistent, so I suggested to Joe Bell that he accompany me to the front. I knew we would end up much closer than Joe (who is more polite) could have made on his own, plus I was really glad for his company.

"Pardon me,"... "Excuse me,"... "Sorry, just passing through,"... and eventually I got to within about 15 rows of the stage – Joe tagging behind – shortly before the music started. Looking behind me, I could see a sea of Dave Matthews fans.

With my tie-dyed Beacon T-shirt and red ABB baseball cap, I was easily visible to anyone looking my way. I waved my hand in the air, hoping that Derek or Warren would spot me! Later, I found that they had – I even had my picture snapped from the stage!

Then the first notes rang out... and oddly, I didn't recognize the song. It was obviously some new jam I had not yet heard. It was beautiful and engaging, reminding me a bit of "Dimples." Joe gave me a nudge and said it was "Trouble No More" – he'd heard them doing this new intro jam during the summer tour. He said it had sort of a ZZ Top bass line with a "Green Onions/Dimples" flavor.

Suddenly it all struck home!

Here I was, once again watching the best band in the land – and the first song they played today was the same first song they played that first Sunday afternoon in the park, on May 11, 1969.

Now I know the meaning of the word bliss.

And it didn't look like I was alone – all around us were young kids, singing along. I had thought most of the crowd this close would be Dave Matthews fans, yet here they were, enthusiastically singing the lyrics to a song first performed by the Allman Brothers long before any of them were born. Looking around, I couldn't spot any other gray-hairs nearby. Joe and I were it for our generation.

Warren took the slide parts in "Trouble No More" and the band quickly followed with "Ain't Wasting Time No More," and once again I was surprised how many kids were singing along with Gregg.

The next song was "Hot 'lanta," a tune I was felt certain they would play in honor of their return to Atlanta. I was at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium in January 1971, the first time they played this song – Duane introduced it. I had front row seats, but they were off to the side and the angle was difficult. So I walked right up to the stage and kneeled down on the floor, resting my elbows on the stage, directly in front of Berry Oakley, for most of that memorable show. Today in Piedmont Park, the Allman Brothers soared on this wonderful instrumental.

Next Warren stepped up to the mike and sang "Woman Across the River," a killer song that was the band's only foray into its modern era. Then Gregg picked up an acoustic guitar and came out front for "Midnight Rider" – I sure hope the live CD picks up the amazing sing-along on this one! Warren took the slide lead again on the next song, "Statesboro Blues," and the young crowd crooned along some more. It was about here that I noticed that the clear, pleasant day had turned nasty hot. I was so glad I had my ABB cap on – the sun would have been brutal without a bit of shade.

Derek and Warren have developed a scorching slide duel intro into "Hoochie Coochie Man," but this version was decidedly different. For this show, Derek took the intro himself, for what seemed like two or three minutes, and I distinctly heard him tease "Amazing Grace" – I couldn't help but think of Brother Duane, listening from above...

The next song was “Come and Go Blues,” and Gregg’s soulful vocals were once again joined by thousands of voices from the crowd. I was continually amazed at the reception the Brothers got from this young Dave Matthews crowd, but after all – this was Atlanta! “One Way Out” followed, and the crowd sang about a man down there ….

“Black Hearted Woman” has developed into an epic jam and this afternoon was no exception – it was absolutely blistering. The Brothers broke into an “Other One” jam before they brought the song home.

“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” was next and the band was soaring, just soaring! I thought I heard Warren do a “Norwegian Wood” tease in his solo, and the crowd was moving and swaying in delirious delight. I was so glad they included a “JaMaBuBu” bass/drum solo for the show here at Piedmont Park – it was a shortened 5-minute version and fit perfectly. (Now that Oteil sits in on Butch’s drums while Butch is on the tympani, is it still called “JaBuMa?” Or is it “JaBuMaOt?” I have also seen it designated “JaMaBuBu,” which fits quite nicely ….) And, of course Oteil’s bass solo was superb – he is, after all, one of the best bass players in the world.

But...

But... it is the next song that reached absolute transcendence. It was here that I had my out of body experience. Instead of returning to "Liz Reed" after "JaBuMa," they segued directly into the reprise of "Mountain Jam" with Derek taking Brother Duane's solo. I screamed. I cried. I'm afraid I lost it for awhile.

The Brothers left the stage to a thunderous ovation. Only one song could possibly be the encore. And it was... "Whipping Post." Oteil's bass line led into the theme and 50,000 people went nuts. I joined them with glee. Nothing could have been finer than to have been in Piedmont Park that afternoon listening to the Allman Brothers Band play "Whipping Post." I remember Derek doing a "Favorite Things" tease at some point, but mostly I was just in the moment. Finally the Brothers wrapped up their two hour set and I was left to soak up the vibe.

Joe had left a few minutes earlier to earlier to man the HTN booth, so I was on my own. I chatted briefly with all the young friends we had made nearby. A young girl told me, "You did really well, sir!" and made me feel my age. All of a sudden I saw the crowd beginning to sit down in waves. I had wormed my way to the front with most folks standing up, and that was hard enough – but sitting down, each person took up much more room. Suddenly, returning to the edge of the crowd was looking increasingly difficult.

Starting off with a few tentative steps, I began to work my way through the tightly packed concert-goers. It is here that I experienced my first encounter with the yuppie Blanket Bastards. I've been to more than a few festivals, but never before had I seen so many people so territorial about their square foot of blanket space. It was exceedingly difficult to wend my way through all those folks – I was stepping around, stepping over, stepping through, and stepping on. After standing on my feet for some hours, it was a real challenge to find the agility I needed. A few minutes later I was about half-way to the edge of the massive crowd and I glanced back to find about 20 folks in single file following my every footstep! I had turned into a trailblazer.

Finally retuning to the HTN tent, I gratefully sank into a chair for a few minutes to recover. There was a beer stand nearby that had IPA on draft and for some reason they never had a line. While the Budweiser stand had a 20-minute wait, all I had to do was hand my money over and drink a beer. For once my elite taste in beer stood me well – I am a Hophead for sure.

Dave Matthews started his set while I was regaining my energy, but I never even glanced at the stage – it would have taken too much energy. After I'd rallied I made my farewells to the ABB fans and headed back to the Midtown MARTA station. Uphill every step. Step after step. Man, that's a long walk! My legs were burning after all that standing and dancing – the last thing I needed was to walk a mile uphill. And thus ended my glorious day with the Allman Brothers Band in their return to Piedmont Park.

The Piedmont Park Conservancy did a commendable job. I was really expecting this show to be a holy mess logistically, but it was well organized, without an overbearing security or police presence. Really mellow for a 55k person show. They just need to work on reducing the lines for the beer vendors and especially for the Port-a-Johns.

The Brothers were very moved to be returning to their roots – it was an emotional set for them, all but one song harkening back to their early days. But the next time they play in Atlanta, I will expect them to be the headliners they deserve to be.

Gosh darn, but I had a fantastic day!



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