Trunk Road: Why The Allman Brothers Band Residency Matters

Using generous math, over the last quarter century, The Allman Brothers Band have cultivated a sense of reverence and loyalty around their annual March residency at New York City’s Beacon Theatre. For a band that traces their origins to the south, it’s a slight curio that the legacy of their autumn years will unquestionably be the evolution of their yearly northern stints into one the most hotly anticipated classic rock events of each year.

[Photo By Dino Perrucci]

The Allmans aren’t the only band that plants roots in New York City. Phil Lesh & Friends and Furthur often spend significant stretches of time in town and this past month has seen Soulive host Bowlive, their own residency in Brooklyn and the Black Crowes return for a series of four shows split between Port Chester and New York City. Artists with deep catalogs are starting to see the allure of extended visits to one venue with Tom Petty exploring the viability of his own residency at the Beacon with five shows in May. Still, no residency comes close to generating the excitement of the Allmans slate of March dates, which raises the question: “what makes The Allman Brothers Band’s Beacon Theatre residency so special?”

Lester Bangs once called the blues “dead music.” He wasn’t making a concerted effort to insult the genre, he was bluntly referring to the fact that it didn’t feel like the music of today. Perhaps the greatest feat of the Allmans’ residency is that they make the blues feel alive and vital. Over the course of a residency, the Allmans dedicate themselves to reconstructing and reinvigorating southern rock and the Delta blues. With little interest in publicizing new material or selling a new album (books and solo projects are a different story), songs written in the last two decades make rare appearances. Nearly every song played on the Beacon stage traces its roots to another generation but Haynes and Trucks excel at making them feel omnipresent. In the world of the Allman Brothers Band, the blues aren’t dead, the blues are immortal. With the exception of blues magazines, this is not a thought that generally prevails throughout the music press. What makes the Allmans residency resonate with so many is that regardless of whether the blues are dead or alive, there are legions that fans that want to hear them played . . . and played well.

At the same time that the Allmans were setting up shop in the Beacon, a house music juggernaut known as the Swedish House Mafia were selling out four shows of their own at Madison Square Garden and the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The two concert experiences couldn’t have contrasted more starkly. At the Swedish House Mafia, thousands of high school and college kids cheered and raved for two hours for three guys who essentially pushed play on an arena-sized boom box, reveling in music intrinsically connected to the current pop culture. Further uptown, at the Beacon, an intimate gathering of a couple thousand friends from an older generation became communally engaged and reconnected with music that steadfastly remains timeless. It’s a near certainty that no one in one crowd wished that they were part of the other. Somewhere within that mutual exclusivity lies the genesis of the allure of the Allmans.

If the music doesn’t serve to keep the kids away from the Beacon, the ticket prices will. While admission to any particular night of the Allmans residency pales in comparison to ducats to The Rolling Stones or Clapton’s Crossroads extravaganza, the cost is much steeper than the average show at Webster Hall or the Bowery Ballroom. For the most part, this limits the crowd to adults and even further to those that have more than a modicum of respect for the musicians on the stage and the music they play. It may be a clichéd joke to kid about the potbellied greybeards busting out their two-sizes-too-small tie-dyes for a night out on the town. It’s no laughing matter though that the grown-ups that come to each Beacon show comprise the exact type of crowd necessary for any proper type of memorable concert experience. No pearls are being cast before swine: to a man (and the handful of women that dot the audience), there is respect and admiration for what’s transpiring on stage. The near unanimity of thought may not be unique but it will always remain special.

No single show by the Allman Brothers Band, not even the headlining appearance at their own Wanee Festival, inspires anything close to the level of enthusiasm that comes with any single show of the residency. With anywhere from eight to fifteen shows over a two to three week stretch, the ABB play each night without a sense of immediacy. If the Allmans were playing a single show, it wouldn’t be unfathomable for them to make a conscious decision to stock the set list with “hits” so that the crowd gets their proverbial money’s worth. Knowing that they will return to the same stage within 24 – 48 hours and that many in attendance one night will be there on others, the inclination to stack the deck loses it sense of immediacy. At the Beacon, this allows the Allmans to set ample time aside for improvisational jams and to include some rarities that might otherwise be cast aside. It’s not that Statesboro Blues, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, Whipping Post, One Way Out and the myriad of classic rock radio staples don’t make appearances – in fact, the 2013 residency was likely notable for the comparable number of times they were played – it’s that their absence from one night’s show doesn’t constitute an unforgivable sin of omission.

With much time on their hands, an ABB tradition has been to spend certain nights with their friends and residencies are notable for the guests that share the Beacon stage. The high point for guest spots took place during the 2009 run that celebrated their 40th anniversary with Eric Clapton, Trey Anastasio, Gary Rossington, Levon Helm, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh making notable appearances. In past years, the guests would generally provide a touchstone to the Duane Allman and Dickey Betts stages of the band. In recent years, guests like Grace Potter, Luther Dickinson, John Popper and Susan Tedeschi have closer connections to Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks (the latter of course being Trucks’ wife). Much like the Love For Levon concert highlighted the timelessness of The Band’s music, the inclusion of musicians from the generation that looked up to the Allmans indicates that Bangs might have been wrong when he called the blues “dead music.”

This year’s residency proved additionally satisfying for the simple reason that it took place at all. On the penultimate night of the 2012 residency, the sustainability of the Allmans’ yearly tradition appeared to be in jeopardy when Gregg Allman casually strolled off stage in the midst of the second set and remained absent from the run’s final night. Given the state of Allman’s health, pessimistic speculation ran rampant as to whether a storied tradition had come to an end. With fewer shows, a streamlined set list and conspicuous days off between nights, Gregg Allman not only sounded in great voice, he remained that way throughout the residency. With next year marking the 25th anniversary of the first Allmans Brothers Band show at the Beacon – one that featured Allman, Haynes, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe and took place when Derek Trucks was 9-years-old – there should be little doubt that, as always, the Allmans will deliver one of the most edifying and soul-affirming experiences in rock and roll. Savor them while you can.

 OFFRAMPS AND REST STOPS

As part of their return from their three year hiatus, Chris & Rich Robinson brought The Black Crowes back to the Tri-State area for a pair of shows at The Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York and another pair at Terminal 5 in New York City. In their previous incarnation, the Crowes received an enlivening jolt of energy from Luther Dickinson, who seemed to flourish as a member of the Robinson brothers’ flock. For the 2013 version of the Crowes, Dickinson has been replaced by Jackie Greene, who, notwithstanding the newly grown scraggly beard, seems an odd choice as the Crowes’ auxiliary axeman. Greene may be little less grittier than Dickinson and Chris Robinson may lean more towards shouting the lyrics than soulfully crooning them but these are just quibbles. It’s good to have the Crowes back and we should all probably enjoy this while it lasts.

While not as noteworthy as their hell-froze-over reunion in the late ’90s, Lindsay Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie have reformed Fleetwood Mac for a finely planned money grab accompanied by a new EP. Historical significance aside, it’s quite possible that anyone who hasn’t seen a ridiculously talented guitarist play might mistake Buckingham for one.

Starting with the Velvet Underground, New York has always had a distinctive form of rock and roll. In a non-linear fashion, it’s made its way to the present day through Television, The Ramones and Patti Smith to Sonic Youth to The Strokes to nearly every band from Williamsburg banging out three chords with a hipper-than-thou attitude. Parquet Courts fits squarely within the New York tradition and Light Up Gold, their full-length debut, will definitely rank within the best of 2013.

Speaking of New York City bands, one of the greatest, Living Colour, preceded their appearance at Met Life Stadium, where they played CM Punk to the ring for his Wrestlemania 29 match with The Undertaker, by celebrating the 25th anniversary of Vivid, their debut album, by playing it in its entirety at Irving Plaza. Once the last notes of Which Way To Your America faded, Living Colour touched upon the 20th anniversary of Stain, their third album, by playing vintage versions of Bi and Go Away. Going back even further, for their encore they brought out Wonder Mike and Master Gee of the Sugar Hill Gang and Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five for versions of Rapper’s Delight and The Message.

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4 thoughts on “Trunk Road: Why The Allman Brothers Band Residency Matters

  1. el bandito Reply

    I hope that the editor missed the following line “it’s quite possible that anyone who hasn’t seen a ridiculously talented guitarist play might mistake Buckingham for one.” Really? Are you saying LB isn’t a talented guitar player? I love the bands you talk about and write about here, but that one sentence takes away so much of your credibility as a writer and is just plain ignorant. Having seen almost all of the bands discussed in the article, I’d have to say Lindsey can hold his own with many of them. Vastly different styles are here though, so not really an apples to apples comparison (I would never compare Buckingham to Reid – both great in their own way.) But to say he is not a talented guitarist is wrong.His strength in his finger picking – his right hand technique is great. I love lots of styles and Lindsey is unique in his sound and style. Snark is fun, but you are just wrong here.

    • Scott Bernstein Reply

      FWIW, I agree with you about that line el bandito. But it’s not my job to insert my opinion into another writer’s piece. I love LB’s style and was incredibly impressed by listening to how all the Rumours tracks came together on the just-released box set.

  2. el bandito Reply

    My reason for the “editor” slam was not towards you Scott but because of the biography stating “If someone edited him, he would have published fewer” Perhaps that line could have been edited by Mr. Schultz. Why mention the Fleetwood Mac tour at all unless he just wants to throw in a slam on Buckingham and the band for touring. It really comes out of nowhere in an otherwise good article on the Beacon run.

  3. Nick Reply

    I don’t think this article is complete without discussing how ticket prices for these shows have sky rocketed. First I cut back from going a few nights to going to one night. I have not attended at all for a few years now. Since the Beacon was renovated, almost all the shows there are over $80 for the worst seat in the house. The Allmans made this possible via their residency and exploitive ticket pricing.

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