AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT
Article and Photos by Bill Thames
The Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association wrapped-up its annual music festival in Macon, GA recently after three days of perfectly peachy music, and brotherhood. Fans traveled from as far as Finland to hear five outstanding bands, participate in jams, plant trees, and generally bask in the brotherly shadow of the Allman Brothers Band. GABBAfest holds something for everyone and this year was no exception.
A welcome dinner greeted everyone Friday early evening and helped to shake the road off. Before long Moses Jones kicked the night off with a set of honest, heartfelt, kick-ass rock and roll that put everyone in the mood for a weekend of Macon music. As usual, hugs and kisses at the sign-in/welcome table from Surelle Pinkston, and Barbara and Greg Potter were required for admission into the historic Douglass Theater. As we settled into our musical chairs, Tony Tyler was onstage and already sending shockwaves through the audience.
Tony Tyler, a blues guitar prodigy at 18, fronts a group of musicians with seismic capability anchored by his father, Stan Killingsworth on percussion, Michael Hurwitz on bass, and Darren Barwick on second lead guitar. The Tony Tyler Trance, as the band is called, effortlessly succeeds in achieving tuneful acrobatics that most seasoned road musicians cannot begin to pull off. Tony Tyler has been on my “to-hear” list from the time that Paul Hornsby first put a bug in my ear about the young guitar slinger last March. At that time Tyler teased the audience by sitting-in for only one song at a Capricorn Rhythm Section show. When Hornsby talks, I listen.
It became abundantly obvious what the buzz was about as Tyler’s guitar filled the Douglass Theater with an intense texture that flirted just behind his thoughtful lyrics. Originals, covers, or jams—the kid has done his homework, and he brings it all to the stage with style and finesse. Near the end of his show Lefty Collins and a few other seasoned musicians joined Tyler for a jam, and the young gun didn’t blink an eye. Tyler obviously welcomed the opportunity to stretch-out a bit more. It’s frightening to think where Tyler will be in a few years if he continues to rub elbows with the caliber of musicians that he played with at GABBAfest. Much to the crowd’s appreciation, Tyler seemed to pop-up everywhere, and with everyone over the course of the weekend.
After a short equipment change intermission, it was time for Tommy Talton to showcase his new band, The Tommy Talton Band, and they did not disappoint. Talton has been a southern music icon from his early days with the Capricorn mainstay, Cowboy. It was evident from the very first note that the Tommy Talton Band was as dangerous musically, as they looked in their black outfits as they took the stage. When asked later about their “dress-for-success” fashion statement Talton told me with a smile, “I’m tired seeing bands that show up for a concert looking like they just finished cutting the grass.”
Talton has surrounded himself with incredible musicians that found the groove early, and reached deeper and deeper into the pocket as the show went on. The Tommy Talton Band is Brandon Peeples on bass, Tony G. on keys, David Keith on drums, and John Kulinich on guitar—remember these names and watch out for this band. No filler—no frills—just emotional, gut-wrenching R&B, spiced with sophisticated jazz, and a pinch of unique folksy Americana. Talton writes the kind of emotional music that seems to soar off the stage and rips right through your heart, reaching down and wrapping itself around your musical soul. He pens insightful, clever lyrics that invite the listener into Talton’s own mystical, moody, melodic world. Talton manages to tug at your heartstrings one moment, and then out of nowhere he hits the audience with a slide guitar driven one-two to the mind—all performed with cleverness, intensity, and intelligence.
As the end of Talton’s set drew near, the audience was instantly on its feet begging for more. Soon an appreciative Talton peeked around the curtain, and motioned the band back to the stage for an encore, quipping, “Hey guys—they really mean it—they want to hear more!”
The Tommy Talton Band returned to the stage, took a collective deep breath, re-tuned their instruments, and then unleashed a volley of musical masterpieces…“Poblano,” a mesmerizing instrumental enthralled the audience. Switching gears the band covered attention-grabbing up-tempo versions of “For What it’s Worth” and “Love the One You’re With.” Next, settling into a smoldering New Orleans groove, Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way down” sent waves of goose bumps through the audience as Talton tipped his fedora to the slide guitar great, Lowell George. Here, Talton’s hauntingly masterful slide added an icy chill to one of the saddest songs that has ever been played. Those that managed to hear the Tommy Talton Band, Moses Jones, and the Tony Tyler Trance at the Douglass Theater on Friday night were treated to astonishing music, and the weekend was scarcely a few hours old.
Saturday morning found many enjoying an early lunch at the H & H, along with Talton’s hot band. Mama Louise, Mama Hill and the rest of the crew at the H&H always add that all-important gastronomic piece of the puzzle that makes a trip to Macon complete. There is simply no better place to spend lunch on a Saturday in Macon.
Next on the GABBAfest agenda was a stop at The Big House to get an update from the Allman Brothers Band Tour Mystic, Kirk West, on the impending plans to convert the century old historic Allman Brothers Band house into a state-of-the-art Museum. According to West the plans are moving along pretty much as he envisioned when the idea was hatched three years ago. “We still have a bit more fundraising to get to our goal of opening a first class museum with enough working capital to insure that it is a success, and we have some exciting fundraiser’s planned for early next year.” said West.
Lefty rocks out.
After an always enjoyable chat with Kirk West it was time to hurry back to the Douglass Theater to try to catch a preview of the evening’s acts. Jimmy and Jack Hall, with guitarist Ric Seymour, drummer Stan Killingsworth (Tony Tyler) and keyboard magician, Tony G. (Tommy Talton Band) had set-up, and were getting acquainted musically. After listening for just a few minutes it was obvious that the audience was in store for more than the standard Wet Willie crowd pleasers. Next up to rehearse was Lefty Collins. Frankly, I don’t know why Lefty bothers to warm-up. He comes to the stage on fire, and we were all just a couple of hours away from finding out what kind of pyrotechnics Lefty was packing in his Coroceden bottle.
After Lefty’s sound check, it was time to meet the Randall Bramblett Band down at the 550 Blues for a quiet word while they set-up for what would become the weekend’s last show. Randall and the band are touring in support of their new release, “Rich Someday,” and they were excited to share some of the new music with the serious GABBAfest music fans.
Also, Saturday afternoon the Potter’s played host to a GABBA tree planting ceremony at the entrance to Rose Hill Cemetery, dedicating the tree to a couple of Macon Oaks, Mama Louise, and Mama Hill of the H & H. As always, Mama Louise worked a full weekend at the H & H, and also attended most of the events at the Douglass Theater. Lady Mama Louise is an inspiration for a multitude of reasons.
There was so much talent in Macon, and so many things planned for GABBAfest this year that there was simply too much to see and do! The whole weekend was one musical tornado after another, punctuated by GABBAfest service-related events. Adding to the mix, Widespread Panic played at the coliseum across town on Saturday night.
While we were visiting with Randall Bramblett, back at the Douglass, the other GABBAfest attendees were treated to the Members Jam. Members of GABBA brought out their acoustic instruments and jammed for the people on the stage of the Douglass Theater. Singer extraordinaire, Terry Reeves, coordinated the jam and made sure that everybody who wanted to play got their chance. We heard it was a great jam and those who participated had a wonderful time.
After a quick change of clothes, there was just enough time to race back to the Douglass Theater for the evening’s shows. Once inside, the level of excitement as the audience anticipated hearing Lefty Collins and Jimmy Hall was incredible. When the house lights dimmed, Lefty Collins and the No Mercy Band had taken their places and they were ready to rock the house.
Word of the southpaw’s musical prowess had preceded Lefty Collins and the No Mercy Band, but many really didn’t know what to expect. So often after weeks of hype and buzz people walk away from a show shaking their heads in disappointment. Not this night! Lefty is a seasoned professional, with a total command of his instrument, and a deep and abiding respect for the musical heritage of the Allman Brothers and related blues musicians.
When Lefty and the band play a cover, the result is interpretation—not impersonation, and he undeniably understands the dynamic nuances of the music he plays. With his fiery pistol-packin’ grooves and gritty, driving attitude, it is obvious that Lefty pulls the trigger when he is onstage. In addition, the sound that Lefty coaxes out of his guitar when he slips a slide over his finger is unquestionably what sadness must sound like to a man. As a vocalist, Lefty knows very few stylistic limitations.
Lefty treated the crowd to a well-rounded blues session with songs like “I Love the Blues,” and “Elizabeth Reed.” Drummer Angel Murillo, second guitar JP Vancura, and Pete Vancura (winner of the Jerry Garcia look-alike contest), on bass kept the groove going and pushed the bottom to the top, in support of Lefty’s agile guitar work. Near the end of their show, Lefty brought a beaming Bill Ector, editor of Hittin’ the Note Magazine, onstage to join the band on “Use Me Up.” Ector showed that he has been hiding some serious guitar chops behind his writing, and my guess is that it was sometime after lunch on Monday, before his staff was able to wipe the smile off his face.
Regretfully, Lefty’s show ended far too quickly for me, even with guests, tributes, and encores, but it became abundantly obvious during his show that the Lefty Collins buzz was for real.
Next up was Greg Potter to present the annual GABBY award, given this year to author and former Allman Brothers road manager, Willie Perkins, for his many years of dedication to the Allman Brothers Band, and their legacy. Willie was deeply touched, and graciously accepted the award, thanking everyone involved in GABBAfest for the magnificent award as well as the wonderful weekend of brotherhood and music. Next, Kirk West was ushered to the stage for a birthday cake and rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday,” sung by everyone in attendance. While Jimmy Hall’s band readied the stage and got tuned-up, Greg Potter auctioned some unique one-of-a-kind items donated by friends and extended family to benefit GABBAfest, and to help insure that weekends like the one that we experienced happen every year.
The one and only Jimmy Hall.
With awards distributed, door prizes drawn, and auctions out of the way, it was time for Jimmy Hall to take the stage. This night the Wet Willie front man was joined by brother Jack Hall on bass, Ric Seymour on guitar, Stan Killingsworth (Tony Tyler Trance) on percussion, and Tony G (Tommy Talton Band) on Keyboards. This is not Jimmy’s regular Wet Willie line-up, but what a band! Listening to Jimmy Hall and these monster musicians was like going to a live R&B history lesson, and Hall was front-and-center calling roll.
After blasting the audience out of their seats with a couple of harp and saxophone driven slam-bangers that leap around your insides like triplets on a trampoline, Lefty Collins and Tony Tyler joined the jam. As “Rendezvous with the Blues” kicked-off, things got really interesting—really fast. With three guitars, harmonica, and Tony G leading the way on keyboard, “Rendezvous” took some unexpected twists, and turns which were exactly what the audience had been looking for all night.
Trading licks, in true round-robin open jam style, as the song bridged, each musician took a turn echoing the original run, adding a flirting note or two, and then passing the original melody on to the next player—each trying to make their addition more soulful then the last, while staying in the basic rhythmic variation, syncopation and chord progression. The modifications and substitutions were nothing short of breathtaking. When all the musicians were used-up, and “Rendezvous” ended, Hall quipped to the audience with an impish grin, “I liked the places that song went, and I sure hope that someone got that on tape?”
For most, “Rendezvous” would have been a fitting end to the show—it was one of the weekends highlights, but Jimmy pulled out his Wet Willie songbook and took the audience home in fine fashion. “Function at the Junction,” “Grits Ain’t Groceries,” “Keep on Smilin’,” “Too Tall to Mombo,” and on and on. Jimmy Hall is the consummate entertainer, and his band supported him all the way home.
The last show of GABBAfest was all over too quickly, but when Jimmy Hall and his incredible pick-up band wound things down at the Douglass, the night was far from over. When Jimmy said “good night everyone” it was time for the hard-core music fans to head down to the 550 Blues to hear the Randall Bramblett Band. Before he finished his show, Jimmy Hall invited the crowd at the Douglass to take the party down to the 550 Blues, and a large portion of the audience apparently accepted his invitation.
Just like Macon magic, the 550 Blues Club quickly filled to capacity with happy GABBAfest and Widespread Panic refugees as the Randall Bramblett Band took the stage and played two sets with limitless electricity and imagination. A quick glance around the room found Jack Hall and Ric Seymour standing on chairs pressed against the far wall, bobbing along with the music and mouthing every Bramblett lyric. Jimmy Hall joined the band for one, and then it was all Bramblett, and his incredible band.
The Randall Bramblett Band displays a rare melodic soulfulness born of southern roots, and Bramlett cooks up insightfully powerful lyrics that weave his music into a warm tapestry colored with hues of jazz, pop, soul, and blues. “Rich Someday” Bramblett’s new recording is possibly the funkiest, deepest, and most exciting statement yet from the man that brought the public “No More Mr. Lucky” and the much heralded “Thin Places.” All three of Bramblett’s recent releases are steeped in tone poems with lyrics that offer phrase-making brilliance.
Back at the hotel, at 3:00 AM a pick-up jam could be heard in a “borrowed” banquet room near the elevators. As elevator doors opened, several smiling GABBA members stepped off oblivious to the time with guitars in hand, heading toward the music while a haggard, but happy crowd assembled around the elevators waiting to go up to beckoning beds. I rode up with Lefty Collins and got to shake the hand that was spitting fire just a few hours earlier. I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive as we shook hands that fire and lightning might fly from those fingertips, but apparently he’s just flesh-and-blood like the rest of us.
The next morning a much younger Widespread Panic crowd looked a little rough on the edges as we made our way through the lobby, and out to our car. In the face of angry looking storm clouds, the remaining GABBA members met at Rose Hill Cemetery for one final good-by and a cemetery clean-up; something that they do religiously each and every year.
As we turned onto I-16 armed with CD’s from the Hittin’ the Note table, I was confident that the trip would fly—after all, there is nothing like fresh, new music to shorten a drive. Jimmy Hall’s, “Rendezvous With The Blues” has already become a blues classic, and the other CD that we played continuously for over a week was the new Capricorn Rhythm Section recording “Alive at 2nd Street Music Hall”…what an amazing recording.