Category Archives: Features

2005…a year to remember

2005 was indeed quite a monumental year in live music history. 

Bonnaroo was as big as ever, remaining the world’s happiest place to jam for days on end.

Pigs flew as Roger Waters returned to the stage to perform with Pink Floyd at Live 8.

Rock’s original power, Cream, reunited for their first shows in over 35 years.


While the next issue of Honest Tune will feature our editor's views on the very best albums of the year, it is virtually impossible to come to a consensus on the year’s best shows.  So, for what it’s worth, here are one man’s opinions on the very best shows of 2005… at least the ones I was able to attend.


1. Black Crowes, the Tabernacle, Atlanta, Georgia, May 8 – In 2005, The Black Crowes returned to the stage with a vengeance, performing their best shows in years, if not of their lifetime.  As I decided to limit this list to one show per band, this is the only Crowes show found here.  Others could have been included, but this Sunday night at the Tabernacle was magical, one of those rock-n-roll shows that keep you coming back for more.  In the confines of this old church, we were all treated to a very special Sunday evening services with the Crowes that was a show without peer this year.


2. Robert Randolph and the Family Band, the Joint, Las Vegas, Nevada, October 30 – The most high energy, infectious grooves known to man ease through every note, every move, every moment when Robert Randolph takes the stage.  On this night, Randolph poured out every ounce of energy a human could possibly possess, resulting in an electric performance for the ages.  The entire show was a highlight, as Randolph and his band served up what was inarguably the best performance of the Vegoose weekend.  While history may recall this performance as the night Dave Matthews joined the band for a drunken but jamming second encore, those in attendance will tell you that the real gems had already transpired.  Robert Randolph is indeed “The Truth,” and this was perhaps the finest show of his remarkable career.


3. The Last Waltz Revisited, Smith’s Olde Bar, Atlanta, Georgia, November 25 – In all honesty, I really wish I could name this as the best show of the year, as to this day it sticks with me more than any other.  But, the tapes leave little doubt that the Crowes show was indeed nothing short of magic, and Randolph, he was just so over the top enthusiastic not to mention talented, that his gig was one of a kind.  While most of this show may have happened before, on a Thanksgiving night  29 years ago when The Band bid the fans farewell while also recording perhaps the finest concert film of all time, there was something magical about this, the second reenactment of the show by a group of Atlanta musicians, led by Kris "Jelly Roll" Gloer.

While the band did not replay the movie in it’s entirety, they did perform approximately 20 songs, including numerous guest appearances that gave the show much the same feel as the movie.  In addition to Jelly Roll and his band Houndog, the core of the evening’s performance also included E.T. and Kevin Harris of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  As usual, E.T. was a show onto himself, delighting the crowd not only with an awesome musical display, but also with a smile that lit up the entire room.  Guest included former Allman Brother Tommy Talton, Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, harp player extraordinaire David Fishman, and Lee and Will Haraway of the Sun Dogs.  After performing a stunning first set from the movie, the band took the stage for an equally impressive second set featuring a wide range of covers.  The band’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up In Blue” was truly amazing, sounding as much like the best of the Jerry Garcia Band. 

This was truly an amazing night of music, and something that should not be missed when repeated.  With 2006 marking the 30th anniversary of the original Last Waltz concert, Jelly Roll promises to bring the heat to the stage again, at least twice; the first of which is scheduled for April 7, once again at Smiths.


4. Tishamingo, J.R.’s Bait Shack, Athens, Georgia, April 15 – Another example of having to limit myself to just one show per band for this list.  I did see Tishamingo more than any other band this year, and any of a dozen shows could easily be listed here.  But there was something special about this one, a private fraternity party in a bar in Athens, which was about as much fun as a musical performance could possibly be.  This also marked the first time I witnessed guitarist Jess Franklin play the keys, as he replaced Jason Fuller for half a song during the first set, a sign of things to come in the band’s future later in the year.  All in all, one of the most fun concert experiences I’ve ever enjoyed.  I would like to mention more of the great Tishamingo shows I saw this year; I would be remiss to not give some credit to the band’s performance on September 24 in Huntsville, AL.  Taking the stage just before The Black Crowes, this was the show that signaled the dawn of the next level for this band, that magical night (especially Jess performing “This Time” for the first time in front of his mother, who stood just by my side) when your favorite band moves from a really good bar band to an act that can hold 10,000 fans in the palm of their hands.


5. Lenny Kravitz and Nikka Costa, the Tabernacle, Atlanta, Georgia, April 9 – Another night of church at the Tabernacle,  Lenny is a showman with few peers.  He always gives up an inspiring performance, and this night was no different.  What pushed the night totally over the top, at least for me, was opening act Nikka Costa, who opened the evening with a jaw dropping set that called to mind not only Lenny, but also Aretha Franklin, and a female Robert Plant.  Costa’s super sexy vibe was exciting, but her super strong musical performance is what left the biggest impression of the night.


6.  Gov’t Mule, the Tabernacle, Atlanta, Georgia, November 19 – While Mule always delivers a superior live performance, the band’s best performances of 2005 seemed to occur during their Fall Tour.  The two night stop in Atlanta was nothing short of incredible, with the Saturday night performance packing a particularly huge whollop that ranked as perhaps the band’s mightiest shows to ever hit the ATL, every bit the equal of the infamous 1999 New Year’s Eve gig.


7. Phil Lesh & Friends, Red Rocks, Morrison, Colorado, July 16 – The second set of this show, clocking in at 2 hours and 25 minutes with barely a moment's breath between songs, was one of the finest set’s of music I’ve ever witnessed, flawlessly played from beginning to end.  The first set could have been better, and Ryan Adams is far from my favorite performer, but this was an amazing evening of music on the Rocks.  Jimmy Herring and Jeff Sipe, old ARU alumni reuniting as Phil’s Friends, stole the show, with Herring’s working wonders playing that guitar as only he can.


8.  Marty Stuart and Friends, Christmas Jam, Asheville, North Carolina, December 17 – Every year, Warren Haynes puts together a once-in-a-lifetime super group, the world’s finest musicians, playing the best damn live music known to man.  This year’s band was lead by Marty Stuart, who told tales of his only jobs ever being playing with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, followed by decades performing next to his best friend, and ex-father-in-law, the man in black, Johnny Cash.  Joined by Warren, Matt Abts, and Dave Schools, this was country music being played to it’s very finest.  As Stuart said as he closed the show, “That’s my kind of country music.”  I could not have agreed more.


9. The Meters, Vegoose Festival, Las Vegas, Nevada, October 30 – My favorite set of my favorite festival of all time.  The original Meters were back, performing only their third show in the past 25 years, and the funk was brought down upon the desert of Las Vegas.  George Porter and company showed that it’s not how often you play together, but how much you feel the music in your soul that counts most.  This set was filled with soul and funk, and plenty of good old New Orleans party, calling to mind many a good times in the wondrous town that has just recently been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. 


10. Aretha Franklin, Gibson Universal Amphitheatre, Hollywood, California, September 10 – There are some artists that you’ve always wanted to see, but rarely get the chance.  When I missed the Queen of Soul’s stop in Atlanta earlier in the year, I was determined to find a way to see this tour before it came to close.  And I could not have picked a better night than this, where the hip Hollywood crowd included such famous names as Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy (founder of Soul Train).   Aretha gave it her all, showcasing the pipes that made her famous on such classics as “Respect” and “Rock Steady.”  The real surprise of the evening came when the Queen sat at her piano, and tinkled those ivories in a way in which I could have never imagined.  Her band was spot on all night, but once Aretha begin to play, she instantly outshined them all.  I left this show very impressed, and most delighted I had made to the trip.  Aretha is definitely one of those performers I would suggest everyone see, while you still can.


There where hordes of other great musical events and experiences in 2005, far more than I can mention here.  But, as I leave these words to close out 2005, there are a few additional treasures from the year I would like to suggest to all. 


While I have never been a fan of Jerry Garcia, I am quick to admit that, when the Fat Man was on, he could indeed make magic.  The Jerry Garcia Band Live at Shoreline DVD captures one of those nights, an amazing performance showing Garcia doing what he did best – leading a band of stellar players, catching a groove and playing it like no other.  His smile on this night is one of joy, and his playing, and that of his band, shows just how good JGB could be.  There is nothing special about the cinematography, which is nothing more than the screen shots from the show, but the music is delightful, Jerry’s magic star shining it’s very brightest.


The Band: A Music History box set is a priceless piece of music history, a virtual treasure trove of classic and unreleased material, documenting the entire career of the collective of musicians confident and capable enough to be known as The Band.  Five CDs and one DVD, each as good as the next, and a 100 page book, this set is as good as any retrospective I’ve ever found.


For more on our perspective of the best tunes of 2005, be on the lookout for the next issue of Honest Tune, coming to a mailbox near you soon.

Worlds collide: The end of a 21-year chase

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, our nation experienced devastation the likes of which we’ve never seen, destroying thousands of homes, taking thousands of lives, and virtually wiping out the rich cultural heritage that is New Orleans.  In this time of crisis, the world’s musical community has come together like no other time in our history, staging numerous benefit concerts that have raised tens of millions of dollars.  As a result, numerous moments that fans could have never anticipated have unfolded before our eyes. 


For me, the most memorable moment occurred October 5 in Chicago, when Robert Plant joined Pearl Jam for a show at the House of Blues.  Plant and the Strange Sensations opened the evening before Pearl Jam performed on the most intimate stage the band had graced in years.  While anticipation in the crowd was high, little did anyone know just how magical this night would be by evening’s end.


Plant returned to the stage for the final five songs of Pearl Jam's set, starting with “Going to California,” “Little Sister,” and “Money.”  He and Eddie Vedder harmonized beautifully, trading vocal leads as smoothly as Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks swap guitar licks.  After digging down to the roots of their youth, performing Elvis, then the Beatles, the two reached even deeper, into the Led Zeppelin catalogue, pulling out a song that had never been performed live – “Fool in the Rain.”


This is the song that literally changed my path in life when I first heard it in 1984.  At that very moment, I left behind years of pop fandom (the previous year, I had traveled 250 miles to see the Jackson Five) and discovered the wild world of rock-n-roll.  I’d searched for a live version of “Fool in the Rain” for years, only to learn that no member of Zeppelin has ever performed the song live. 


I never dreamed that one day Plant would sing this one, let alone sing it with Pearl Jam, a band whose music was introduced to me by Dave Schools just after their debut CD.  Dave said the band reminded him of Led Zeppelin (our mutual favorite band).  He loaned me his copy of Ten and I’ve loved it ever since, so much so that I would rate the CD as one of my ten (non-Zeppelin) favorite discs of all time.


Listening to the show close with a dead-on version of “Thank You,” I was taken back in time.  When I realized it was in fact 2005, I felt a circle has just been completed.  Zeppelin brought me to rock-n-roll, then I found a band I affectionately call Panic.  Hanging at Dave’s house, talking about our Zeppelin bootleg collections, telling tales of standing in front of the mirror doing his best Jimmy Page impersonation, I found Pearl Jam.  I always trusted Dave’s musical advice and, as usual, his comments that Pearl Jam was “the closest thing to Zeppelin” he’d ever heard, I found a new outlet for my wild rock-n-roll side.  And now, 21 years after my search for a live “Fool in the Rain” began, Vedder convinces Plant to finally perform the song live. 


In the span of five and a half minutes, my 21 year search was no more.  In the end, I was left with one thought – there’s nothing better than an honest tune live. 

Zambi’s master plan

In the late 1980’s, Col. Bruce Hampton, brought forth a movement known as "Zambi" to fans in the Atlanta area.  Going relatively unnoticed by most of the world, Hampton and his Aquarium Rescue Unit earned a reputation amongst those in the know as one of the most amazing musical ensembles to ever grace a stage.


Members of Widespread Panic were among their fans in the early days.  The camaraderie of the two bands was readily apparent, especially during shows that featured the famed “Segue Jams,” which would find members of Panic slowly taking the stage during the end of ARU’s sets.  By the time all of Panic took the stage, ARU would step down one at a time, and, suddenly, what was the end of one band’s set had morphed into the beginning the other's.


When Hampton left the band in 1994, citing health concerns, ARU soldiered on, adding new members Kofi Burbridge (keyboards and flute) and Paul Henson (vocals).  While the band continued to tour, with many musical highs each night, things were just never the same without the Col. leading the way.


During his second “retirement,” Hampton founded the now defunct Fiji Marines, then joined Bobby Lee Rodgers in The Codetalkers.  By the time the remaining members of ARU parted ways, members of the Unit were flooded with offers to join numerous bands.  Bassist Oteil Burbridge joined the Allman Brothers, and later helped found both Vida Blue and the Peacemakers, while his brother Kofi joined the Derek Trucks Band.


Jimmy Herring was, perhaps, the most sought after ARU alumni.  In addition to touring with Trucks in his “spare time,” bands such as The Allman Brothers, Frogwings, and Jazz Is Dead all called upon Herring to fill the role of lead guitar.  Eventually Herring became a permanent member of Phil Lesh and Friends, where he earned his due as one of the premiere players of his time, before joining The Other Ones, who eventually resurrected themselves as The Dead.


While those three members of the ARU spent time touring the globe, it was drummer Jeff Sipe who remained closest to home, carrying on the ways of Zambi for increasingly larger audiences.  After a brief stint as a member of Leftover Salmon, Sipe would return to Atlanta, leading an annual holiday event known as the Zambiland Orchestra.  To this day, Sipe continues to carry the Zambi flag, performing as a member of Grease Factor, along side fellow ARU alumni Count M’butu.


During the recent Moon Mountain Zambi Music Festival in Cleveland, GA, Grease Factor was joined by a huge cast of Zambiland regulars, including Jeff Coffin (the Flecktones), Jonas Hellborg (who performed a stunning set with Sipe and Paul Hanson, on bassoon), Donna Hopkins, Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, and The Derek Trucks Band (who stole the show in their return to America after a hugely successful tour of Japan).  The entire weekend was a phenomenal reminder of the truly eclectic nature of all that is Zambi, and served as perfect warm up for the reunion the entire Zambi nation has long awaited.


On October 20, 2004, at the one and only Georgia Theatre, Zambi’s fabled master plan comes to fruition as the Aquarium Rescue Unit, complete with ringleader Col. Bruce in tow.  In days gone by, this band’s musical mayhem went largely unnoticed, with but a faithful few on hand to bare witness.  Now that the second coming is upon us, an entire nation awaits. 


For many, it will be their first live ARU experience.  To those, I say hold on tight; you’re in for the ride of your life.

The road goes on forever

When Widespread Panic returned to the stage at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, just two days after the Black Crowes reformed for a nine-night stint at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, Southern rock once again found itself at the forefront of the musical world.  While it may take some time for Panic to again hit full stride, many other Southern rockers continue to represent, performing some of the finest live music known to man.


The Black Crowes 

Three and a half years after their last show, the brothers Robinson have reformed the most commercially successful Southern rock band of the 90’s.  When tickets for nine nights at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom sold out in minutes even though the remaining members of the band had yet to be named, a full fledged tour was announced.  Fans were thrilled by the return of original member Marc Ford, and early performances have been some of the Crowes’ finest in many years.


North Mississippi Allstars

While this trio’s music could never be categorized as “traditional Southern rock,” they are adding a new chapter to the musical legacy of the south with blazing live performances that are making the Hill Country Blues more famous than ever.


The Kings of Leon

Another band that hardly sounds like “traditional Southern rock,” the Kings are the fastest rising stars of the new generation.  While the majority of their performing career has been spent in Europe, fans quickly snapped up all tickets for the band’s recent U.S. tour.  With an opening slot on the first leg of U2’s massive tour, followed by a spot on this summer’s revamped Lollapalooza tour, the Kings are poised for a breakthrough of enormous proportions.



At a jam-packed afternoon performance on March 24, Tishamingo performed a set that many found more invigorating than either of Panic’s sets later that evening.  Since the recent release of Wear N Tear, Tishamingo’s fan base has grown immensely, leading to sell outs in venues the band never packed in the past.


And, of course…


The Allman Brothers BandNearly four decades into a career marked by numerous changes, the ABB is playing on par with their best performances ever.  They remain the icons of Southern rock, proving that the road indeed does go on forever.

Once in a lifetime

Over the years, I have been blessed to be a part of numerous once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences, moments that remain with me to this day.  Tales of these experiences could easily fill an entire book, yet some stand out above others:


  • The afternoon I answered the phone and heard Dave Schools on the other end saying, “We’re playing in an abandoned copper mine in the mountains tonight, Fred, and I’m pretty sure you want to be there.” Later that evening, on the banks of river in North Georgia, I stood in awe of Widespread Panic’s historic debut in “The Cave.”
  • The incredible feeling watching the Allman Brothers Band, during the best show I’ve ever seen them perform, lead the crowd through the “Tomahawk Chop” in October 1991, as the Braves were in the midst of Atlanta’s first-ever World Series.
  • The evening at The Point in Atlanta when Follow For Now performed, dressed in drag, as The Black Hos, opening and closing the show with a pair of Black Crowes’ covers.
  • Closing out 2002 on both coasts, first standing front row center for Gov’t Mule in New York on December 30, followed by Hot Tuna and The Dead, from the comforts of a luxury suite, on December 31 in Oakland.  The trip was capped off by a quick stop in New Orleans to watch the Georgia Bulldogs pummel FSU in the Sugar Bowl.
  • Spending my 35th birthday sitting on my couch as Bloodkin’s Danny Hutchins and Eric Carter performed in my living room.
  • And, most recently, ending my honeymoon with a private party at Smith’s Olde Bar, joined by a mere handful of friends, as Tishamingo performed, much to the surprise of my lovely bride.  Can it really get much better than your favorite band asking you to write down the songs you want them to play for you?

While these were moments I never expected, I’ve come to learn that there is one day each year, at a special event known as Christmas Jam, when you can always count on witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime event.


This year, with no advance notice, the Jam’s magical moment came early in the evening, as Warren Haynes introduced Jorma Kaukonen and Friends.  The lineup included some of my favorites, Dave Schools, Matt Abts, Todd Nance, and Yonrico Scott, as well as a pair of seasoned veterans I’d never had the opportunity to see – Barry Mitterhoff and Charlie Musselwhite.  The rest of the evening was filled with stellar performances, but this set was one to tell your grandchildren about.


So, once again, I pass my sincere thanks to Warren, Hard Head Management, and everyone involved in putting together this wonderful event.  While the performers come on an invitation-only basis (those who ask to play are given a polite “no thanks”), Christmas Jam stands as one place and one time that anyone is welcome to join in my series of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Along came Tishamingo

With 2004 nearly behind us, I find myself reflecting upon a year that has proven to be far more exciting musically than I had anticipated.  Going into the year knowing it would be “the year without Widespread Panic,” I had no idea that 2004 would, for me at least, become a time of discovery.


It’s been many years, 17 to be exact, since I discovered a young band that excited me the way Tishamingo has throughout this past year.  Having listened to their self-titled debut CD, and a single live recording, it was readily apparent to me that this band had all the ingredients for success.  When I finally saw them live, a brief four-song set during the Warren Zevon benefit in Athens, I was hooked.


Rarely has a band ever come into my life and instantly touched my soul, becoming a part of my being from that first moment of introduction. Led Zeppelin was the first, followed by Widespread Panic.  Gov’t Mule and Phil Lesh’s Quintet did the same, but those bands were both compromised of known commodities, musicians I’d known and loved for years.


The fact that I made the discovery this January, just as Panic began their self-imposed hiatus, was more than ironic, far from coincidental.  While I was certainly not looking for a new band to fill that void, what I heard, saw, and felt as I witnessed the musical prowess of Tishamingo was the EXACT same thing I’d felt during my first Panic experience in January 1987.  Way back then, the REM-lovin’ crowd dominated Athens and was quick to mock Panic as “just another Grateful Dead rip-off.”  Obviously, time proved those close-minded comments to be far from true.


While comparisons to Panic, and the Allman Brothers for that matter, are inevitable, it should be taken as the highest form of compliment.  At times, Cameron Williams’ vocals are so similar to John Bell’s that it’s down right haunting, all the while sounding natural as can be.  Jess Franklin’s slide guitar would fit right in with the Brothers and the rhythm section of Stephen Spivey and Richard Proctor is as tight as they come.  Add keyboard wizard Jason Fuller (who I still say needs to leave the Kinchafoonee Cowboys behind to devote his full efforts to Tishamingo), and you have the makings of a band on par with the finest I’ve ever seen.


As often the case with young, grass roots bands, the masses have yet to discover the magic that is Tishamingo.  Years from now, when history reflects upon this era of rock, there’s no doubt that it will place Tishamingo amongst the finest of bands to come from the early 21st century.


Only time can tell just what this sensational young group is capable of.  At this point in their career, this much is certain –Tishamingo has a believer in me, one who says to all reading these words…


TESTIFY, Tishamingo is for real!

They crawled from the South

Since the earliest days of the Delta blues, some of the purest, most soul-filled live music known to man has come form the South.  In the 1970’s, it was the Allman Brothers who ruled the Southern jam scene. As the 70’s gave way to the 80’s and the Brothers and fellow southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd had fallen from their primes, the new music coming from the South seemed built more for college radio than live performances.


That all changed in the late 80s, as Widespread Panic came along to totally dominate the Southern tour circuit.  The band eventually graduated from regional clubs to international stardom and brought glory back to the Southern music scene.  In the process, their hometown of Athens has again become a hotbed of young musical talent.


Over 18 years and thousands of shows, Panic has become much more than just a rock band.  For many, they have become a way of life, a soundtrack to our lives, a huge part of our soul.  While Panic will also hold this special place in the hearts of their fans, their impending hiatus quickly approaches, leaving fans to ponder just who “the next big thing” will be.


Here is one fan's thoughts on a few bands from the South who may benefit the most from Panic’s absence:


Tishamingo:  Mixing classic rock and blues with swampy southern jams, this band makes music that really gets a crowd moving.  Guitarist Cameron Williams and drummer Richard Proctor have been writing and playing music together since they were in the seventh grade, creating a special chemistry that can only be found in the very best of bands.  Together, they founded the Black Creek Band, who gained regional notoriety throughout the south in the early 90’s as the opened shows for such acts as Tinsely Ellis, the Derek Trucks Band, and Widespread Panic.


Eventually, the duo hooked up with guitarist Jess Franklin and bassist Stephen Spivey, formerly of Jess Franklin and the Best Little Blues Band, to former Tishamingo.  The band released their highly anticipated debut album in October 2002.  With the aid of acclaimed Athens producer John Keane, the band laid down twelve tracks, many of which instantly sound like familiar classics.  The band’s following continues to grow steadily.  If you’re looking for a taste of good old, Southern jam, and you have yet to check out this hot young band, they may just the thing to cure your post-Panic blues


Drive By Truckers:  Far more Lynyrd Skynyrd than Widespread Panic, Patterson Hood and his bandmates have been causing quite a stir since the release of Southern Rock Opera album in 2001.  Later re-released on Lost Highway Records in 2002, this album forced the music world to take notice of this five-piece outfit, originally from Alabama, who now also call Athens home.


The band continued to make huge waves with Decoration Day, which was recorded in Athens with producer Dave Barbe.  The album, along with live shows that are becoming legendary for their high energy triple guitar attack, has solidified the Truckers as one of the hottest bands on tour circuit today.


But in the end, the real winners will be…


Gov’t Mule:  After three years of playing with a revolving, star-studded cast of bass players, Gov't Mule recently named Andy Hess as their new, permanent bassist.  Hess, who spent much of this year touring with jazz genius John Scofield, joined Mule for their "Rebirth of the Mule" that began in October.


Over the past three years, Mule’s Warren Haynes has finally gained his just due as one of the world’s greatest guitar players.  He was ranked #23 on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 100 Guitar players of all-time, shortly after Matt Abts had been named drummer of the year by another publication.


Mule has just released The Deepest End, a two CD/single DVD package, which contains every song from their May 3rd, 2003 show at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans.  As the world has the chance to witness what was surely one of the most monumental shows of all-time, Mule will no doubt become known for what they have long been – one of the best live bands the world has ever known.

Missin’ Woody

During my many years as the town's head music critic, the only advice my editor at the Athens Banner Herald ever gave me was, "Don’t write in the first person." While I have always tried to adhere to those words, the views expressed herein are deeply heartfelt, and come from years of attentive reflection upon this music scene that I have followed so passionately.  Given that, these thoughts could only be expressed from a personal perspective.


During the early 1990’s, a musical renaissance was upon us.  As young "jam bands" such as Widespread Panic and Phish were cutting their teeth, touring relentlessly to earn their places in history, the Allman Brothers Band were enjoying a long-awaited second creative peak, thanks in large part to the influx of two new "Brothers" – Allen Woody and Warren Haynes.  At the time, Panic was the band that earned my loyalties, and was closest to my heart.  Yet, every time I would go see an Allman show, I left knowing that I had just seen the world’s best live band.


For me, the Allman experience changed drastically on September 27,1997 at Universal Studios in Hollywood.


I went, curious to hear how my old friend Oteil Burbridge would fair as the newest Brother, and wound up leaving before the show was over.  Not only were Warren and Woody long gone, having left the band in March to concentrate full-time on Govt Mule, but Dickey Betts was a no show, replaced for the evening by Jack Pearson.  The show fell severely below expectations.


Before I proceed, I should add that Oteil is not only one of my favorite bass players; I also think he is one of the top all-around musicians on the planet.  That said, there is flat out no way that he can ever bring it to an Allman Brothers show like Woody did.  Not just Oteil – no one seems capable of filling the void left when that beast of a bass player departed.  His bass was deep, it was heavy, and it filled the bottom end the way it was meant to be filled – a mean and wicked sound that resonated from within the soul in a way only Woody could play.


As I sat in the Beacon Theater on March 20, my first experience of the Allman’s traditional March Madness run, I was thrilled to see Warren pushing the band to yet another creative peak.  The experience of watching as he and Derek Trucks traded leads was nothing short of delightful.  As the performance unfolded, a thought that had been brewing in mind suddenly became crystal clear.


It would seem a forgone conclusion that most fans would cite the dearly departed Duane Allman as the most missed Allman.  With no disrespect towards Duane, or anyone else intended, the Allman Brothers Band that toured from 1989 to early 1997 were, for my money, not only the best collection of Brothers ever, they were the best band alive.  Watching the latest rendition of Brothers surge once again, I came to the realization that, from my perspective, Allen Woody was the most irreplaceable member the band has ever lost.  In fact, his loss seemingly took more from the Allman’s than it did from Mule, who have soldiered valiantly on, to the point that they have actually become a much better band than they were during their earlier years with Woody.


True, it did take nearly 18 years to replace Duane, but Warren Haynes eventually came along, and few would argue that he filled the void unlike anyone who had previously attempted to replace dear Duane.  In addition, would anyone really argue that Derek, a second generation Allman by birth, has quickly proved up to the task of replacing the legendary Dickey Betts?  Derek may not sing, but, as usual, there is Warren to fill the gap, keeping the band churning right along.


Back to the Beacon, where the latest version of this American institution is suddenly mixing up their set lists more than any time in their career.  As the first set is coming to a close, the band begins to play "No One To Run With," and there he is – larger than life – Allan Woody, being shown on the screen behind the stage.  Interestingly enough, Duane also made an appearance during this video clip, but was given far less time on the screen, and received but a fraction of the crowd reaction that Woody received.


A deafening roar exploded from the crowd when Woody first appeared.  Warren turned to look at the screen, only to see his old friend.  He then turned back to the crowd, with a huge expression of joy on his face for the reception that had been given to his pal.  For a brief moment, the slow happy boys were back on stage together, and Warren couldn't have looked any happier.


Neither could I.  It was an emotional moment for this fan and, seemingly, for the band as well.


As the video ended, Woody still on the screen, I was left with one last thought: God bless Allen Woody!  We miss you brother…

Whole Lotta Herring: Taking to the skies with one of the premier guitarists of our time

When it came time to go to the airport on November 13, little did I know what the journey held in store.


Just moments after stepping in to the security line of the Atlanta airport, I soon came to realize that this, like so many journeys before, was about to become another in the long line of my memorable adventures with the notorious Rev. Buddy Greene.


Before Buddy arrived, I turned around to see Jimmy Herring stepping in line just behind me.  While I thought it seemed obvious that I, too, was heading to Denver for the weekend run of Phil and Friends shows, Jimmy’s first question to me was “Where are you going?”  Before long, the friendly hellos turned to talk of music, which led to my asking if Jimmy was heading to Boulder after the flight to sit in with Govt Mule.


Much to my surprise, Jimmy was completely unaware of the show.  By the time we made it through security and headed to the Crowne Room, my campaign to drag him along with the Rev. and I was in full swing.  While Jimmy was unable to make a definite commitment at the time, not knowing what was in store for him once we landed, I knew the groundwork that had been laid would somehow lead to his appearance that night.


As we said goodbye leaving the Denver airport, the Rev. and I put forth one last attempt at hijacking Jimmy to come with us to Boulder.  Unsuccessful, we persisted with “We’ll see you there,” “It’s going to be a blast,” “That Paul Stacey in Chris Robinson’s band is great, you’d love playing with him,” and anything else we could think of in an attempt to pique his interest in joining our journey.


We then headed to Boulder, where we were promptly greeted with, “There are no tickets for you” at the box office.  Freezing cold, and surrounded by ticketless fans trying to get in, we soon wondered if this trip was going to become the antithesis of our amazing trips throughout the previous year.  As we were told that the show was over sold, and that 25 names had been dropped from the guest list to keep the crowd within legal limits, our concern grew greater.  However, we kept in mind the fact that, even under much more daunting circumstances than this, neither the Rev. nor I had ever been shut out of a show.


And then, the moment we were waiting for – the sign of a final guest list being bought to the ticket window.  Suddenly, all of our concerns were eased, tickets and passes were in hand, and we headed in to the show. 


And what a show it was.


Robinson and New Earth Mud opened with the best set I’d ever seen them play.  By the time Mule worked their way down “Monkey Hill”, I realized they were playing their self-titled debut album. From beginning to end, a near flawless set, and, before it would end, the Rev. and I were rejoicing on many accounts, including the fact that much of the crowd joined us in chanting, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy” as our friend was suddenly spotted on the side of the stage.


The New Earth Mule Unit

The reaction on the faces of each member of Mule as they looked over and saw Jimmy told us all that no one, except for the Rev. and I, was expecting his arrival. As he looked in our direction and smiled with that infectious grin, our anticipation of the next set grew all the more intense.


While set two would bring forth no more (original) Mule, it did bring Chris Robinson back to the stage.  The set opened with a pair of classic covers, “Hard To Handle” and “Almost Cut My Hair”, and the show would only get better from there.  “Sometimes Salvation” has long been one of my favorites, whether performed by Mule or by the Black Crowes.  Having Robinson on stage to share the vocals with Warren only made it all the better. 


Then, the moment we had cheered for was upon us as we looked behind Warren and saw Jimmy strapping on a guitar, all the while looking our way, continuing to grin, and giving us a thumbs-up sign as he walked on to the stage for “Dreams.”


“Let Jimmy sing,” a chant that will seemingly follow this stellar musician through the rest of his career, rang through the crowd between songs.  This left Jimmy shaking his head “no” as he gazed down laughing at the perpetrator, none other the Rev.  Then, Jimmy and the rest of the band raged through a memorable cover of the Cream classic “Politician.”  From there, an all out jam, Mule style, ensued, starting with a great “Drums” in which Matt Abts was joined by New Earth Mud’s Jeremy Stacey.  This was followed by a battle of dual lead guitars as Jimmy and Paul Stacey took the stage, leaving Warren in much the same state as us, a smiling bystander, watching as these two sensational players matched each other note for note.


Through years of touring with bands such as the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz Is Dead, and Project Z, Jimmy Herring has always remained somewhat of an underground secret, a man who, with a guitar in his hands, can fill a room with emotion, joy, and pure musical bliss. I have seen Jimmy take the stage with some of the most famous names to ever play guitar, and without fail, his playing has always rivaled that of his more famous counterparts. On this night, it was Jimmy who was the better known of the two players on stage. And, although his playing was every bit as good as ever, for once he was not the most outstanding player on stage.  Stacey took control of the jam and, from my perspective at least, actually outplayed the man who is rarely outdone by anyone once he straps on a guitar.  While listening to discs of the show at a later date did not necessarily leave me with the same impression, on this night, I was certainly more impressed with Stacey than either of the other guitarists on stage (which is saying a lot, as Warren and Jimmy would both rank in my Top 5 favorite players of all time).


But, in the end, the most lasting memories of this, the first of a remarkable four-night run through Colorado with Govt Mule and the Q would always be the story of getting to the show, the feeling of excitement we felt when we finally saw Jimmy enter the Theater, and the pure joy of seeing him take the stage, joining a collective group of musicians from two bands, playing as one, who all seemed to be having every bit as much fun as those of us in the crowd.


Now, if we could only get Jimmy to open up those vocal chords…