Live music is about searching for the moment – that special show, guitar solo…whatever it is that drags you off your couch time and again to the bars, clubs, theatres, and arenas to see live music. Taking a spin from that – what about the song itself?
Most people have that specific song that they’ve been chasing, be it a cover tune or a little-played original. And sometimes you find that it shows up in the strangest of places.
In the Fall of 2004 my wife and I made the trip to our former home, Atlanta, for the Allman Brothers’ now legendary Fox Theatre run. It was three nights of amazing music, of which we only saw one – Saturday night, September 25.
From top to bottom, this was one special show. The Fox Theatre ranks up in my top three buildings to see music, for one. The history of the room is lengthy, the sound is great, and the ceiling – oh, the ceiling! Blue like the night sky, with twinkling stars. It’s just an amazing place to see a show.
The guests – a hometown show means friends drop by. Guitarist Derek Trucks’ wife, Susan Tedeschi, took the stage for a staggering rendition of Bob Dylan’s "Don’t Think Twice," and drummer Butch Trucks’ son Vaylor sat in on guitar for "One Way Out."
The setlist – solid across the board. The show started with a tease of "Les Brers in A Minor," which segued into "Don’t Want You No More," which of course seamlessly flowed into a gut-wrenching, bluesy version of "Not My Cross To Bear," with Gregg Allman growling the lyrics like it was his last day on Earth. The first set closed like they were leaving it all on the stage with "Instrumental Illness," but they’d be back. The second set took things up a notch, from the opening cover of the Band’s "Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to a searing "Leave My Blues At Home" to arguably the greatest "Dreams" of this era of the band. "Dreams" saw Derek utterly blow the roof off the building with his slide solo. The set closed with a return to "Les Brers."
Somewhere in the middle, though, was the impossible. The song that you’re chasing, and this time, it was one that never should have been played at all.
Prior to the show my friends and I were having a little pre-show party in the hotel across the street from the Fox. I was with some experienced concert-goers, but ones that were more Panic-oriented folk; they certainly knew the Allman Brothers well, but not with the obsessive nature of yours truly. Where without fail I would tell you that the Allmans were my favorite, they’d give a different answer. We were casually discussing what had been played the night before (thank you, Internet) and what would be in store for the evening. My one sure-thing would be…
"…no Blue Sky. They don’t play it any more, because it’s a Dickey Betts song. They haven’t played it since he was kicked out in 2000."
Then, the Allmans went and made me a liar.
Right after "One Way Out," Gregg muttered into the microphone "Alright, we get a lotta requests for this tune here, so here goes." And, with a slight chuckle, the band plays the opening refrain, and the room explodes. Here it was, the tune I said they’d never play and had been missing for years, one that they hadn’t played since Betts left the band. Played in the middle of one of the hottest shows I’d ever seen, completely out of, well, the blue sky.
And it was as sweet as it could possibly be.
Derek’s surreal slide sang like a songbird and screeched like an eagle from moment to moment, then met up with Warren Haynes’ licks to simultaneously play the melody. Haynes took over and worked out his fretboard, and then just like that, it was gone. Eight minutes of perfection wrapped up in a song that no one saw coming, met with thunderous applause.
Now, it was busted out for a reason – the band was soon to take part in a satellite radio program where bands come on to play entire albums, and they were scheduled for the seminal Eat A Peach. But, that didn’t mean they needed to bring it to the stage.
"Blue Sky" was played three more times in the following two weeks to warm up for the radio show, and then once again at the following Beacon Theatre run in March. It’s been on the shelf ever since.
This show is why I (and pretty much any music fan) go see music. Being there for the unexpected, being there when they busted out one of my favorite songs that I never thought I’d see again is why I’ll drive hundreds of miles in a car for a three-hour concert. It’s why I sometimes plan my year’s vacation time around tours, and why I don’t think it’s weird that I’m slightly obsessed with a band.
On this Saturday night I was there for something special, and it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.