Gregg Allman glows golden in the light shining from the doorway of the green room where three attractive young ladies exit behind him. Still hidden from the crowd, an assistant helps Allman with his leather vest, and brushes off the shoulders. The split-second scene is strikingly cinematic; the atmosphere palpable.
It’s the second night of Allman’s two-day stay in Annapolis at Rams Head On Stage and the sold-out crowd is as restless as I in anticipation of the evening’s entertainment. Allman announced earlier this summer that after 45 years his touring days with the Allman Brothers Band are ending (following the departure of guitarists Warren Haynes* and Derek Trucks), and I can hear people in their seats reminiscing about past shows and clamoring about the fact that this appearance is perhaps one of Allman’s last ever in Annapolis.
Allman’s band is already in front of the audience when he joins them. He takes control of his ivory-keyed throne at the corner of the stage and without a word the 8-piece band strikes up immediately, kicking off the night with “I’m No Angel.” As a young fan who’s never had the chance to see Allman perform live, I’m at first stunned by the range and quality of his voice at this stage in his career – it’s barely changed since his earliest recording days with brother Duane (RIP) in Hour Glass.
They get a standing ovation right off the bat. The horns section (dual saxophones and a trumpet) add a strong, soulful element to complement Allman’s powerful voice and organ on “Statesboro Blues” and “Stormy Monday,” the two songs that follow.
The entire band is topnotch, and guitarist/musical director Scott Sharrard (of the Brickyard Band) is skilled enough to take on the blistering guitar leads that the Allman Brothers made famous. Later on, Sharrard got a chance to show off his vocal chops too, taking the mic to sing during a brief intermission (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
The atmosphere at this concert is unlike any other I’ve ever experienced at Rams Head On Stage. The stage is so busy with musicians and instruments and the room so packed with people that the two merge into one mass of celebration. The more people the better, I always say. Audience members are dancing and shouting with joy throughout the show and at times, they literally worship Allman and co., bowing in their presence; and with good reason.
Next up: “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” and “Black Hearted Woman,” the latter of which rolls into an extended “Hot Lanta” jam featuring dueling drum solos that can only be described as pure insanity. The band plays a song (“I Can’t Be Satisfied”) off the latest Gregg Allman album, Low Country Blues, before dropping the volume for the piano-led ballad, “Please Call Home.”
Allman has perfected these classic songs in the live showground and by now he knows exactly what gets the audience out of their seats. Like a master teacher flaunting his star pupils, Allman frequently features his band mates in several solos per song, and they make the most of their opportunities to shine. The Sharrard-led intermission is just one example of Allman giving the talented band their chance in the spotlight. I was disappointed that the audience didn’t pay more attention to the stellar segue, but I also can’t really blame them for getting distracted. Allman commands your concentration in a way no one else really can.
Upon Allman’s return from intermission, the audience quiets down, and each band member is introduced one-by-one before launching into “Melissa” while the whole audience sings along. “Midnight Rider” follows, and then a selection I’d not heard, which Allman describes as a new song. The entire set is an absolute treat, highlighting the wizardry of Gregg Allman in his ability to seamlessly integrate R&B, countrified soul, psychedelic jams, and southern rock into a genre wholly personal and untouchable by any of his peers.
The highpoint of the night comes during “One Way Out.” With the band hushed behind him, Allman belts out the line, “It just might be your man!,” with a force of strained emotion that stuns the crowd silent. The high level he’s able to perform at to this day is utterly remarkable.
Allman and friends exit only momentarily, and then regroup on stage for a one-off encore: a funked-up version of “Whipping Post” to cap the blissful 100-minute set.
After the show, audience members rush for the merchandise stand, requesting (non-existent) live cuts of the night’s show barely 5 minutes after the finish. The show was just that good.
*If you still need an “Allman-esque” fix, former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes will be playing with the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Orchestra TONIGHT, August 8th at Pier Six Pavilion. Tickets are still available here.
Also, here’s the 30+ minute version of “Mountain Jam” from the album, Eat A Peach. Enjoy!
– Matt Ellis