As my friend Leigh Medhurst put Idlewild South on his turntable one day in 1971 he said "Wait till you hear these guys, you're gonna love them". Leigh was certainly right. As the opening strains of Revival came from the speakers, I was hooked and a 30 year love affair/sometime obsession with the Allman Brothers Band began. It wasn't easy growing up in Canada and being an Allman Brothers Fan. Airplay on local Radio was limited, except for the period when Ramblin Man became such a hit that even Canadian Radio couldn't ignore it. I relied on Rolling Stone and other magazines such as Creem and Crawdaddy for my fixes of Allman information/news. I saved all the articles and press clippings I could, wrote to Capricorn Records for publicity photos and spent many Saturdays visiting the head shops on Yonge Street looking for Allman t-shirts and posters. I still remember walking into Don Mills Collegiate Institute on Monday, November 1, 1971 to find Leigh and some other friends gathered by our lockers reading the Toronto Sun. I asked what was up and without a word, he handed me the paper opened to the article about Duanes' death the previous Friday. I was shocked and saddened and I remember wondering what would happen to the band. The opinion of most of our small group was that the band was certainly finished. Fortunately, we experts were proven wrong. Within a couple of weeks, the infamous Rolling Stone issue that contained the Grover Lewis article about life on the road with the band along with the article about Duanes' death came out. I saved those articles, reading and re-reading them occasionally over the years. A year later, Berry passed on and we wondered again if that would be it for the band. I made the trip to Watkins Glen in July 1973 but never saw the Allmans'. When the rain came, my companions decided to cut out and head home. I thought that going with them was my only option to get home. Looking back now, I should have stayed and worried about getting home later. I'm sure I would have found a way. One week after Watkins Glen when Brothers and Sisters was released, I carried on as the Bands un-official (well in my eyes anyway) Toronto representative, introducing friends new and old to the Allmans' music whenever I got a chance. In December 1975 I finally got to see the band live at the old Buffalo War Memorial Auditorium. For the rest of the 70's I followed the band up to the release of Enlightened Rogues after which I lost touch with them.
While I spent most of the 80's estranged from the band and unaware what was happening with the members and their solo endeavors, I never stopped listening to the music. Around the middle of that decade I saw in the local paper that the Gregg Allman Band was playing in a club in North Toronto and entertained skipping out of my night shift to go see them. Unfortunately, I made the last minute decision not to. One night while I was going through some old belongings and figuring that the Allman Brothers Band were just musical history, I threw my collection of pictures, clippings, advertisements and ticket stubs (including the one from Watkins Glen) in the garbage. As I look back, I can only wonder what I was thinking at the time. It would have been nice to have that 'memorabilia' today.
At the end of August 1990, The Allman Brothers Band came back into my life. Unaware that they had reformed in 1989 and that the Dreams box set had been produced, I was walking past the Grandstand at The Canadian National Exhibition one day and was pleasantly surprised to see a large poster advertising their appearance the next night. In my perfect world, I'd have gone to that show but I didn't see them live again until November of 1991 at Maple Leaf Gardens. What that poster did however, was make me aware that the Band was still around performing and hopefully recording. Shortly after that I wandered in to a small independent record store (Star Records) that was on my way home from work and started checking the bins to see what I could find. I was soon in possession of the Dreams box set (on vinyl) and Seven Turns and learned as I was cashing out that the store clerk (Dave Curtis) liked the Allmans as well. He told me that his friend had a connection to the band (I later find out this is Kirk West). The store became a weekly stop for me and Dave my source for Allman info. He tipped me off to the Mikal Gilmore article in Rolling Stone and got me posters from the first and second set releases. It was via some info that Dave gave me that I was able to meet Gregg, Warren and Allen briefly in June 1992 at the Inn On The Park Hotel and have them autograph a Seven Turns publicity picture. Around 1994-1995 Star Records closed their doors and I lost track of Dave.
Not long after Star Records closed, another source of information, the Internet, came along. One of the first searches I did was on the Allman Brothers Band. Imagine my surprise when I found Hittin the Web! Talk about a whole new world! Hot News, Tour Dates, the Guest Book, the Forum. Via the Guest Book I was introduced to tape, now CD, trading which has become a full time hobby. I'm certainly much more informed about my favorite band than I ever could have hoped to be. The love affair has been rekindled and in the eyes of some, it has become a full fledged obsession. I've seen the band live several times in Toronto but I've always wanted to go to New York to see them at The Beacon Theatre. Each March I would read with envy reports about the shows and dream about someday being there. Somehow though, it never seemed to work out. There was always a reason, usually financial, that kept me from getting there. That all changed this past March however.
March 14, 2001/19:55
My Beacon Odyssey has officially begun. Sharlene has just dropped me at the GO transit station. After a kiss good-bye, she drives away while I head for the platform and my train to Toronto Union Station. Unofficially I guess, this trip started December 25, 2000 when I opened a gift from Sharlene and my Mom. The gift was a folder with the words "John's going to be...." pasted above a picture of the cover from 'Peakin' at the Beacon'. Inside was cash and a piece of paper detailing my wish list, which was to see the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre during their annual March stand. The package also included some other particulars such as the location of the theatre and some seating suggestions that, unbeknownst to me, Sharlene had obtained from Jack Learment, who I've befriended via Hittin' the Web. Since then, there have been a number of milestones that have come and gone. All are now behind me and I'm a mixture of nervous and excited. The Train ride into Toronto is as uneventful as any other commuter train ride. Just as uneventful are the quick subway ride and walk to the Toronto Coach Terminal where I'll catch the 11:15 Greyhound to New York City.
I have an hour to wait from the time I purchase my ticket until the bus departs. I sit and wait, watching the people and trying to pick out any fellow passengers. I wonder if there may be a fellow Beaconite among the crowd, but I'm pretty sure there isn't. When it comes time to board, I find I was pretty accurate with guessing who else would board with me. The ride to U.S. customs is like the previous train and subway ride, uneventful. We spend about 40 minutes clearing customs. I don't know why, but whenever I go through customs, I get a bit nervous. I hit the second station and the guard asks me where I'm going and why. I figure once he hears my answer, "to New York City to see the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre" I'm going to become an instant candidate for a little more intense questioning and perhaps even a luggage (and who knows what else) search. Instead, his response is "oh cool, how'd you get tickets for that?". I give him a brief overview of Hittin' the Web, the Peach Corp and pre-sales and I'm on my way. I don't know any of the details, but one young girl appears to have some kind of issue that has to be dealt with before we can proceed. She was one of the first to be processed but disappears for a while. She is the last to re-board the bus and she doesn't look very happy at all as she takes her seat.
We continue on to Buffalo where we make an unplanned switch to a different bus. It seems that there are so many passengers traveling straight through to New York City that they've decided to express us instead of making us travel the full route. We're advised that we'll arrive about one hour earlier than planned as a result. We depart Buffalo at 02:30 and make stops at a Service Centre that has a McDonalds, Binghamton, NY and Grand Bend, PA. My plan is to sleep the majority of the bus ride but the theory does not become reality. I manage about 5 hours sleep, broken into 45 - 60 minute segments along the way. Not as much as I wanted, but enough to get by I suppose.
In Binghamton, NY an older lady boards the bus. Nobody at the front is willing to free up a seat for her so I do. She is from Florida and has just spent the last six months in Binghamton visiting and taking care of her sister who has cancer. I'm kind of tired so we don't really exchange much small talk until we are about ten minutes out of the Port Authority. As we are passing Giants Stadium and the Continental Airlines Arena, she asks me if I'm visiting friends in NYC. I tell her no, I'm going to see some concerts at the Beacon theatre. She asks who, I tell her the Allman Brothers Band expecting that she won't know who I'm talking about. She nods, says "Oh yes" and then proceeds to tell me "I was at the original Woodstock". She goes on to say "it was hot and muddy, but I had the best time of my life". She says that she still has the ticket stub. I advise her to hold on to it cause it could be worth something.
March 15, 2001/09:50
New York City
Switching to express in Buffalo paid off. We arrive at the Port Authority exactly one hour ahead of our scheduled arrival. The Port Authority is nowhere near as hectic as I've anticipated it will be. I find my way to the subway and catch a train to the 79th Street station. I have no idea which way I'm going when I come out of the subway at 79th but after getting my bearings, I head, I hope, toward the Beacon area. It turns out I'm heading in the right direction as one of the first places I come to is my hotel. It is nicely camouflaged behind some scaffolding and netting but I manage to catch the name out of the corner of my eye. Check-in isn't until 3:00 and it is now just 10:15. I go inside anyway, hoping that I can at least drop my bag while I wander around and check things out. To my surprise, a room is available and they let me check in early. Before I know it, I'm unpacked and back out on the street. Time to head to The Beacon.
I have a short walk down Broadway before I reach the Beacon Theatre. I stand watching the marquee in awe as it alternately flashes "The Allman Brothers Band" and the dates for this run. It is an incredible feeling to be here. I go up to the front doors and look inside, but there is little activity. I phone home to let Sharlene know I've arrived safely and then place another call to my daughters to let them know the same. Suddenly realizing that I'm hungry, I find the American Restaurant and go inside to find a seat. One of the first things I notice when I'm seated is an autographed picture of the ABB on the wall behind the cash register.
I finish eating and decide to walk around to the back of the Beacon to see if there are any signs of activity. As I round the corner onto Amsterdam, I see somebody getting out of a cab. It takes me only seconds to realize that it is "Red Dog". I'm so tempted to stop him and say hello and offer to buy him a coffee. I decide however, to leave him alone and just let him walk on past. A couple of hours of walking, shopping and sight-seeing later, I'm back at my hotel. The Hotel Belleclaire can best be described as a cross between a Hostel and a Dormitory. Due to my tight budget, I've opted for a room with a shared bathroom. This turns out to be no inconvenience at all during the whole weekend. The room itself is small and sparsely decorated, but all I really need is somewhere to change clothes and sleep so it is sufficient. At one point, I open the drapes to check out the view which turns out to be right into the room across the alley. Fortunately, nobody is there, all I can see is 12:00 blinking on a VCR. The drapes stay closed the rest of the weekend.
After a nap, I shave, shower and head out. In the early evening darkness, the Marquee of the Beacon seems to be just that much more magical that it was earlier in the day. The area directly outside the Theatre has become busy with scalpers plying their trade. I am to meet someone at the Beacon Hotel prior to the show. They were supposed to be in their room by 6:00 but as of 6:15 they still have not checked in. I hang around the lobby of the Beacon Hotel for a while waiting for them to arrive but at 6:30 I give up and head back outside. I grab a slice of pizza and head back to the Beacon. I watch the crowd slowly build and the one thing that strikes me the most is that so many people know each other. Unfortunately, I don't know anybody. It is a strange feeling for now. Talking with someone later in the weekend, I liken it to being an outsider at a family reunion. At 7:00 the will call window opens and I finally have my ticket in hand. I try to find the pre-show gathering but I've left the detail in my Hotel room. I make my way to the Bear Bar. I step inside to find Blue Sky blaring and the crowd straining to keep itself inside the building. I venture a little bit inside but then give up and head back outside. I'm not sure who I'm looking for anyway. I head back to the Theatre and wait for the doors to open.
The Beacon is a beautiful theatre, spacious and ornately decorated. I check out the merchandise booth but don't make a purchase as I have three more nights to make a decision (this will come back to haunt me). Tonight I'm in the Loge, Row B, Seat #5. Right on line with Gregg. I sit and watch the crowd filter in. Tapers are setting up in various locations and more old friends are greeting each other. Shortly after 8:00 a DJ from a local classic rock station appears to plug an advance sale for Eric Clapton. She promises that the Allmans will be out shortly. At 8:15 the house lights go down and I can see the band members coming on stage to take their places. I've been waiting for this moment for so long I can hardly believe that it is finally here.
Two songs into the first set, I can't believe what I've heard so far. This is opening night, and in no way did I expect the band to be as tight as they are. I know they've only had one week of rehearsal. I'll find out later that they also rehearsed Wednesday at the Beacon as well. During a break between songs Gregg tells us that we'll hear "some old songs, some new songs and some in between songs". The show they deliver is true to that statement.
After about an hour they leave the stage for a break. In the lobby, most people are commenting on the short length of the first set. From the conversations I overhear, that seems to be the only negative comment. Most people are pleased with the song selection and of course, the tightness of the Band. This is the first time I've seen the Allman Brothers Band in such an intimate venue. I'm struck immediately by the difference in the crowd. The crowd tonight, and every other night, is more boisterous than the Canadian audience and the mood of a sing along prevails at each show.
After about twenty minutes, the Band returns to the stage for the second set. At approximately 10:55, after a torrid Whipping Post, they leave the stage for a short time and return for an encore of Mountain Jam. One guy close to where I'm sitting has been screaming for this song all night. He is now standing at the bottom of the aisle and I'm afraid that he's going to launch himself over the railing into the crowd below when he finally realizes that he's getting his request. At 11:30, as the strains of Little Martha fade away, the Beacon staff swing into action yelling for us to get out. This was a solid show and I wonder to myself how they can possibly top this. If you pressed me to pick some highlights of the show I'd say they were Rockin' Horse, Desdemona and Dreams. I make my way downstairs, checking out the merchandise booth again. I manage to get into the orchestra level and soak up some of the atmosphere for a few minutes. I watch the tapers take down their gear and the slowly growing crowd of people waiting to get backstage. I think how nice it would be to have that opportunity. As I'm leaving the theatre, it strikes me that the show tonight contained no songs penned by Dickey. Were they making a statement by doing that, I wonder?
I head out onto Broadway and as I walk along I'm contemplating hitting the Bear Bar. As I hit the corner of Broadway and 75th Street, I see the crowd gathered at the stage door and figure I might as well check things out. Derek is on the far side of the barricades signing autographs and talking to fans. He appears to be in awe of the attention that is directed at him. He spends a few more minutes signing and talking before being directed to the van that is waiting. Derek is in the van only a matter of a few seconds when Gregg walks out. He is escorted by two people and heads straight to the van waving to someone across the street that has shouted his name. He settles into the front bench seat of the van and turns around to say something to Derek or listen to something that Derek has said to him. When he turns back around, he has a huge smile on his face. After the show tonight he has every reason to smile. I wait a little while longer and I'm just about to leave when I realize that the person I was supposed to meet is there talking with some fans. I wait until they are finished talking before I introduce myself.
I've never met Lana Michelizzi prior to tonight but through e-mail and many telephone conversations I know her as well, if not better, than some friends back home. She has become like a sister to me. After hugs are exchanged and I am introduced to her daughter Sheyenne, Lana insists that we take care of a business matter before we do anything else. Earlier this Hockey season, after another of Lana's comments promoting the Carolina Hurricanes, I challenged her to a friendly wager on the season series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes. Nothing extravagant, the loser had to send the winner a souvenir puck. As the Leafs had managed to win the series, I was about to become the proud owner of a Hurricanes puck. Lana insisted that I get my puck before we could do anything else.
After I had collected my trophy, we headed to the American Restaurant to get a late night bite to eat. I listened as Lana and Sheyenne explained the reason for their late arrival. Originally scheduled to fly to New York, they were talked into taking the train instead. Of course, there were a couple of slight delays along the way which resulted in them being six hours late. They didn't arrive at the theatre until the second set was under way. We talk for a while about various topics. There are several interruptions as fans and acquaintances of Lana's wander in and out of the restaurant. It was the perfect ending to an already exceptional evening. At about 1:30 we say our good-byes for the night and head our separate ways.