Gregg Allman Returns to the Stage at His Laid Back Festival

When Gregg Allman launched his inaugural Laid Back Festival (named after his 1973 solo debut) last year at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater in New York, he hand-picked acts like the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and other acts. Allman says his goal for the festival was to “bring the people some really good music. Also, to bring some really good food. It’s not only about the music; it’s about different gourmet foods.”

This year, Allman added four other cities — Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago and Denver — in addition to New York, and each festival features food from regional restaurants and food trucks as well as breweries and wineries. Allman says Tampa Bay and Miami will be added next year and thinks he’ll eventually get Seattle and Portland on board as well.

Allman says the New York, Chicago and Nashville festivals went fine, but he had to cancel some dates of his solo tour last month.

“Right in the middle of the thing I got pneumonia,” Allman say. “Yeah, that was a drag. I was almost to the end of a tour. I had to two more to go, and damn, it just set in. I had to postpone two of the gigs, but we’ll go back and make them up, for sure.”

Allman has since been given a clean bill of health, and his first gig back will be an acoustic set at Red Rocks as part of this Sunday’s Laid Back Festival, which features headliner ZZ Top as well as Richie Furay Band, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, Lucie Silvas, Levon and People’s Blues of Richmond. Part of the reason for bringing on some lesser-known acts is that, as Allman says, “On the way up, somebody gave me a shot at it, and so I’m trying to return the favor.”

That someone was the legendary promoter Bill Graham, who made San Francisco’s Fillmore famous by bringing in the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and of course, the Allman Brothers, who formed in 1969 and opened for B.B. King and Buddy Guy there in 1970 and recorded their first live album, At Fillmore East, at Graham’s New York venue the following year.

“When the Brothers were first getting started,” Allman says, “like at the Fillmore and Fillmore East, there would be like four bands a night. But sure enough, Bill Graham put us on even though we were the first band to go on. And then we worked our way up, and then we ended the whole thing. We were Billy’s favorite band, I think.”

As one of the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band, drummer Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johanson) and Allman go back nearly five decades.

“Well, me and Jaimoe have been tight for years and years,” Allman says. “We’ve always hung really close together. When I launched this Laid Back thing, of course I had to take Jaimoe’s band.”

While Allman wouldn’t divulge much about his forthcoming album, Southern Blood, he says he just needs to lay down a few more vocal tracks and it will be finished. The twelve-track disc, which includes both covers and originals, is slated for release in January.

Allman’s previous solo effort, the T-Bone Burnett-produced Low Country Blues, was steeped in the blues and includes covers of songs by Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Skip James.

“I grew up on the blues,” Allman says. “I was fortunate enough by the age of thirteen or fourteen that I met this group of black fellas. I used to go down and sneak into their club every night and listen to them play. I said, ‘Man, who’s that?’ They’d tell me who’s this and they’d turn me on to who’s who. I don't know why they took the time with me. They were about seventeen or eighteen, old enough to get in the club. Why they took me under their wing, I don’t know. Maybe they saw some potential in me or something. But they did, and I learned so much from them.”

The Laid Back Festival, featuring Gregg Allman, ZZ Top, Richie Furay Band, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, Lucie Silvas, Levon and People’s Blues of Richmond; 4 p.m. Sunday, September 25, Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon