In March of 1971, the Allman Brothers Band played two shows at the Fillmore East that would result in a live album that Rolling Stone ranked #49 in their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. As a live album, “At the Fillmore East” is often cited by reviewers as one of the top live recorded performances in rock history. Its release and subsequent popularity cemented Southern rock as a separate and distinct musical genre. Unlike much of today’s music with its short shelf life, “At the Fillmore East” isn’t perishable.
Testament to this enduring legacy was a turnout of 1,000 fans who came to see the Skydogs recreate the concert at the Bo Diddley Plaza, christened by the band for one night only as the Fillmore South. The Skydogs are a project group formed by Mick Marino (Couch Messiahs) that includes Henry Ramato on organ, Tony McMahon on guitar, Frank Varosi on bass, and doing double-drum duty Billy Bowker and Larry Thompson. Also joining were Gus Olmos on harmonica and special guest guitarist Charlie Hargett of Blackfoot. The reincarnation of the concert was several months in the making.
The original recording was a double album that contained seven songs, including a “Whipping Post” that, thanks to some classic jamming, stretched to 23:03. The Skydogs didn’t take it to that length, but their rendition was just as stunningly articulated.
Opening–as the album did–with Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” the Skydogs played eleven numbers that included everything on the album plus an additional four. After “Statesboro Blues,” the band diverged from the track listing of the original album by jumping into “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ ” and then “Trouble No More,” cuts played at the original concert but omitted on the first release of the album. Both showed up in 1992 on a new release of the Fillmore tapes called “The Fillmore Concerts.” Also added were “One Way Out” (recorded at the Fillmore in June of 1971 and appearing on “Eat a Peach”) and “Southland” (“Brothers and Sisters”), which the band had intended as an encore but which ended up as the final number of the second set. The band finished there, leaving the audience and this reviewer hoping for a knockout curtain call of “Ramblin’ Man.”
The Skydogs could have played half as well as they did and the night still would have been a success. As it stood, the technical proficiency and artistic expression were so superb that had one not been standing in view of the stage, there might have been room to believe that Duane Allman had dropped from the sky to jam with the local boys. If the concert weren’t already excellent, the second set had Blackfoot’s Hargrett striding onstage with a big smile, lanky legs, and some wicked chops of his own.
Unable to make an appearance was Duane Allman’s 1957 Goldtop Les Paul, which is in the possession of another local musician, Mike Boulware. It was missed only in spirit; the show was perfectly evocative without it.
The musical climate of 1971 was much different thanwhat it is today. For starters, there were a lot fewer bands and no indie labels. FM radio was for jazz and classical and AM was for the Top 40. An album was a year or more in the making and bands played enormous tours in support of a new release. Disco was a couple of years in the future; music didn’t strongly influence fashion beyond ratty Levis and Frye boots. The hippies were gone from all but the suburbs; liberalism was on its way out and we were speeding towards the Reagan Era faster than anyone could have imagined. There was a lot more excitement about music among adults, or at least those out of high school, and the middle school set’s dollars didn’t dominate and determine chart positions. It would be a couple of years before a Southern rock outfit would top the charts (“Freebird”), but the Allman Brothers Band had several years of paving the way behind them.
The Allman Brothers Band of 1971 had a tang of redneck American raunch analogous to the Euro-decay of the Stones and their take on the blues came from local dives more than it did the smooth, AM-friendly stylings of Marvin Gaye and Al Green, both of whom streaked up the Top Ten that year. The nearly forty years since the “At the Fillmore East” didn’t interfere with the Skydog’s faithful interpretations of the Allman Brothers’ sounds; where there might have been retrenchment simply due to the further influence of style there wasn’t. The Allman Brothers are a compound of blues, rock, and jazz and so were the Skydogs, right down to the jazz drumming of Billy Bowker, who played alongside the powerful, rock-based Larry Thompson and the double leads of Mick Marino and Tony McMahon. Where there is a trend among tribute bands to campy spoof or ego-driven deracination, the Skydogs played it straight and were rewarded with the kind of appreciation a local band can only dream about. The band was energized from the first note, and by the time Hargrett stepped onstage in the second set they were in full throttle. Hargrett’s appearance had photographers rushing the front of the stage, but Hargrett played as if he were jamming with the the boys in the local bar and not in the spotlight of some fancy D-SLR cameras with Speedlight accessories.
“At the Fillmore South” was as an ideal a concert as could be expected for fans of the Allman Brothers and of Southern rock in general. Gainesville was a station on the Southern rock line, and the Skydog concert proved that Gainesville shouldn’t be remaindered into the back pages of rock history. The city was and is an important home for topnotch talent; music may have changed but the creative atmosphere has not. The only negative to the night was the advancing of the years between 1971 and 2010 and the reminder that things move forward and not always for the better.
Mick Marino and Charlie Hargrett