The First Time: Michael Macy – The Allman Brothers, Robards Sports Arena, Sarasota, 10th April 1971

First, let me be straight – this isn’t about the first time I ever saw a live band.  I think my first live gig was a graduation dance when I was 14. I don’t remember the band.  And while there was a moment of that night when I got to dance with Kristi, this piece isn’t about that night. It’s about the first real big gig I went to.

When I was in my teens there was a band in every garage.  Our local church youth group regularly held dances in the school basement that provided these bands with a venue, and my older brother was one of organisers.  I saw a whole slew of bands with the names The Skunks, the Revolutionary Kind (inspired by Paul Revere and the Raiders),  the psychedelic Baroques,  Raw Meat (a Cream knockoff) and Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds, a Motown-style show band.  Some of them were good – the lead members of the Robbs went on to run Antelope Studio in California and recorded Steely Dan and Al Green.  The Cryan Shames, (from Chicago, not The Cryin Shames from Liverpool) had a least one hit. But the sound systems were basic, just a few amps, some speakers and a PA system.

At sixteen I ran a short-lived music event production partnership with two friends.   We wanted to be the Bill Graham of south-eastern Wisconsin.  We didn’t last long.  At one of our dances a bit of an altercation broke out between two rival groups of wannabe gang members. The band, Tony’s Tygers, were on a break and when they heard the commotion, tried to climb out the dressing room windows. Their agent told them to get out on stage and protect the gear.  Things quieted down a bit when they started playing but it was too late.  Somebody had already called the police. They shut the place down and banned us from organizing any other events.

But for all that, the live music I had seen was in school gyms and church halls. I had never been to a performance by a big-name band, never been to a real rock concert.

It wasn’t that there weren’t acts to see. Just a bit more than 10 miles from my house (actually my parent’s house) The Midwest Rock Festival was held three weeks before Woodstock. It featured Led Zeppelin, Blind Faith, Johnny Winter, Buffy Sainte-Marie, MC5, Jeff Beck and Jethro Tull, among others. I missed it all. I had to work, at McDonalds.  So instead of worshipping at the feet of the Rock gods, I was asking people, “Do you want fries with that?”

It was almost two years later before I had a chance to go to a big gig. I almost didn’t go. By then I was at university and training to become a teacher. Part of my program was leading a class at a nearby secondary school. The course was a state-required course on the U.S. and the text was ‘Americanism vs Communism’. I never did pass out the text. I wasn’t much older than my students and had become friends with a few of them.

We didn’t have phones in student housing so anyone that wanted to reach me had to stop by.  One night a student friend of mine came over to tell me that he had an extra ticket and was I interested in going? I begged off saying I had too much school work to do, when really it was the cost. I was always short of funds and hadn’t figured on a night out.  My friend insisted I go; the band was only in town one night. It was April 10th, 1971 in Sarasota, Florida and the band was the Allman Brothers.

So I dug deep and off we went to the Robart’s Sports Arena, the largest venue I had ever been to for a gig. It was incredible. From the first note I knew this wasn’t like anything I had ever heard or seen before. This was the real deal with incredible musicians; two lead guitarists, two drummers, a keyboard player and bass. And it all coming through a full sound system managed by a sound engineer on a board and in a space big enough to handle it.

This was the Allman Brothers Band as it existed for a very short time. They had only been all together as a band for two years and it was a little more than six months before founder and lead guitarist Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident.  Eighteen months later bassist Barry Oakley met the same fate.

The song I remember best is ‘Mountain Jam’. This was only a few weeks after the Allman Brothers had recorded the version at the Fillmore East that was released on the album ‘Eat A Peach’.

I was standing alone towards the back of the crowd, mesmerized. As I was want to do in those days, I started swaying to the music and then dancing a bit by myself, occasionally closing my eyes. At one point I looked up as a young woman came out of the crowd and started dancing with me.  I have no idea how long the jam lasted. The ‘Eat A Peach’ version is 33.41 minutes long.  My partner just stayed with me. The jam changes tempo as each member solos and the drummers play an incredible duet.  With every change we just looked at each other and changed our movements to match the music,

I can still remember how she looked when the band slowed down (at 27 minutes on the Filmore recording).  As the song ended my partner faded back into the crowd as quietly as she had appeared.  I didn’t look for her. I couldn’t have asked for anything more than dance we just shared. It was magical and I smile at the memory every time I hear ‘Mountain Jam’. I am still in awe of the magic that happens when music is live.

About Michael Macy 49 Articles
Grew up in the American Midwest and bounced around a bit until settling in London. Wherever I've been, whatever I have done, has been to sound of Americana. It is a real privilege to be part of this site, discover new music and write about it.
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Gabriel Nathanael

I was at this concert also, lived in Sarasota and was right up art the front. Wow, what a concert. I have played harmonica 50 years now and the harmonica player lived in Sarasota. Dickie Betts lives there and at the time I recall his mom lived in Bradenton….I played some shows with the local band “The Poindexters” who were a local family band and played on Dickie’s first solo album early 1970’s called “Highway Call”.