On March 9th, 2009 I was trekking northward on my way home from the big Phish comeback shows in Hampton, Virginia. I had m’lady and a couple of friends in tow and we were headed to the Big Apple for what would prove to be my first of several Allman Brothers concerts at their home-away-from-home: the Beacon Theatre.
Along the way our google directions directed us directly into downtown Washington, DC, a city I have never visited. I didn’t visit it this time either – unless you count a series of mysterious and frankly quite surprising dead ends and wrong turns. Thinking back on it, I’m rather shocked that we’re not still there driving around in confusing circles, our overgrown beards down to our knees.
But we did get out of there, and arrived at our pricelined NYC hotel only to find it overbooked. That actually worked in our favour, as the clerk immediately checked us into The Blakely, their upscale four-star boutique hotel across the street. Not bad for $80 a room.
Getting to the show, we got there just as the lights went down. I was in line for a Jack & Coke when the music started. I could hear that it was Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes playing the great Duane Allman instrumental track Little Martha, a song I had learned to play years before. Not only had I never heard the band play Little Martha before, I didn’t really think they played it live. Drink in hand I flew up the stairs and caught the last bit of the opener as I was finding my seat.
In the last row of the balcony.
I can’t express how much it bothers me that they hand out the worst tickets in the house to the fan pre-sale keeners like me that jump on tickets the moment they are made available. It seems like an insult and a lie; these are not tickets for fans, they are tickets for slacker pedestrian last-minute quasi-fans. Be that as it may, these were the tickets I had, and really the Beacon isn’t too vast of a space so sour grapes aside they were fine.
Also a bit of a mystery was the fact that people were sitting in our seats…their seats must have been on the roof or something. Anyways, we kicked them out, took our seats, and settled in for the show.
The room certainly was a wonder to behold, though with almost $14 million in renovations how could it not be? With such a small venue that price tag works out to about $5,000 per seat. Nice seat, I’ll admit, but I wasn’t feeling the five grand plush. They must have dumped some of that money into electrical or something.
The bar was extensive and expensive, but that’s NYC right?
When I returned from a getting another round I found Taj Mahal on stage sitting in with the band. He stuck around for about three songs, helping the band close out the first set.
When the lights went up for setbreak one could really appreciate the gaudy over-exuberance of the place. Someone did a heck of a job, and I assume all of that invested money will guarantee the Beacon will keep being a venue for years to come.
With the room well lit I noticed a second drumkit onstage, and by the time the second set started the auxiliary kit had been placed at the front right of the stage. And whattya know, the second set started with the Levon Helm band sitting in. Again, three numbers, this time all from Levon’s setlist, with Taj re-emerging for The Weight. A sit-in within a sit-in! Perhaps my first!
Along those lines when we were back to just the Allmans onstage Derek played the Purple Haze riff during their cover of The Grateful Dead’s The Other One, a cover within a cover! Okay, a tease within a cover, but whatever. And then, sooner than I would have liked, the show was done. It wasn’t the best Allman’s show ever, but it was a special one to be sure, and it really made me want to come back to the Beacon for a few shows next time.
All in all, it was a fun long weekend away full of special shows and good companionship.
A final detail – when we were picking up the car from valet parking at our boutique hotel my travelling companions recognized the doorman as Judd from Survivor Guatemala. Nice fellah. I asked him what he could tell me about the show that I wouldn’t notice from watching on television and he said, “Nothing…it’s exactly as you see it.”
“C’mon,” I replied, incredulously. “What about all those times I see people saying things in front of a camera that they would never say in front of a camera?!?”
“The thing everyone finds hard to believe,” he explained, “is that ten minutes after you arrive on the island you don’t even notice the cameras.
“Even when they are pointed right in your face.”
And I believe him.