Greg Allman’s first ever Laid Back Festival took place this past weekend at Jones Beach in Long Island, NY and it was a clear success.
The one-day food and music festival attracted a near-sold out crowd with the likes of Bernie Williams, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, The Doobie Brothers, and the legend himself, Gregg Allman.
More recognizable acts played the amphitheater’s main stage, overlooking Zach’s Bay. Meanwhile, Jaimoe (a founding member of the Allman Brothers) and his Jasssz Band played the smaller Low Country Stage, as did younger artists Lara Johnston, City of the Sun, and Ruthie Collins.
Acts slated before sundown such as Bernie Williams and Bruce Hornsby were slight casualties to the festival’s fantastic food and drink selection, which left the theater less than full for much of the late afternoon sets. Guests were busy enjoying the local restaurants, food trucks, wineries, and breweries, which included Swell Taco, Sandbar Sandwich Co., Gorilla Cheese, Jamesport Vineyards, Port Jefferson Brewery, and Blue Point Brewery
After Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers finished their satisfying and nostalgic set, the main stage gave way to the Low Country Stage. Enjoying the attention of much of the crowd who had filtered out of the amphitheater to refill their beverages, the NYC-based City of the Sun put on a rousing set. Playing in front of a cotton-candy sunset, the experimental, indie trio performed their high-energy, instrumental tunes to the surprised pleasure of much of the Allman Brother’s Band-clad crowd. The band's hollow, ringing cover of The XX’s “Intro,” got much of the skeptical crowd involved in the set, while their original “Second Sun” exposed the Laid Back crowd to the band's special musical prowess.
By the time City of the Sun finished their performance, the late afternoon had all but given way to twilight and it was time for The Doobie Brothers to take the stage. Fronted by original members Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, the band was rounded out by John McFee on guitar, Mike Russo on saxophone, John Cowan on bass, and Tony Pia and Ed Toth on drums. Billy Payne, of Little Feat fame, joined the band on keyboards for the evening.
The set was a mixture of music from different Doobie eras. The crowd stayed engaged and enthralled as the band played lively renditions of classic songs like, "China Grove,” "Long Train Running,” “Black Water,” and a version of “Takin' It to the Streets” featuring Gregg Allman taking the place of Michael McDonald on lead vocals. The band carved out time for a few Billy Payne keyboard solos, including a short but sweet “New York State of Mind” medley.
“Long Train Running” featured an extended Mike Russo saxophone solo which got the crowd on their feet, but the real highlight of the set was the dueling guitar solo between Pat Simmons and Gregg Allman’s lead guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard during a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's “Don't Start Me Talkin'.” Jon McFee put in some good time on the lap steel guitar and in all, The Doobie Brothers proved that they still have what it takes to excite an audience.
Ruthie Collins kept the crowd warm while stage-hands completed set-up for Gregg Allman, and by the time the legend took the stage everyone was certainly feeling laid-back. The man of the day took the stage accompanied by Sharrard on guitar, Peter Levin on keyboards, Steve Potts and Marc Quiñones on drums and percussion, and Jay Collins, Art Edmaiston, and Marc Franklin on horns.
Seated behind his iconic Hammond organ, Allman wasted no time, thrusting into the longtime Allman Brothers Band concert opener, “Statesboro Blues.” He then moved into a rendition of “I’m No Angel,” his sultry vocals carrying the song that hit #1 on the rock charts in 1987.
Next up was the bluesy “Stormy Monday.” Sharrard was again the center of attention during the interpretation, providing some of the night’s most enjoyable guitar solos. Allman continued the trend of Allman Brothers Band songs with an outstanding version of “Melissa” before moving seamlessly into a heartfelt, soulful version of “Don’t Want You No More / Not My Cross to Bear.”
Allman then changed pace, getting up from behind the organ and strapping on an acoustic guitar. “Midnight Rider” got the crowd grooving, and a dreamy, stratospheric Marc Franklin trumpet solo added an exclamation point to the Allman Brothers anthem.
Perhaps the most entertaining performance of the evening was that of the seminal “Whipping Post.” Played with a funky, horn-driven style, the song’s verses sounded very different from the original version. Much of the crowd seemed confused by the song until the unmistakable chorus came around for the first time.
Finally came the closer. After a day of eating, drinking and listening to music, the crowd was exhilarated one last time by a banging, ringing version of “One Way Out” which featured The Doobie Brothers' Johnston and Simmons.
Exhausted and sun soaked, the Jones Beach crowd took their leave. If this year’s performance was any indication of future results, come this time next year, we’ll all be laid-back once again.