Memories of GABBAfest '03 by Bill Thames


Hey Ya'all, just got back from a wonderful weekend in Macon at the GABBAfest (Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association festival). We enjoyed two nights of salty-sweet, spicy-smooth, savory Blues with some great jams, a few surprises, and all at the beautiful historic Douglass Theater.

Patti and I drove in to Macon Friday night and unfortunately missed the opening band, Grinderswitch, but Lee Roy Parnell was a real surprise. Lee Roy plays a very sweet and soulful slide guitar, and excels at gut-wrenching Gospel based Blues. Lee Roy's band, which included Reese Wynans from Double Trouble on piano and Hammond B3 organ, was tight as a new set of strings. After two songs, Paul Hornsby, producer and recording engineer extortioner, and keyboardist with Gregg and Duane's old band The Hourglass, slid in next to Reese and played organ while Reese continued on the piano. The two, sitting back to back, appeared to be in keyboard heaven, and played the rest of the night together. Later, Dru Lombar from Grinderswitch came on stage and jammed...then the floodgates opened and the stage became crowded with great players, each taking their turns in the spotlight. Dickey Bett's bass player sat-in, and he is as good as you will hear.

It was hard to imagine on the way back to our motel after the show Friday night, but Saturday nights show would blow the roof off of the Douglass Theater, but in a totally different musical way. The two opening bands, Big Willie and the Wingtips and Mark May, played in-the-pocket for both sets, setting the groove for the night, and all of the players in both bands were top-shelf. Every person setting foot onstage was a serious musician and a team player. Again, a long line of people sat in, and again, the music flowed wonderfully with no showboating.

The last band to play, Tim Brooks and Breau Jam, held the biggest surprise of the weekend in more ways than one. They played Allman Brothers music, note for note, emotion for emotion, and I'm here to tell you that it was the strangest three hours of music that these ears have ever heard. I mean that in a good way. Their set included a 35 minute rendition of Mountain Jam, again, note for note. I have never heard anything quite like it. Their set was fantastically nostalgic, remarkably sad, and ire all at the same time. I found myself locked in a tornado of emotion that took me from exhilaration to tears, and back to exhilaration. If this was the proverbial "emotional roller coaster" than it was the one I want to ride forever. When the slide came out, however, I'm sure I was silently asking myself the same question that others were asking, "Why couldn't it be Duane?"

Somewhere near the middle of a near perfect "Jessica", Dickey Betts stepped out on stage from the right, dressed in full camouflage, and the crowd went wild. Dickey took a Les Paul from one of the guitar players, cranked it up full volume, and then apparently had trouble hearing the rest of the band. He began playing so loudly that he lost his place, changed the tempo of the song, and turned an otherwise great jam upside down and inside out. Dickey left the stage for a song or two, composed himself and returned, doing a much better job on a couple more of his songs, including a smoking "Liz Reed". The Ramblin' Man showed the crowd that he still has what it takes.

After Dickey left, things calmed down to a dull roar, and the Breau Jam finished their set playing "One Way Out" with a host of great guitar players, and singers on stage, including Junior Mack from New Jersey.

The rest of the weekend was as interesting and exciting as the stage at the Douglass. My wife and I got a chance to drive around Macon and take in some of the countryside and architecture. Macon is a lovely old southern town with a fine balance of old-time charm, and just a touch of New South attitude. Lunch at Mama Louise's H&H was scrumptious, and the rock and roll yard sale and tour of the Big House, hosted by Kirk West, and his delightful wife, was a must for any ABB fan. Red Dog was there, selling and signing his books. What more could you ask?

All in all, it was an incredible weekend of friends, fellowship, music, surprises, and the deal of the millennium at only $40/person. Hats off to all of the GABBA board, Surelle, Kyler, Nancy, Kevin, Priscilla, Dean, Penney and Kenny, and Barb and Greg. Thanks for all their hard work, and wonderful surprises!