Aw Man, Brother, It's Time Again For the Annual Allman Brothers Beacon Residency!
When the Allman Brothers Band kicked off their first multi-night run of shows at the Beacon Theatre, the Berlin Wall was still standing, The Simpsons had yet to debut, and Taylor Swift was happily gestating in the womb. It was 1989, and since then, the group's March residency has become an annual tradition their fans around the globe have flocked to, with more than 200 sold-out shows over the years and dozens of big-name surprise guests who've turned up to jam with Gregg and the fellas, including Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Billy Gibbons, Sheryl Crow, and, ahem, Kid Rock and Bruce Willis, too.
Last week, the Allmans kicked off the first of 11 shows at the Beacon between now and St. Patty's Day. Coincidentally, the paperback version of leader Gregg Allman's 2012 memoir My Cross to Bear was published this week by HarperCollins. Allman wrote the book with the able assistance of esteemed music scribe Alan Light (Rolling Stone, SPIN, The New York Times, etc.), whom we caught up with this week to talk about the significance of the Allman Brothers Band's Beacon residency.
Here's a band that's so identified with the South, and yet they've done these shows in New York City and had a ton of success with it over the years. Can you explain how and why that works?
Well, I don't know that there's an explanation, but it's certainly a phenomenon. And a phenomenon that dates back before the Beacon. I mean, they had that relationship with the Fillmore East as well. Gregg says they've always felt welcomed in New York. I think in the book he says that New York audiences, they wanna know that you're working and that you came to play, to give 'em the best you got, and they've always felt embraced by the audiences here. And certainly he draws that parallel to the Fillmore and to feeling a certain level of comfort and a certain reception there, and when they started at the Beacon they started this relationship that they thought was a comparable sort of experience. It's pretty amazing. It's hard to think of another ongoing relationship between a band and a venue over decades.
Yeah, I was trying to think of one.
There's not much to point to. There's people who have done famous runs at certain places, or have come back to some little place as the "conquering heroes," and there are bands that have relationships with festivals. But it's hard to talk about another band that's done 200 nights in a room far from home. It's not like the local club where they happen to go and that's where they practice or whatever. It's a pretty unique set of circumstances.
They started doing the Beacon shows in 1989, and you could probably make the argument that by then they were well past their heyday.
Yeah, I think that's right. Gregg says the '80s were a terrible time for him personally and for the band, trying to find their way in a very changed music world. When their  box set Dreams came out, that really was the thing that moved them into a different category, that sort of placed them in history in a different way. I think the Beacon shows came to be really important for them. I think they're a marker. I think it gives them a target they're shooting for each time the calendar goes around.
How many Beacon shows have you been to?
Oh, I don't know. It's been sort of scattered over the years. I didn't go consistently every year, and then I've gone the last four years and I was there for the 200th show. But I definitely have friends who are diehards who do multiple shows. I wrote a piece for the Times around the 200th show and talked to some of these people who've been to, you know, 180 of those shows, and it's kind of amazing.
When you're in that room, what's the energy like?
It's a pretty charged atmosphere for sure. It has that "this is not a regular show" thing. You're certainly aware of being a part of this chain that the Allmans at the Beacon represents a special thing. Whether that's because of the shirts and the merch and everything is very specific and it's not the regular tour stuff...[laughs]. I imagine at many Allmans shows at many places there's that sorta communal audience thing, but there's definitely...you're aware that a lot of people have traveled far for these shows, these are people who've seen a lot of shows before, there's much more comparing notes and histories in the audience and that sort of feeling. And I think for the band, they know that they gotta bring the best that they're capable of. People are going to evaluate the state of how they're playing these days based on how they do at the Beacon. It's not how did they do at some show in Kansas City [laughs]. This is a marker of where they are right now, and they're very aware of that. Now you see that they do two nights on, one night off, or two nights off. They definitely pace themselves and sort of think through what energy they can give to it, because they don't wanna feel like they're walking through one of these shows since they know there's so much at stake.