The 2016 Laid Back Festival Featuring Gregg Allman, Jason Isbell, America, the Marshall Tucker Band, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, Orleans, Devon Allman and Levon

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Gregg Allman, Jason Isbell, America, the Marshall Tucker Band, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, Orleans, Devon Allman and Levon
The 2016 Laid Back Festival
Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
Wantagh, NY
July 23, 2016

Starting out as the creative collaboration between Gregg Allman and Live Nation, the Laid Back Festival began as a one day celebration in August of 2015, at the picturesque Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on Long Island. Allman named the event after his 1973 debut solo album and he envisioned it as a way to bring together live music and good food and drink, all on a beautiful beach. The success propelled it forward and in 2016, the Laid Back Festival has five dates including stops in Nashville, Chicago, Red Rocks, Atlanta and back at Nikon at Jones Beach, with various musicians rotating in and out of the tour. The Atlanta date, originally set for May 7, 2016 was postponed to October 29th when ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill fractured a shoulder backstage prior to a show at the Lone Star Events Center in Lubbock, Texas in mid-April.

The show's lineup, curated by Allman is a Who's Who of the music industry, with an Americana influence. This year at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, the talent was hearty and plentiful enough to span two stages: the Low Country Stage and the Laid Back Stage. The Low Country Stage was home to Levon, Orleans, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, and Allman's gifted son, Devon Allman. The Laid Back Stage sported the Marshall Tucker Band, America, Jason Isbell and Gregg Allman, himself, in the headlining slot.

Truly a celebration of music and food, the Laid Back Festival arrived ready to help concert goers indulge. With wineries, breweries and a variety of delicious fare, the doors opened with more than enough time for the crowds to make their way around and check out all the offerings. The secondary stage even featured a number of large outdoor couches toward the back of the standing area, creating an oasis of comfort on an unseasonably sunny and nearly record setting temperature day in July. The breeze off the water definitely helped as the all ages crowd slathered on sun block and enjoyed the low key excitement that was building as it grew closer to set time. As the lineup is announced at the festival that day, part of the fun was not knowing who would be first to grace the two stages until arriving at the venue.

The festival itself was nothing short of sensational. Allman was able to curate a truly diverse and entertaining concert and well as a distinct food event featuring vendors from all over the area. Concert goers were treated to southern rock, blues, Americana, old fashioned rock 'n' roll, Southern California breezy rock, pop and just about every other form of American music. The assorted food vendors offered everything from burgers and hotdogs to pizza to pulled pork to empanadas to bakery products and ice cream and numerous different craft beers and sodas.

Jaimoe's Jasssz Band was the first band to perform on this sweltering afternoon. Taking the Low Country stage at 5pm, the Allman Brothers drummer and his group (Junior Mack on guitar and vocals, Dave Stoltz on bass, Bruce Katz on keyboards, and the horn section of Paul Lieberman, Kris Jensen and Reggie Pittman) delivered a burning hot set of tunes that made a hot day in Long Island boil, blister and simmer even more strongly.

The first set on the main stage set featured Doug Gray and his Marshall Tucker Band cohorts delivering a strong set of southern boogie rock. Gray began the day's festivities with one of the best quips ever delivered at a music festival. He greeted the crowd by waving to the folks in the upper levels and then to the audience in the middle of the venue and finally the orchestra and stated, "If you ever make it to the Carolinas, give me a call; I'll buy you a beer!" The audience erupted and cheered the band through its entire set, which, of course, was highlighted by a stellar versions of "This Ol' Cowboy," "Fire On The Mountain" and "Can't You See."

America is a band that seems to have been around forever. Forever being a relative term, even if one considers that the band has been making music for just under 50 years. Forever does not, however, bring with it a negative connotation. Original members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley have been together since 1970 and the band is currently comprised of Rich Campbell on bass/keyboards, Ryland Steen on drums and Bill Worrell on guitar/keyboards. Dan Peek, the band's other founding member passed away in 2011.

During this late afternoon/early evening performance Bunnell and Beckley succeeded in turning back time. Not in a nostalgic way, but in a let's hop in a time machine and feel the exhilaration of when these songs were new kind of way. The band roared through a set of hits that when performed live was stronger, more assertive, had much more of an edge and rocked harder than they do on vinyl or CD. "Tin Man" was met with thundering applause and one audience member, and older fan, was seen in the first row wearing a straw hat while performing what appeared to be an interpretive dance. The rest of the performance played out like a more muscular, vital and expanded version of the History: America's Greatest Hits album (Warner Brothers, 1975). The set progressed with "You Can Do Magic" (a huge hit from the early '80s), "Don't Cross the River" featuring Beckley on vocals, "Daisy Jane," "Riverside" from the eponymously titled debut album (Warner Brothers 1971), "I Need You," and a spellbinding version of "Ventura Highway" the opening track on Homecoming (Warner Brothers, 1972). Prior to playing "The Boarder," Bunnell and Beckley played off of each other like a well-tuned comedy act when they stated, "These are not oldies. They're classic rock. There's a difference. We don't know what it is but there is definitely a difference." The set continued with "Green Monkey" from Hat Trick (Warner Brothers). At the end of the song Beckley stated, "That was dangerously close to jamming. That was the exact solo played by our friend Joe Walsh in 1973."

The set ended with "Only in Your Heart" with the "Mary have you seen better days" lyric, "Lonely People," the somber and solemn "Sandman" with the lyrics about soldiers fearing sleep because if they fell asleep they would let their guard down and sleeping could mean death, "Sister Golden Hair" which got the audience on its feet and dancing in the aisles, and the expected and required closing number "A Horse With No Name."

When Jason Isbell initially began playing on the main stage, many members of the audience were surprised by the indie vibe and almost countrified versions of his music that dominated the first part of the Green Hill, AL born-and-bred guitarist's set. As the performance evolved, Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit (a colloquial name for the psychiatric ward of Florence, Alabama's Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital) won the crowd over with their charm and musicianship. The 400 Unit (Isbell on guitar and vocals, Jimbo Hart on bass, Sadler Vaden on guitar, Derry deBorja on keys, Chad Gamble on drums and Isbell's wife, Amanda Shires on fiddle), played a tight set of songs from both his Drive By Truckers days and from his solo canon.

Though he focused more on his solo career with nine of the songs from his thirteen song set coming from his most recent Southeastern Records releases, Something More Than Free (2015) which won two Grammy Awards and Southeastern (2013), Isbell played to his strengths. The songs from those two releases arguably represent his strongest efforts. The first four of the evening, "24 Frames," "Something More Than Free," "If It Takes a Lifetime" and "Speed Trap Town" all hailed from Something More Than Free. The Drive By Truckers' song "Decoration Day" (as Isbell tells it is about "a family story that you're not supposed to tell, but I ran out of shit to talk about so I told it") separated another from the 2015 release, "The Life You Chose."

The autobiographical Southeastern album was ably represented by "Traveling Alone," the straight-forward rocker "Stockholm," "Flying Over Water and "Cover Me Up" (which seems to address the days before the guitarist got sober). During his set, Isbell and his band also played "Alabama Pines" and "Codeine" from his 2011 Lightning Rod Records release Here We Rest.

Isbell's amazing set concluded with a rocking electric version of "Never Gonna Change," the attitude-filled Drive By Truckers' track. Though Isbell played a remarkable set, he remained humble when he took a moment to address the crowd and the festival's creator. Isbell said, "I want to thank Gregg Allman for having us play the festival. It's an honor to play with him and for you all."

Seminal pop rock band Orleans, lead by John Hall, hit the Low Country Stage after America's and before Jason Isbell's sets on the main stage. Known for its hits "Dance with Me" from Let There Be Music (Asylum Records, 1975), "Still the One," from Waking and Dreaming (Asylum Records, 1976) and "Love Takes Time" from Forever (Infinity Records, 1979), Hall and his band (Dennis "Fly" Amero on guitar, bassist Lance Hoppen, Lane Hoppen on keyboards and drummer Charlie Morgan) played a thirty minute set that gave the crowd exactly what they came to see—the hits. Another highlight was the performance of the funky "Juliet" which has a beat and bounce (though a tad more Top 40 radio pop) reminiscent of the city of New Orleans.

As the evening drew to a close, but before Gregg Allman's performance, his son Devon Allman appeared on the Low Country Stage. The smaller second stage was hot in more ways than one. It sat in direct sunlight and was set afire by Devon's incendiary performance. The guest appearance by violinist Jess Novack was both a welcome surprise and a fantastic highlight. For the audience members who ventured over from the main arena (and their comfortable seats), it didn't matter that the stage was set on hot asphalt in a standing-only area—they stood shoulder to shoulder and swayed to the rockified, bluesy performance. The performance was probably the highest-energy show of the day. To appropriate and bastardize a phrase (actually a book title) from Ernest Hemingway, the son also rises.

As the headliner and founder of the festival, Gregg Allman appeared last. After he was introduced, he said, "Good evening. All right. We hope you're not too burnt. It's time to put a little boogie on you here. We're going to start with a little blues." He then opened with "Done Somebody Wrong," accompanying himself on Hammond organ while the eight other musicians (Scott Sharrard on guitar, Peter Levin on keys, Marc Quiñones on drums/percussion, Steve Potts on drums/percussion, the aptly named Brett Bass on bass, and the horn section of Jay Collins, Marc Franklin and Art Edmaiston) nailed the Elmore James tune.

The remainder of his superb hour and fifteen minute set was devoted to Allman Brothers tunes, Allman Brothers-associated songs and solo offerings including: "It's Not My Cross to Bear" from the Allman Brothers self-titled debut album (Atco Records, 1969), the instrumental "Hot 'Lanta," "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" from Eat A Peach (Capricorn Records, 1972) on which Allman shined on guitar, the boogie-woogie blues rocker "Love Like Kerosene" (which Allman introduced as "a new song by Scott Sharrard"), "Soulshine" (which was introduced as "a Warren Haynes song"). Though Haynes wrote it and its title comes from a nickname Haynes father gave him, the Allman Brothers released the fan favorite sing-along song on Where It All Begins (Epic Records, 1994). Another highlight was the slick version of Allman's solo hit "I'm No Angel." During the set, Allman effortlessly switched instruments from the Hammond to electric guitar and back again.

After an instrumental interlude, Allman and the band brought it home with blistering versions of the Allman Brothers classics: the soulful and plaintive "Please Call Home" from the Allman Brothers' second album, Idlewild South (Atco Records, 1970) and the signature tune "Midnight Rider" and an extended (what else) jamming version "Whipping Post."

Unfortunately, due to an 11pm curfew, the evening had to end earlier that the audience and musicians would have liked. Allman addressed the crowd stating, "Good old New York. So good they had to name it twice." He then alluded to the curfew when he announced, "They're pretty strict here so we're going to wind it up with this song written by Mr. Dickie Betts!" The encore version of "Southbound" was letter perfect and had almost every audience member dreaming of a "complete" and "total" Allman Brothers reunion featuring every living band member including: Betts, Haynes, Jaimoe, Otiel Burbridge, Butch Trucks, Derek Trucks, Quiñones and Chuck Leavell as well as Devon Allman.

The festival was a complete success. Fans from all walks of life and generations were thrilled to see such a diverse group of musicians play their hearts out. Some performances were short and sweet. Others were a little longer and wonderful. All were quality. Even though it was the hottest day of the year, up to that point in the New York City area (thermometer readings registered well over 100 degrees in areas of Long Island), the temperatures at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater were a good ten to fifteen degrees lower. The breeze off the water combined with the good food, cold beer, soda and ice cream and the amazing music made it a fantastic evening. The Laidback Festival is fairly new; 2016 was only the second time Gregg Allman organized it. Let's hope that Allman decides to make this a yearly event.

Photo Credit: Christine Connallon
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].

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