That Time With Gregg Allman in Atlanta

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Have you ever had a waking dream? I got to see the Allman Brothers Band a couple of times. The second time I saw them play their music.

The passing of Gregg Allman reminded me of the first time I saw the band. In 1978 I was just out of college and living with my girlfriend in Salem, Oregon. To say I was aimless would be generous. I was working graveyard shift at an Interstate 5 gas station and trying my hand at growing pot in bedroom closet. I had a vague idea that I wanted to work in politics and government. A friend of mine was doing graduate work at Willamette University and said I should try Salem.

Well, government in Salem was a tiny closed system then and pretty much now. So, we were hanging out at a park on the Willamette a lot and living the small town life. My best friend from college was living in Washington DC and landed a job on a Senate staff. He called and said I should come to DC and check it out. I had only flown once before in my life, so this was going to be a real adventure.

Here is how not to get from Salem, Oregon to Washington DC. Drive to Portland and catch a plane to Seattle. Wait for a couple of hours and fly to St. Louis. Sit on the runway in St. Louis as a connecting flight for an hour, and then fly to Atlanta. Hang in Atlanta for 3 hours to catch a flight to DC. (Anyone remember Eastern Airlines?) All totaled, a 14-hour trip to DC. Like I said, I knew nothing about flying.

It was May; I left Portland in kind of dress pants and a wool sweater. I never left the planes or airports so I had no idea I was flying to the south and no one was wearing wool there.

I was exhausted by time I got to Atlanta and found the gate. There was no one there yet so I treated myself to one of America’s great newspapers, the Atlanta Constitution. Soon enough I was sprawled in the chair, sound asleep with the newspaper over my face. I don’t know how long I had been sleeping but when I pulled the paper off my face I was sitting in the middle of a collection of sort of typical 70’s post-hippie looking dudes.

The black guy across from me had a cast on his foot and he was talking to the longhaired guy next to him about how he was going to play the bass drum with the cast. Seems he had tried parachuting from a plane during their collective vacation and it didn’t work out so well.

Listening to them talk it was as if my brain suddenly clicked back on. Drums? A band. Did that guy just call him Jai? Really. I know that name. That would be “Jaimoe” a drummer for the Allman Brothers. The guy offering that they could tape Jaimoe’s foot to the bass drum pedal was, of course, Dickey Betts. I looked around me and realized I was sitting in the middle of the album cover.  I had woken up in the middle of the Allman Brothers Band.

In the exact moment my befuddled brain had the thought “Where’s Gregg,” I looked to my left and there he was in the signature leather coat with sheep shin trim. He sat down by me. You could have hit me with a cattle prod and I would not have notced. I could not think of anything to say. Sign my newspaper? Lame. Then I realized I was invisible to then. I was in the middle of the band and they were talking like friends do. How did you spend the vacation? Jai really fucked up but we have it figured out. Where are we going now?

I realized that moment was not going to get any better by outing myself. And most bizarrely, Gregg’s big jacket made me feel better about the wool sweater. I was a stoner from Oregon but looked sooooo straight in their midst. I just soaked it in and after a while they all left. I wanted to run down the concourse and tell someone, but the waiting area was empty again. And I still had to finish the trip that would completely alter my life.

The second time I saw the Allman Brothers Band they played. They were great. Thanks Gregg. It was terrific to almost meet you.

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