FRIDAY AFTERNOON was almost frightening — all those big names, the abruptness of the pop festival’s appearance, the overall speculative nature of this ambitious musical venture — and when we got over to the park, there was only a small crowd and some folk singer type running through a Dylan (new) imitation of ‘Lay Lady Lay’. The portable toilets on the ball field looked desolate in their isolation. Nothing looked good about the scene, and Frank Hughes of the Electric Collage light show was saying over and over, “Everybody’s wrecked!”
Then, miraculously, it happened. The Allman Brothers appeared on stage and began their set — a familiar set of blues pieces, long, hard improvisations worked on a tight rhythmic foundation. ‘I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town’, Donovan’s ‘There Is A Mountain’, one from their new album on Atco which might be called ‘I Feel Like I’m Dyin!’, some fantastic slide guitar from Duane Allman on an excellent arrangement of ‘Statesboro Blues’, and much more. One of the best exponents of where young pop music is at today, the Allman Brothers got the audience moving and initiated the festival atmosphere that had been absent up until that time.
The crowd was still small by sundown, but it was grooving and becoming larger all the time. We had just begun to realize that the night would be quite cold, but the idea of a pop festival in winter weather seemed oddly appealing (for once a tightly packed audience made some sense). The hippie/freak audience was there, a few straights, some familiar community winos, plus many, many new faces. One short fat fannie dug the music and the people; she thrust her dancing figure up front whenever possible and moved in and around the crowd with a beautiful smile on her face. A wonderful old wino with the face of a leprechaun put down his weather-beaten suitcase and umbrella and asked her to dance with him, proceeding to demonstrate his own talents in a Wonderlandish dervish. Soon, everyone was in good spirits.
The band that followed included The Second Coming guitarist from Florida, plus the brilliant, beautiful bass work of John Ivey, and vocals and harp by Atlanta’s Wayne Lackidisi. The lead guitarist was into an erotic contortion bit (he turned in a better performance Sunday), and while Lackidisi’s screaming vocals sum up what is either the best or the worst of white blues singing (depending on whether you like it or not), some of his harmonica contributions were exciting indeed.
The performance by Joe South in Piedmont Park should have been a major musical event; instead it was a fiasco. South appeared on stage with a trio of accompanists that looked like a Southern Velvet Underground (the suit South was wearing looked like silver velvet). There was an immediate reaction from the audience, one of suspiciousness and distaste from some, amusement from others. To say that a threat to the communal spirit did not exist for a moment would be a lie. South does not relate to the immediate experience of the Atlanta left/hip community in the same way that, for example, the Hampton Grease Band does, and the shiny, luxuriant exterior of the studio talent was perhaps too much in evidence, and with no conditioning for the audience.
At the same time, Joe South is unquestionably one of the finest songwriters in all of pop music. We don’t think of him as a performer (though he is a brilliant one), but we are all familiar with his songs through the Top 40. Teeny-bopper purists who label his three-minute pop songs “commercial” and relate to the twenty-minute blues extravaganzas of the Allman Brothers as anything other than commercial simply create a false dichotomy between a business oriented around 45 rpm singles and a business built on the 33 1/3 rpm album. Joe South and the Allman Brothers are merely extensions of the same pop music experience, and they both make some fantastic music in their own areas.
Unfortunately, the sound system was fucked up throughout South’s entire set, and in the middle of one song, the power cut off altogether. South’s excellent vocal style was lost, some of the best lyrics ever to come out of modern country could hardly be heard, and what could have been some exciting guitar work by South was wasted on electronic distortion and noise. South was trying his best to get through ‘Hush’, ‘Redneck’ (on the new Pacific Gas & Electric album), ‘Don’t You Wanna Go Home?’, a hymn to the Atlanta community called ‘Gabriel’, and one of the best pop songs ever — ‘Games People Play’. Aside from some attempts at humor that were often misdirected, a female vocalist whose raucous, out-of-tune shouting almost ruined what little music the South group managed to force through the faulty sound system, and a certain lack of acceptance from some in the crowd, it was good to hear this musical genius in our own park, and it is hoped that the event can happen again under better circumstances.
Considering the formidable musical achievements of Joe South, his last words — “Thanks for putting up with us” — seemed incredibly ironic. At this time in our development of a youth culture, we need all the bridges we can get, and Joe South may very well be the most important bridge between white country music and black blues and pop that we have. Certainly if one listens to his album Intercept, he will get one of the most all-inclusive statements of the Southern hip youth experience available anywhere.
Mother Earth followed South, and again the sound hassles seemed insurmountable. Tracy Nelson was there guzzling bourbon and turning what were probably exciting vocals on ‘Wait’, ‘You Win Again’, and a couple of others. She didn’t sing often enough for me in any of the sets in which Mother Earth performed. Boz Scaggs, an excellent guitarist but a largely uninspired vocalist, did some bluesy numbers and an ‘I Shall Be Released’ that didn’t stir up anybody too much. The bassist was featured on a song that he wrote, and the pianist/organist was the dominant voice on the closing number by Bobby Blue Bland. All in all not very heavy, but the things they did on Saturday with a functioning sound system were a more accurate demonstration of how good this band can be.
Frank Hughes’ Electric Collage light show, one of the finest anywhere, was in operation during the ill-fated Joe South performance, and even though the temperature went way down into the forties, people were grooving, and the loud applause that followed South’s exit from the stage showed that we were prepared to be patient and understanding while the hassles were being worked out.
Dope was everywhere. Various people made announcements (including some absurd compliments on our “peacefulness”), pleas for donations of $1, and at one point Robin Conant asked if we wanted a ballroom in Atlanta. Friday was filled with intimations that much more is going on at these musical events than can be confined within the boundaries of Piedmont Park. One hell of a lot of work was put into this park music festival; a lot of people deserve a lot of credit; and just as in the past, the community must support the developing music scene in Atlanta by its involvement. Whether we have a music of community, or end up as merely another link in a capitalist chain of “music” entrepreneurs is up to us.
© Miller Francis Jr., The Great Speckled Bird, 27 October 1969