The man who created the Laid Back music festival can’t be in attendance. But his spirit, and influence, will be reflected in every note.
Gregg Allman, who spearheaded this annual all-star event two years ago, died of liver cancer on May 27 at age 69. But his multicity Laid Back Festival still rambles on, hitting six venues this time, including Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, where the whole thing started, on Sunday. “That was one of Gregg’s favorite venues,” said Michael Lehman, the star’s manager for the last 15 years. “That’s why we started the festival there and why we expect this show to be so impactful.”
According to Lehman, the event’s headliners — Jackson Browne, Steve Winwood, Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band and the group led by the Allman Brothers Band’s drummer Jaimoe Johanson — “will each include material that was special to Gregg.”
It’s likely Browne will perform “These Days,” a song Allman recorded for his first solo album, “Laid Back,” in 1973. Browne, a close friend of the Southern singer for four decades, recently told Rolling Stone that Allman “made that song twice as good as it was before he sang it.”
CONTINUING HIS LEGACY
The Laid Back festival began the year after the Allman Brothers Band played its final show during the group’s storied, annual run at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre, in the fall of 2014. “At that point, Gregg didn’t want to tour on a regular basis,” Lehman said. “He wanted to create a festival model where he could play just six or eight times a year and continue his legacy.”
Allman wound up giving his final show at the Laid Back event in Atlanta last October. “He looked and sounded really good,” Lehman said. “Billy Gibbons joined him on his last number, which was ‘One Way Out.’ It was just so fitting to play there because the Allman Brothers got their start in Macon.”
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As strongly as he performed that day, Allman had been battling a serious illness for some time. Back in 2012, he was diagnosed with a recurrence of liver cancer and given no more than 18 months to live. “Most cats have 9 lives — Gregg had 99,” Lehman said.
By 2016, Allman’s health began to fail. In March of that year, he went in to record what would be his final album, “Southern Blood,” which was released on Sept. 8 this year. Though Allman didn’t speak about it directly during the recording, he knew this would be his final album, according to Lehman. Working just four or five hours a day “he was trying to preserve his energy to deliver the best vocal he could,” Lehman said.
A ‘MOVING FINALE’
Allman faced his fate head-on in songs like Dylan’s “Going, Going, Gone,” and Browne’s “Song for Adam,” which addresses a deceased friend. While performing the latter, Allman’s voice faltered on the line about the character who “stopped his singing in the middle of his song.”
“Gregg didn’t complete the verse,” Lehman said. “There was deep meaning there, given his relationship with his late brother, Duane, his relationship with Jackson and with his own life. It all came together in that performance.”
“You can’t script a more moving finale,” said Alan Light, who co-authored Allman’s 2012 autobiography, “My Cross to Bear.” “Through his performances and the songs, the story Gregg set out to tell with this record comes through powerfully.”
“I played final tracks for him the night before he died,” Lehman said. “I think that gave him peace and he was ready to let go.”
The music, however, will continue. Lehman is planning an all-star Allman tribute to be held at the Beacon next year and the Laid Back Festival will remain an annual event. “It was always meant to carry on Gregg’s vision,” Lehman said. “We want to make it something Gregg would be proud of.”
WHAT Laid Back Festival
WHEN | WHERE 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh