It’s time for the 18th GABBAfest! This festival has been going on since 1997 (with a couple interruptions). Macon is the home once again for this great little fest September 22-24.
Ah, but what, you ask, is GABBAfest? Good question. It’s a great acronym for Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association. Now that makes sense!
The schedule looks like this:
Friday, September 22 at the Douglass Theatre – Lefty Collins and the No Mercy Band. Royal Johnson will be there as well, with Paul Hornsby and Bennie Mobley in tow. GABBAfest registration at 5:00, doors at 6:00, show at 7:00.
Saturday September 23
▪ at the Big House Museum – the GABBA Members Jam hosted by Royal Johnson 1:00 – 4:00
▪ at the Douglass Theatre – An Evening with The Freight Train with special guests Vaylor Trucks and Melody Trucks and Cody Dickinson and Luther Dickinson. Doors at 6:30, show at 7:30. The Freight Train Band are: Heather Gillis, guitar, vocals; Damon Fowler, guitar, vocals; Bruce Katz, keyboards; Garrett Dawson, percussion; Matt Walker, bass; and Justin Headly, drums.
Sunday, September 24 — Afternoon at the Big House – The GABBA Hangover with Artist at Large Kunio Kishida and Sanctified Revival
Also on hand will be special weekend guest/artist at large Lamar Williams, Jr., who was performing regularly with Les Brers.
We were so excited and ready for Wanee Wednesday, the day set aside as a tribute to Butch Trucks.
Which got us set up for the night’s big finale. For many, this was THE set of the weekend. Luther and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars joined up with The Freight Train Band, and there was talk about “people” coming to sit in on this set. Ultimately — and fortunately — this was about the band that Butch had put together, bringing to a close Wanee Wednesday: Remembering Butch Trucks.
To everyone’s delight, we were greeted first by Melody Trucks, a fine singer and daughter of the late ABB drummer. Immediately, the band stomped on “Hot ‘Lanta.” Bruce Katz was first out of the gate on Hammond B3. Over the years, Katz has been such a stalwart in the ABB family, working with Gregg Allman, Les Brers, and The Freight Train Band. Then it was a guitar onslaught from Vaylor Trucks, Heather Gillis, and Luther Dickinson. Vaylor, Butch’s son, played with Butch for the first time two years ago at Wanee, and he leads his own incredible band The Yeti Trio. Gillis was “adopted” by Butch and has blossomed into an amazing player; this was by far the finest of the dozen or so performances I’ve seen of hers — at the ancient age of 22. There was also a tremendous walking bass passage, and we discovered it was another young man from Tampa named Matt Walker.
Melody returned to the stage to belt “Trouble No More,” featuring some great lap steel work from Damon Fowler; yes, this band had four amazing guitar slingers! He turned it into a flat-out boogie. What followed was so magnificent and unexpected that heads were nodding everywhere: an incendiary version of Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam.” Vaylor TORE. IT. UP. And the entire band just killed it, Katz in particular.
Fowler crooned a great version of William Bell’s “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday” along with Melody, who also sang “Statesboro Blues.” Gillis wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals on “Dreams” and a great solo; Fowler was back on lap steel, and Junior Mack from Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band joined in. That meant there were five guitars on stage for an excellent Little Walter tune up next. During “Ophelia,” Mack left but Ben Sparaco jumped in.
It was crying time next — for me, anyway. When they began “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and got to the section where there are normally two guitars in unison, but now there were four, well, tears began to fall. It was that magnificent. Gillis, Luther, Vaylor, Katz and then Fowler all dug in deep. Walker was simply incredible, and then the drums had a fine outing: Cody Dickinson, Justin Hedley and Garrett Dawson.
20 amazing minutes. It was everything we had hoped for — to infinity and beyond. The beyond part? Oh, that would be the 15-minute “Whipping Post” encore! Butch was grinning from ear to ear, no doubt.