Hampton 70: A Musical Celebration Like No Other May 4, 2017 15:45
When I heard that there would be a 70th birthday celebration for Col. Bruce Hampton at The Fox Theatre, I knew that I had to be there. After reading through the star-studded lineup, there was no doubt that this would be one of the most unique musical experiences of my life. With members of Widespread Panic, Phish, Aquarium Rescue Unit, The Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule, Blues Traveler, and so many more scheduled to perform, the possibilities for this show were endless. This lineup was a true testament to the immeasurable influence that Col. Bruce Hampton made on the world of music, and the ultimate experience was one that no one could prepare for.
The show got started just after 7:30 PM, with the evening's emcee introducing a cast featuring many frequent Col. Bruce collaborators, such as Darren Stanley, Matt Slocum, Carter Herring, and Ike Stubblefield. The Colonel was eventually brought to the stage, wearing a blue blazer, and led the group through "There Was A Time." The show's first featured guest was Oliver Wood, who was backed by Slocum, Darick Campbell, Duane Trucks (Widespread Panic) and others. As soon as Wood began working through two originals from The Wood Brothers catalog ("Sing About It" and "Postcards From Hell"), it became apparent that anything was fair game. Before long, Susan Tedeschi was on stage trading lines with Wood. San Diego Padres' pitcher Jake Peavy and 14-year-old guitar prodigy Brandon “Taz” Niederauer were then introduced and led the charge through "Oh Pretty Woman" and "Shake Your Hips."
Next up was a serving a blues and jamgrass royalty, as Rev. Jeff Mosier took the stage alongside John Popper of Blues Traveler and Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon. This combo, backed by Trucks, Kevin Scott, Emil Wrestler, Matt Slocum would eventually be joined by legendary drummer Jeff Sipe, aka Apt. Q-258 for a rousing take on "She Caught The Katy." It wasn't long before Kevin Kinney, Hardy Morris, Todd Snider, Peter Buck, Dave Schools were brought out to continue the magic. At this point, it was nearly impossible to keep up with who we had seen versus who was yet to come, but we would be quickly reminded as Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule), Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers Band / Rolling Stones), Jon Fishman (Phish), and saxophonist Karl Denson took the stage. The energy reached a new level during "Rip This Joint," and the combo of Fishman and Sipe during "Compared To What" and "Good Morning 'Lil School Girl" was as heavy as it gets.
Duane Trucks stepped in for Sipe and joined Fishman behind the kit for "More Trouble Everyday," which would lead up to one of the evening's many highlights. The cast of Derek Trucks, Haynes, Leavell, Schools, Buck, Fishman, and (Duane) Trucks played the Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica" to absolute perfection. John Bell of Widespread Panic made his first appearance for "Time Is Free," and would stick around for "Don't Cry Not More," which would also feature Tedeschi on vocals.
Watch the performance of "Jessica" here:
As the show proceeded into its third hour, the Colonel returned to the stage for the evening's final performances. After leading the way through "Yield Not To Temptation," Hampton took the microphone for one of his long-time staples, "Fixin' To Die." Watching the Colonel turning, pointing, and singing those words to so many of his oldest friends and collaborators will forever be a surreal memory. He would remain on stage for the final three songs of the nearly four hour set: "Don't Go In The Room," "Space Is The Place," and a cover of Cream's "I'm So Glad" that had an especially spiritual feel to it.
After the stage briefly cleared, nearly forty performers returned to the stage for one last nod to the godfather of jam. The encore began with in classic fashion, as ARU drummer Jeff Sipe led the massive group through "Zambi Military Ensemble," creating the feel of am early 90's Aquarium Rescue Unit Show. This epic celebration would end with none other than "Turn On Your Lovelight," with Tedeschi, Wood, and Hampton rotating verses.
As Colonel walked over to young Taz (Brandon Niederauer) and signaled him to solo, we would all witness the unthinkable. Col. Bruce appeared to take a knee, as if giving praise to the young prodigy, and proceeded to slowly, peacefully lay down behind him (with an arm propped onto a monitor). This was a man known for his wild theatrics, giving no reason for initial concern as he lied motionless on the stage. Video footage shows those surrounding him smiling and laughing at each other, waiting for his dramatic rise for the song's conclusion. But as several minutes passed with no movement, a feeling of concern was felt throughout the theatre, and it became evident that this was no joke. Several people rushed from the side stage to check on Hampton, the music abruptly stopped, and Billy Bob Thornton quickly addressed the crowd as the curtains were frantically closed.
Those closer to the stage could see the immediate medical attention being applied to Col. Bruce, as the majority of us exited the building in total shock and confusion. Multiple ambulances were on the scene within minutes, and many witnessed Hampton being taken away in a frenzy to the hospital. Within the next two hours, the news began to spread that world had lost Col. Bruce Hampton. I can honestly say that this was a wave of emotions that I'd never dreamed of experiencing. The entire evening was surreal; witnessing so many musical heroes on stage together.
Watching the Colonel get carried off stage is an image that I'll never forget. But as the tributes and memoirs have piled in this week, this ending does seem beautifully poetic in many ways. Col. Bruce left this earthly life during the closing moments of his own musical celebration. His final act was showcasing and praising one of music's brightest young stars, while surrounded by 30+ world class musicians who considered him one of their greatest influences. Hampton 70 was truly a celebration like no other; honoring one of the most unique souls to ever walk this planet. While his presence will be missed by so many, we should all take comfort in knowing that his influence will be felt across the musical spectrum far beyond our time.
Setlist: Hampton 70 - A Celebration of Col. Bruce Hampton - 05.01.17
Set: There Was A Time, Postcards From Hell, Sing About It, Feelin’ Good, Oh Pretty Woman, Shake Your Hips, She Caught The Katy, Working On A Building, Put Down That Cane, Play A Train Song, Stupid Preoccupations, When You Come Back, Rip This Joint, Compared To What, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl > Trouble Every Day, Jessica, Time Is Free, Trondossa, Smokestack Lightning > Cry Cry Cry, Basically Frightened, Fixin’ To Die, Space Is The Place, I’m So Glad
Encore: Zambi > Turn On Your Lovelight