By Max Stewart
We all hope we can somehow make a positive impact with our limited time on this planet. Sure, there are world leaders, politicians, scientists, and many other prominent figures that shape the future of human civilization with major contributions, but that type of spark and brilliancy can come in many forms.
Bruce Hampton, without a doubt, was one of the most impactful figures in music. Hampton was an Atlanta native that is widely regarded as the godfather of the ‘jam’ community. Hampton’s musical forte included a unique blend of stylistic seasoning, from gospel to avant-garde jazz and all things in between. He acted as a shepherd of musical talent, giving folks like Jimmy Herring and Oteil Burbridge a foundation for their careers. Hampton’s buddha-like sensibility inspired many such as Mike Gordon and John Popper to embrace the intent and selfless pursuit to musicianship. Derek Trucks shined a light on Hampton’s impact while speaking on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast: “[Hampton was] a minor league baseball coach for musicians. A lot of people come through him, and he’ll take talented musicians and kind of shatter them into a thousand pieces and then they reform as just more realized humans… He would hit me with the right book or the right record at the right time, turn me on to Son House or the aspects of Howlin’ Wolf’s thing that you should be focusing in on.”
On Friday evening, Hampton’s wide-reaching musical tribe came together four years after he passed away on stage during the encore of his 70th birthday concert at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre to honor his legacy at Roswell GA’s From the Earth Brewing Company.
It was a beautiful night and one could certainly feel it in the air that the audience was elated to be back together enjoying the magic of live performance. I attended the show with a good friend who lost his mother a few weeks ago, and it was no doubt a poignant and cathartic event as the void of no live music for many months was filled by the zambi spirit of the evening.
Dubbed “Zeee Day Soiree: An Intergalactic Convergence of Time and Space” (Zelebrating the Zife, Zegacy, and Zusic of Zruce Zampton),” the concert featured the second-ever performance by Atlanta-based supergroup as the main band, The Hues of Miriam, who includes a group of Col. Bruce Hampton alumni: Jacob Deaton (Col. Bruce Hampton), Nick Johnson (Randall Bramblett), Kevin Scott (Jimmy Herring, John McLaughlin), Darren Stanley (Jimmy Herring), and Matt Slocum (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Railroad Earth). This band also played a fantastic show at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse as a tribute to the Atlanta Pop Festival, which we covered in 2019.
There was also revolving cast of special guests throughout the show that included Grant Green Jr., Rev Jeff Mosier (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Blueground Undergrass), Sunny Ortiz (Widespread Panic), Adam Perry (Perpetual Groove), Kebbi Williams (Tedeschi Trucks Band), Gaurav Malhotra, and Bobby Lee Rodgers. The venue itself, From The Earth Brewing Company, has been a blessing to the music community in greater Atlanta during the pandemic, keeping a handful of safe outdoor concerts going over the last year thanks to owner Tim Stevens.
As the sun was setting over Roswell, GA, the band started the first set by doing the late Little Richard‘s “Lucille,” with Jacob Deaton singing soulful lead vocals and trading guitar licks with and Nick Johnson. Perpetual Groove‘s Adam Perry also would seamlessly alternate bass duties with Kevin Scott throughout the night. With Widespread Panic‘s own Sunny Ortiz laying down the percussion, the band did a masterful rendition of WSP’s “Can’t Get High” that got the crowd out of their camping chairs and dancing in the evening sun.
Grant Green Jr. joined the band for a few tunes, including for The Temptations‘ “Just My Imagination,” providing some superb guitar and vocal phrasing at the end of the song. As the sun started to set and the stage lights shined brightly over the audience, the legendary Rev. Jeff Mosier joined the band and played a commanding version of “Fixin to Die,” a mainstay to Hampton’s live performances. The energy during this song was magnetic thanks to solos from Johnson, Deaton, Slocum, and Ortiz, with Mosier and his banjo leading the choir of joyful audience members to close out the first set.
As Mosier proclaimed: “I’m telling you now, we’re actually outside, listening to the music!” He was right, it was a moment that we all needed. We were back.
The second set kicked off with a phenomenal 15 minute rendition of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” by Georgia’s own Allman Brothers Band. The band was really able to harness the power of Jaimoe and Butch Trucks’ two drumming backbone in ABB thanks to the percussive foundation of Stanley, Malhotra, and Ortiz. Nick Johnson then sang lead vocals for “Compared to What,” a stalwart of Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, in which Slocum provided some tasty keys.
“I’m So Glad” was another high water mark of the evening, with Mosier on lead vocals and Bobby Lee Rodgers bringing additional guitar support. Green Jr. returned to the stage for a funk-filled cover of “There Was A Time” from another Atlanta musical icon, James Brown. The band kept the Georgia artist theme going with a downtempo cover of Gnarls Barkley‘s “Crazy” (from Atlanta’s own CeeLo Green).
Every single stylistic turn of the show felt fluid and natural, akin to the hodgepodge melting pot that was Hampton’s style. Following “Crazy,” Mosier led a cover of “Uncloudy Day” that felt like the perfect counterweight to the previous funk tunes. The night was capped off with “Space is the Place,” in which Tedeschi Trucks Band‘s saxophonist Kebbi Williams joined onstage and added some galactic jazz nuggets to end a fantastic set. As the show ended, it was amazing to embrace friends and faces I had not seen in many months. I even had a great conversation with author Jerry Grillo, who was selling copies of his excellent new book, The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton: A Basically True Biography.
On what would have been his 74th birthday, Hampton continued to bring out the best musical talent and fans of his mystifying ways, with him being the centerpiece and guiding light of it all. The community of musicians who were part of Hampton’s musical orbit came together for something special after what has been a brutal 12 months for the music world.
Hampton’s impact was other-worldly and will continue to shape the music community for years to come. Zambi forever.