The inaugural Laid Back Festival kicked off last year in New York, but 2016 marked the first time the Gregg Allman-curated mini-tour stopped by Chicago, unrolling itself on the downtown lakefront of FirstMerit Bank Pavilion At Northerly Island. Named after the longtime Allman Brothers Band leader’s debut solo disc, the afternoon and evening affair also featured Peter Frampton, Blackberry Smoke and Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band on the main stage, plus a second helping from several Alligator Records artists such as Lil’ Ed & The Imperials, Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, Roomful Of Blues and Selwyn Birchwood.
From early inclusions of “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” and Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong” through “I’m No Angel” and “Soulshine,” the guys grooved through straight up rock, southern rock, gospel and blues, always adding extemporaneous flourishes beyond the standard album versions.
Perhaps more than any other festival in recent memory, the outing instantly lived up to its name, allowing fans to roam without rushing in between stages that never competed with one another and also take in some multi-cultural tastes and spirits from local sources. Although it wasn’t sold out, the comfortably crowded marathon was up against some pretty stiff competition, including Brian Wilson at the Pitchfork Music Festival, the whole hard rock cast of Chicago Open Air, plus standalone shows from Jonny Lang and Huey Lewis & The News.
In spite of the tremendous talents, Laid Back would’ve surely would’ve beefed up its numbers with one or two more marquee names, but at least those in attendance likely went home satisfied. Allman for one was raring to go as he and an eight piece band (complete with a horn section) further embodied the vibe with a fairly steady split between solo, band and classic cover tunes.
From early inclusions of “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” and Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong” through “I’m No Angel” and “Soulshine,” the guys grooved through straight up rock, southern rock, gospel and blues, always adding extemporaneous flourishes beyond the standard album versions. This was especially the case come back half favorites “Hot ‘Lanta,” “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post,” all of which found Allman and company in feisty form that simply begged for a little more than the mere 70 minutes presented.
Prior to the finale, Frampton actually played slightly longer, also blending some timeless rock remakes with the 40th anniversary celebration of “Frampton Comes Alive!” (one of the best-selling concert collections in history). Though there wasn’t enough time to present the entire four side project, all the main staples appeared, including “Show Me The Way,” “Baby, I Love Your Way,” plus possibly the longest version of “Do You Feel Like We Do” ever performed.
Nonetheless, they all gave Frampton the chance to flex his axe-slinging and talk box chops, suggesting that while he’s sometimes remembered as the softer pop dude with the long locks, he’s really one of the most accomplished and aggressive guitarists of the ‘70s and beyond. Additional evidence came during “Rebel Rebel” (a shout out to childhood pal and one time tour mate David Bowie), Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” “Four Day Creep” from his Humble Pie days and The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which outside of who came after, was practically worth the entire price of admission.
Upcoming concert highlights at FirstMerit Bank Pavilion At Northerly Island include Sublime with Rome (July 17); Heart with Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and Cheap Trick (July 19); Bryan Adams (July 21); Goo Goo Dolls (July 26); Ray LaMontagne (Aug. 6) and Josh Groban with Sarah McLachlan (Aug. 9). For additional details, visit LiveNation.com.