It didn’t matter what night you went to The Great Southeast Music Hall, Farrell Roberts would be there, always working at something. Mainly he designed and directed the stage lighting but he’d take on most any task. There was Farrell working in the Music Hall’s record shop. Better yet, there was Farrell escorting Emmylou Harris from the stage to the dressing room. Maybe Farrell would help bus the tables in the Emporium, the Music Hall’s restaurant. He’s a team player.
So it wasn’t surprising that 40 years after the Music Hall closed its doors, Farrell Roberts would plan a reunion for the club’s employees and patrons last Sunday evening. Over 500 people were at Smith’s Old Bar to see what Farrell had planned. Most of the tickets went fast. The event not only promised performances by Darryl Rhoades and Thermos Greenwood, but also chances to catch up with friends — all music afficionados whose cherished memories were those many nights spent at the Music Hall.
In a way, The Great Southeast Music Hall served as Atlanta’s cultural learning center. Spend a month in town and one could see for little more than $5 nightly such artists as Al Kooper, Jimmy Buffett, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Roger McGuinn, Jim Croce, Gary Burton, and The New Riders of The Purple Sage. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were regulars too. They loved the Music Hall. Over five years, they made many appearances, giving two shows nightly for most of a week. The packed crowds would see the group perform their hits “Mr. Bojangles” and “House At Pooh Corner” but more importantly, witness their prowess at a musical genre we now call Americana.
When Darryl Rhoades and the Hahavishnu Orchestra played the Music Hall in the mid ’70s, it felt as if his fan base had taken control of Broadview Plaza, the vast L-shaped shopping center in which the Music Hall was located.
The Music Hall also grabbed a lot of international attention when it staged the Sex Pistols’ first American concert. Even with all the press and security crowding things, the laid-back Music Hall vibe prevailed. Johnny Rotten climbed on to the stage, saying, “My name’s John and this is the Sex Pistols,” then kicking off the show with “God Save the Queen.” Musically, their concert was hardly a high watermark for the Music Hall, after all we had seen Jerry Garcia, Tom Waits, Muddy Waters and so many others there before. So never mind the bollocks and never mind the concert’s assumed sociological implications, it was another fun evening at our favorite venue.
The Great Southeast Music Hall opened in October ’72 with Jonathan Edwards (“Sunshine”) the main attraction. Many great acts would follow over the years. After all, Atlanta was becoming a major stop for performers across all the musical genres. Acts who couldn’t fill the Omni or the Fox Theatre would fill right at home at the Music Hall. They would find an inquisitive and encouraging audience. Some, like Jimmy Buffett and Billy Joel, who shared the same bill one night in January ’74, would move on to those larger arenas. People at the Music Hall that night would remember it as one of those I-saw-him-when … moments. Another great memory like all the others shared on Sunday night at Smith’s Old Bar. Thank you, Farrell Roberts.