By Kimberly M. Aquilina
Bert Holman has been managing the Allman Brothers since 1990, but his affiliation with the band goes back as far as 1970, when he worked for the company that managed the brothers. Holman deals with the business side of the music. He is the man behind the Peach Festival curtain.
From his home in New England, Holman spoke with Highway 81 Revisited about the birth of Peach Music Festival, Gregg Allman’s health and where Peach will be after the band retires.
H81R: How did Peach Music Festival come about?
BH: It’s actually kind of interesting. What happened was, Butch Trucks, one of the family members of the band, got this idea that instead of touring all over the place as we get older, we should do destination locations and try and get people to come to us in festivals, so we can earn more and work less and get people to come see us.
Butch was really hot and heavy on this and, simultaneously, somebody who worked for us brought to my attention a festival site in the panhandle of Florida in a place called Live Oak. … There’s a promoter who is friends with Butch who he was talking to about this idea. …
We basically went in there and made a deal and put together a two-day show, with the Allman Brothers headlining both days. As sort of a first test, it did reasonably well and we expanded on the idea from there. … People were loving this festival, and people in the Northeast were going, “Oh, I wish you guys were doing something like that up here.”
H81R: And after searching far and wide, Scranton just fit the bill?
BH: In talking to Live Nation, in particular in Philadelphia, one place I was thinking about was the Poconos Fairgrounds, Pocono Raceway. I said, “That’s a place that’s a pretty good location, what about that?” and they got back to me and said, “Forget that. We’ve been working in Scranton to try and do a camping festival for a while. We had just gotten the permits to do camping for a couple of thousand people. We were trying to figure out who the act is.” We said, “Great! We got a concept. We were already partners with another one of your divisions in Florida. Let’s do this together in Scranton!”
H81R: How many festivals do you do a year?
BH: We do the Wanee Fest in Florida, and we do a Peach here, and that’s as far as we’ve gotten. Our goal was to do four or five, but part of it is finding the right locations and the right time of year to do these things.
Now, obviously, the Allman Brothers have been talking about retiring this year, and that seems to be the plan. What holds for the future is: I think the festival will continue. The question is who will headline it? I would like to think that the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Gov’t Mule will continue to be major components of this festival to carry on the Allman feel. Gregg is still doing some solo dates, and I think there is potential that he will play them as well.
H81R: The local talk is that Gregg may not make it through Peach since he’s been hospitalized quite a few times recently.
BH: Well, what happened is the last time he got a little faint and light-headed because of medication he was taking and took a fall in the bathroom. And when he took the fall, he went face first into the side of the tub.
It really bruised him up and he was really swollen and it made it hard for him to sing that night. He looked like hell. He just said, “Look, I can’t do these dates. I got to figure out what’s going on with this medication.” Oh, and also, when he was at the Wanee Fest, he broke his wrist in sort of a fluke golf cart accident. He stuck his arm out and the golf cart lurched and he smacked his arm and broke his wrist. So when he fainted, he not only hit his head, but he smacked his wrist that he had just gotten out of the cast and it also swelled on him.
H81R: Is he one of those guys that disaster just finds?
BH: Actually, he’s not, and he’s been very durable. Now, he had a problem at the Beacon (Theater), which was pneumonia, and it got to the point where he couldn’t breathe because his lungs got so cloudy. A couple weeks later, with the right medication and treatment, he clears that up and he goes to Wanee and breaks his wrist. He plays at Wanee with his arm in a cast, then gets it operated on, goes to Australia, starts having problems with fluids in his wrist in Australia where his wrists swelled up so he had to come home. … He couldn’t do the last two dates he was supposed to do. He had to get operated on a second time to relieve the pressure from the fluid. That’s all healing up, and then this other fluke accident.
And you gotta remember, this is a guy who had a liver transplant, so everything gets really complicated.
H81R: What makes Peach different than a festival in Bethel, N.Y., or on the air force base that Phish used?
BH: Our concept of this festival is not Bonnaroo. It’s not 150,000 people. It’s our goal to have 15- or 20,000 people to make it like a boutique festival, so everybody has a reasonably good seat and everybody has a reasonably good time and doesn’t feel like they’re staying six miles out and have a shitty campground and everything is so far apart.
H81R: How does the local talent add to the festival’s vibe?
BH: I think it sort of makes the festival special, sort of having the national acts to draw people in and the local acts get the chance to be exposed and at the same time there’s a budget. If you live locally, you can afford the local acts. I think this band Cabinet has played the last couple of years, and they’ve built a pretty big following, and we’re pretty excited for them and happy to have them on board.
H81R: Will you get the chance to enjoy the area a little or will it be all work for you?
BH: I actually have a friend from college who grew up Scranton, and I’ve played Scranton a lot of times over the years, so I’m real familiar with the area.
H81R: Well, welcome back to Scranton!
BH: I’ve been to Steamtown. I want to go to Houdini (museum) this year…
H81R: Have you done the coal mine tour?
BH: I have not done the coal mine tour. That’s sounds cool.
H81R: The Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour. It’s the one thing you have to do.
BH: Oh, I’ll go check it out… I’ll tell my wife and put her on the case. Thanks for the heads up!