BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
MACON – Only a thin iron fence will separate Gregg Allman and his beloved brother Duane in their final resting spots.
Just after 2 p.m. on Saturday, Allman, the co-founder of Southern rock behemoths The Allman Brothers Band, received his final blessings at a Rose Hill Cemetery gravesite, mere feet away from his sibling, as well as fellow Allman Brothers Band bandmate Berry Oakley.
Allman died on May 27 at the age of 69 from complications due to liver cancer.
A bagpiper puffed the mournful tones of “Amazing Grace” as a procession including Allman’s five children – Michael, Elijah Blue, Devon, Delilah Island and Layla Brooklyn – musicians Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Dickey Betts and Peter Frampton; Allman’s wife, Shannon; and ex-wife Cher slowly traversed the rocky walkway to Allman’s coffin.
Thousands of fans, many holding up fingers in a peace gesture or waving homemade signs with declarations of Allman love, crowded on the stone steps above and around the flower-laden coffin, keeping a respectful distance from the family and close friends gathered under the green canopy.
“We had to come down,” said Andrew Bleke, sweat-drenched in his Allman Brothers Band T-shirt. The Buckhead resident and his friends Ed Addison and Ballard Ward drove to Macon that morning, with Allman Brothers Band music blaring in the car. “That music just speaks to your soul. And the voice? Gregg’s voice is unmistakable.”
Earlier in the day, several hundred fans set up lawn chairs under desperately sought squares of shade on the perimeter of Snow’s Memorial Chapel, the well-manicured building in downtown Macon. Duane Allman’s funeral arrangements were handled at the same location in 1971.
Though Gregg Allman was born in Nashville and the band formed in Jacksonville, Fla., its creative home was Macon, home to their Capricorn Records label, which produced dozens of now-classic staples on rock radio – “Ramblin’ Man,” “Melissa” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” among them.
Local resident Amanda Williamson said she was proud that Allman was part of the musical history of Macon.
“Being your hometown, it’s nice that it’s being recognized,” she said.
A pack of limousines delivered family members to the chapel entrance on Cherry Street, which was closed to traffic.
President Jimmy Carter, a longtime friend of Allman’s, attended with his son, Chip; they arrived in a white passenger van that zipped around to the back entrance.
Cher, in a fashionable hat and black and white pants ensemble, exited a dark Suburban with her head down, wearing dark sunglasses and a somber expression.
She and Carter shared a hug inside the chapel.
Those in attendance during the intimate ceremony of fewer than 200 people included Live Nation Atlanta president Peter Conlon and Allman’s longtime publicist Ken Weinstein. They described a warm, loving presentation that focused on Allman’s dedication as a father.
Eulogies were delivered by Allman children Devon, Delilah Island and Layla Brooklyn, as well as Duane Allman’s daughter Galadrielle, Allman’s trusted manager Michael Lehman and his lifelong friend Hewell “Chank” Middleton Jr. – all who knew that “Gregg Allman” was the performer, but “Gregory Allman” was the man.
Among the sentiments shared was that Allman “healed himself with music and he healed the world with music.” The gathered flock sang the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” before pallbearers Elijah Blue, Devon and Michael Allman, Trucks and Middleton carried the coffin out of the chapel.
After the short procession from Snow’s Memorial Chapel to Rose Hill Cemetery – where more fans lined Riverside Drive – the gravesite ceremony commenced.
As the 10-minute service concluded, Cher plucked a white rose from the flower blanket draping the coffin as she and several others paused at the fence surrounding the tombstones of Duane Allman and Oakley.
Moments after the mourners departed, a freight train rumbled by a few hundred yards away — a powerful, final salute to Southern rock royalty.