Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley performed “Midnight Rider” to open the 2017 CMT Music Awards in honor of late Southern-rock icon Gregg Allman. The country trio was joined by Derek Trucks, former member of a later incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band, on guitar.
Shrouded in shadow, Aldean, Rucker and Kelley began the song a cappella, trading lines, with Aldean remarking, “This is for the one and only, Mr. Gregg Allman.” As the three joined the backing band and the song kicked in to full gear, Trucks emerged to lay down some slippery licks and, later, a wicked solo. The last verse fell to Aldean, who seized the opportunity to revisit his bar-band roots.
“Midnight Rider” has been a favorite song to perform and record by country artists, especially since Allman died on May 27th at 69 from complications of liver cancer. Eric Church reverently covered the track during his Nashville concert, just hours after news broke of Allman’s death, and Lady Antebellum delivered a mournful version that same weekend.
But “Midnight Rider” was already being reinterpreted shortly after Allman wrote the song in 1971. On 1974’s The Ramblin’ Man, Waylon Jennings offered his take, with Willie Nelson following suit later for 1979’s soundtrack to The Electric Horseman.