As one of the few musicians to perform in New York just before and just after the coronavirus effectively shut down live music in the city, Derek Trucks witnessed the impact of the pandemic firsthand. On March 10th, the guitarist joined fellow former members of the Allman Brothers Band, including co-founder and drummer Jaimoe, for a 50th-anniversary tribute at Madison Square Garden. Billed as “The Brothers,” the lineup, which also featured guitarist and singer Warren Haynes and bassist Oteil Burbridge from the last ABB, ripped through nearly four hours of classic Allmans material, and the show also served as a send-off to Gregg Allman and drummer Butch Trucks, who both died in 2017.
Two days later, Trucks — along with his wife and musical partner Susan Tedeschi as well as Dave Matthews, Jackson Browne, Cyndi Lauper, Leon Bridges, and others — participated in the Love Rocks NYC benefit at the Beacon Theatre, benefiting God’s Love We Deliver. By then, all events and gatherings of more than 500 people were banned in New York, and the show proceeded as a livestream, with only select venue and artist personnel and media in attendance.
Starting tonight, the Tedeschi Trucks Band will offer up a free, regular Thursday series of pro-shot live concerts on their Facebook page; the first will be a Red Rocks show from 2019. (Links for charity donations will be included; tonight’s episode will benefit MusiCares’ COVID-19 relief fund.) Rolling Stone spoke with Trucks after he had returned home to Jacksonville, Florida, following his New York trip.
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Last week’s Allman Brothers tribute at the Garden was one of the last major arena shows before live music was essentially shut down across the country.
When we first got to New York about a week before, there were no restrictions and no one was really thinking about [the virus] too much. I was being OCD with Purell, but you eat out; you’re on the road and that’s what you do.
But now a thousand things go through your head — one being, “Shit, should we have done that?” The demographic of the Allman Brothers is kind of a prime candidate [for the virus]. So that felt a little weird. But information was rolling out at such a trickle that it was hard to make sense of anything.
It’s being reported that baby boomers seem the least concerned with contracting the coronavirus.
I know, man. It’s really crazy. I have friends whose parents were so stubborn about [attending the show]: “You’re the one who needs to stay home or you’ll be fucked. It’ll be over.” But their parents weren’t hearing it.
It was one-off celebration of 50 years of the band and it was sold out. But I know a bunch of people who had tickets who didn’t come. My parents were unable to make it. They were worried about traveling and their doctor told them not to hop on a plane to New York. So that was bittersweet in a lot of ways. You wish it had been slammed to the rafters and everyone wouldn’t have had that in the back of their mind.
Did all of you consider canceling or postponing?
I certainly was floating it around in my head, but it wasn’t my call. It was just starting to dawn on everyone that day that this isn’t something to fuck around with. We were doing four days of rehearsals and everyone was playing that music for the first time in a while and telling stories and remembering people we’d lost. You’re kind of in two different worlds.
You’re of two minds. If you postpone six or eight months, you never know how it’s going to be between now and then. But it also felt like one of the last moments for a long time when people would be able to suspend reality and let go.
How was the mood backstage?
You were definitely trying to avoid shaking hands and getting too close to people. There was a lot of Purell. Everyone was OCD-ing washing their hands. I had guests, but I stayed in the dressing room and saw just my immediate family and crew. I try to self-quarantine before a gig anyway to make sure my head’s in the right place. So in that sense it wasn’t that different.
Did you take the hand sanitizer onstage with you?
Not onstage, but my guitar tech was making sure his hands and the guitars were clean! I had my Purell in my pocket until I hit the stage. I had a glass of bourbon onstage. I thought it might help on some level. Over 100 proof — I felt that could burn something off me [laughs].
Then two days later you played the Love Rocks benefit to hardly anyone in the audience.
That was the day they shut down, no gatherings over 500 people. So they did the show just for the webcast with maybe 200 or 300 guests in the audience. It felt so strange to look at over the Beacon and see a few hundred people dancing and having a good time but keeping their distance. It was an odd scene. That one felt like the last party before the end of the world.
Now that you’re back home, how are you feeling?
I’m feeling alright. Sometimes you get home from touring and you feel a little funky and normally you wouldn’t think twice about it. But now you’re like, “Huh.” I don’t have the fever so I’m thinking I’m probably OK. There was a lot of pollen on the ground when we got home. It feels like I should probably get tested. But you need to stay home and quarantine for two weeks. You don’t want to be responsible for passing it along. My parents are right down the street. My grandfather is a mile away. So you can’t take that chance.
Looking back at the Brothers show, what was it like to look over and not see Gregg or Butch onstage?
It’s an impossible void. When this idea first came up, I was probably the last hold-out. I was having a hard time wrapping my head around what it was going to be and if it needed to be. It’s tough playing music without Gregg and Butch there. But when Jaimoe called me and asked me to do it, I told him, “You’re the only one who could ask me and I would say, ‘Of course, I’ll be there.’”
You see Gregg’s widow before the gig and you know people are wanting to feel certain things and you’re trying to do it right and give everyone what they want. I was really proud of everyone onstage. I thought everyone’s head was in the right place. That’s hard to do. There’s a lot of history with everyone on that stage, and you never know how that’s going to shake out. But it felt good. The spirit felt right.
It’s unfortunate that Dickey Betts wasn’t able to attend.
One of the first things we talked about is that if it was going to be tribute to the music those guys made, we had to invite Dickey. That was the stipulation out of the gate. There was a letter sent, but I ended up calling him. He said he couldn’t travel right now, but he was such a gentleman. He said, “You guys have fun up there. You guys kill it.”
Despite your initial hesitations, would you be willing to do more such shows given how well received that one was?
It doesn’t change my feelings about it. It was even better than I had hoped, and I had pretty high hopes. But my feeling is, it’s special because it was a one-off. I don’t know how long you could run down the road playing that music before it became something else. That legacy means so much to me and our family and I don’t want to do anything to diminish it.
I was apprehensive about doing this one because I felt the last [Allman Brothers Band] show in 2014 was unique in music history. It’s rare that a band goes out on that kind of note. There was something beautiful about that night. This show felt more like a tip of the hat to that legacy and everyone who had played in that band and the people we’ve lost. It felt like a send-off to Butch and Gregg. I know they would have been jacked to know they sold out the Garden so quickly [laughs]. But for me I don’t see it [continuing]. Who knows what everyone else is feeling, but I don’t know if I would feel right about it.
What music are you listening to in times like these?
I don’t know if it changes too much. The music we generally listen to is music that puts you in a good place. I’ve been on a Mahler kick for a few years. But Leonard Cohen seems to be pretty good at a time like this. Remember the one he put out right before he passed, You Want It Darker? Incredibly timely right now.
What’s the status of the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s summer tour?
In some ways, our timing has been somewhat incredible. We don’t have anything scheduled until late June. And we’ll make a decision when the time comes. We’ll have our asses handed to us if we don’t do the summer and fall tours. We have a 12-piece band and a lot of employees and it would be a hit. We’re always of the mindset that the show must go on.
But this is one of the first times when that’s just not possible or it’s the wrong thing to do. Usually it’s the right thing to do: When there’s a disaster, you think, “What do we do, play? Fuck yeah — people need it. They need something that’s not stressful and awful.” But this is a situation where you’re putting people at risk by putting on a concert. It’s a different calculus.
We’re incredibly fortunate to be just sitting at home and not thinking about it for a minute. I know a lot of people who work gig to gig who aren’t working now and I wonder how that’s all going to shake out. Thinking about our future is generally not something musicians excel at, so I worry about a lot of my peers.
Well, let’s hope you feel better.
We’re holing up at home and I have to say it’s nice. We’re getting a lot of spring cleaning done. Reading and hanging out with the kids. Fishing in the creek in the backyard. It’s a good time to write some tunes and start a record. We have a studio on the property behind our house and we’ve made all the Tedeschi Trucks Band records there. We have a farm outside Macon and we’ve already dug a well up there so we can get water. We could hold out there a good long while.
Slowing down can actually be productive. Read a book, turn off your goddamn phone. We [Americans] can do this. I think we can, man. We’re a pretty resilient bunch when push comes to shove. We just have to turn down the selfish knob by about three points.