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Date of Issue: October 26, 2006

Remembering Gregg Allman on Anna Maria Island

bluesfest allman pic

The 16th Annual Carl Balck GMC Sarasota Blues Fest will be at the Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th St., Sarasota, Oct. 28.

Headlining the show is Gregg Allman, who has roots to Anna Maria Island, as well as Jamie Eubanks, Sarasota All-Stars, Devon Allman's Honeytribe, Maria Muldaur and Magic Slim & the Teardrops.

Allman lived on the Island during the late 1970s and ran into a bit of trouble at a favorite watering hole in Bradenton Beach in the form of an open-container charge. Bradenton Beach Vice Mayor Lisa Marie Phillips remembers that fateful day.

"I was 16 when the Oar House was in it's last days. Before the fire, it was a real draw; very popular and packed on weekends. The music was always rock - southern rock and blues - and the merry crowd would spill onto the beach for overflow seating.

"Being a child of the 1960s and '70s with a very young mother, I was heavily into rock and roll. We idolized the southern rock bands, especially the Allman Brothers, which is why when Gregg showed up with some bikers at the Oar House, my mother called me at home and said, 'Grab your camera.'

"When I arrived, the action was already taking place out front. The local officers were taking Gregg to task over an open container, or some such issue, and the bikers were all crowding around to protect their star. Initially, I wanted to just get pictures of Gregg Allman as a fan, but the minute I raised my camera, I was thwarted by some of the bikers. They didn't want any pictures. I was lucky to keep my camera.

"Since I was a photographer for the Manatee High School yearbook, I considered myself something of a photojournalist, and had black-and-white film in my old Nikon. I'm not sure what inspired me, but I started shooting 'from the hip.' I held the camera at my waist and hoped for the best.

"I watched as they had Gregg empty his pockets, laying his wallet and pocket change on top of the squad car. Then they turned him to face the car in order to search him. That's the image I captured: Gregg Allman with arms raised and resting on the roof of the car, with his possessions between them, ready to be frisked.

"The images were few, but good, and I thought it would be so cool to show them to Manatee High's student newspaper. What actually followed was a whirlwind.

"I called the phone number listed in People magazine and they agreed to pay me $200 for the photo, which seemed a fortune to me in the 1970s. I received calls from the National Enquirer and others after that, but I had promised People an exclusive. Before the issue was released, it was brought to my attention that it may draw Mr. Allman's ire and I actually had the opportunity to speak with him about it as he was so frequently out and about on the Island in those days. He said he didn't care.

"The photo appeared in print in People with 'Dutch Sapienza' credited, my nickname and maiden name."

Oar House owner David Reid also remembered those times.

"Gregg used to come in at all hours, including our morning happy hour (from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. for the Tropicana late shift). In the morning he drank Ouzo. A shot. Evenings it was more Cutty and coke, the first time I had ever heard the combo and I've mixed a lot of drinks.

"After the arrest, the place was a living memorial for him. My partner and I rented the jukebox outright so all profits went into our pockets, no split like on the pinball machines, and we loaded the juke with Allman Brothers' 45s. Unfortunately only one really rang true to our customers, and I thought I'd go off the deep end - dangerous at a beach bar - if I heard 'Midnight Rider' one more time.

"It was during this hype that other 'celebs' dropped in. I'd do the bar for the backstage at Van Wezel and the promoters would give them a map to the Oar House. Tom Waites and Leon Redbone both ventured out, and of course Dickey Betts, and Dickey's wife even brought Gregg's wife out one afternoon. She is known in her own right as Cher."

And then there was that fateful Sunday afternoon when the Allman Brothers put on a show at the Oar House.

"They brought out their equipment Saturday night, then Sunday morning all hell broke loose. The roads to Bradenton Beach were packed, we sold out of beer - all of it - and we carried Pabst Blue Ribbon Light. Budweiser brought a truck out to the Island and we almost sold it completely down. We drove two pickups to Cortez and loaded the bed full of ice from Star Fish Co. As fast as the beer would chill it went out over the bar.

"A good time."

Reid also remembered that when the bar burned down, Gregg had an outstanding tab of $154.75, but with all the publicity given to the Oar House by the singer, all was forgiven.

Gates open at 11 a.m. Gregg Allman and Friends perform at 8 p.m. Tickets are $19 in advance at Ticketmaster, $25 at the gate.

Bring back the good times.