Willowbranch Park and the Be-Ins

by Tim Gilmore, 7/24/2021

1. Being Here Now, Then

If he hadn’t been arrested, he would have missed it. And by the time he moved to California, it was almost gone. Coming home a few years later, he could hardly find a trace of that innocently wild magical time.

Randy Scott and Dave Goddard, Willowbranch Park, image courtesy Richard Price

Christmas, 1967, Byron Colley only meant to stay a short while. He had his surfboard and motorcycle out in California, where he’d moved in October. He was visiting family for the holidays. Then somebody called the police. That party at his friend’s place in San Marco was making too much noise. Before the night was over, nine of them were arrested for possession of marijuana.

That kept Byron in Jacksonville until he got off probation in September 1968. It kept him in town during the brief explosion of musical talent, experimentation and cross-fertilization that included the be-ins. There’s something about how certain communities explode with cultural energy at certain times and how some cities feed that growth while others starve it.

Wapaho Aspirin Company, Willowbranch Park, image courtesy Richard Price

“It was that period of time,” Byron says, “December ’67 to September ’68, when the Second Coming was jamming at The Scene and in Willowbranch Park, when Duane Allman came to town, when there was just this feeling in the air, you know.”

Byron Colley today, image courtesy Byron Colley

It’s early afternoon and Byron’s just come in from surfing. Now 72 years old, he still speaks fondly of a golden “magical time” that had “a very very special vibe. There was no fighting, nobody was into politics, thank God, and everything was about music and just being, really, just being.”

Which, inadvertently or not, brings us to the “be-in.” It was like a “sit-in,” but more affirmation than protest, emphasizing everyone’s human “being” (or beingness) and the ethos of “Be Here Now,” which Baba Ram Dass would soon title his countercultural spiritual guidebook.

The “be-in” was a kind of public-park rock n’ roll gathering that spread quickly across the continent after the first such event in San Francisco in 1967. As prelude to San Francisco’s “Summer of Love,” which made that city’s Haight-Ashbury district the capital of the counterculture, urban hippies and psychedelica, its full name, with obvious pun, was the Human Be-In. It featured leftist student protests, San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead and poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg.

poets Michael McClure and Allen Ginsberg, Human Be-In,1967, courtesy California Historical Society

Donna Goddard remembers the wild innocence of that moment too. “I was 15 years old at the time of the be-ins,” she says. “And there were kids younger than me. But you know, it was all so innocent.” That innocence, even in the presence of rule breaking, of breaking norms, hitchhiking and light drug use, is one of the characteristics that’s hard to get across now.

“We’d just lay out there on a blanket beneath the pine trees in the warm afternoon,” Donna says. “We didn’t take many videos or pictures. We just didn’t think of that. That’s not where we were at. It was a happening. It was an experience. That’s what we cared about.”

Willowbranch Park

Sherri Wildstein Meadows has similar memories of the be-ins. Even now, she says, every time she drives by Willowbranch Park, she thinks about those days. “Everybody would bring their blanket to sit on,” she says. “There was the colorful clothing and the hats and the beads. We all grew our hair really long and a lot of the girls never wore makeup, you know. It was all about being natural.”

Sherri says there was “a lot of pot smoking going on back then,” but “then again, that sure beats the hell out of the stuff people are doing today.”

Remembering that spring and summer that seemed to center, for a fleeting moment, on the be-ins, Donna uses words like “beauty” and “trust” again and again.

Donna Goddard, late 1960s, image courtesy Donna Goddard

“It felt like such a beautiful thing to be with everyone in the park. People would be handing out flowers. You’d be laying in the grass. You could leave your stuff, get up and walk around, then come back and your stuff would still be there.” That kind of trust was necessary for what Donna calls “oneness.” And an appreciation of presence and the present. “You appreciated everything around you and it felt perfect,” she says. “It was like nothing can be better than this. It was just pure possibility.”

2. Neighborhood Fallen into the Moment

Growing up in the old neighborhood of Murray Hill, Linda Miller wanted to marry George Harrison of the Beatles. She and her friends wandered the old streets of Riverside, many of whose wealthy original residents had fled to the suburbs and unwittingly made room for artists and musicians without much money. She leapt across Willowbranch Creek with her longhaired boyfriend and watched him play bass guitar at the Armory downtown and in Willowbranch Park.

Linda Miller and Berry Oakley, image courtesy Jim Marshall Photography, LLC

She may not have married George Harrison, but she told Void Magazine’s Matt Shaw, she “came pretty close.” She married Berry Oakley instead. She couldn’t know he would die in a motorcycle accident at age 24 in 1972 (the same age and same way Duane Allman would die in 1971), nor that half a century later, Bass Player Magazine would rank him 46th of “The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time.”

It was Berry’s thin face, framed by a beard and long hair, that drew his band, the Blues Messengers, at producer Leonard Renzler’s request, north from Tampa Bay to Jacksonville with the new name The Second Coming. He’d soon be a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band.

Berry Oakley and Linda Miller, image courtesy Jim Marshall Photography, LLC

“Music was just more and more happening,” Linda said, remembering growing up in these lovely old districts in the affordable years of White Flight. “I became less interested in high school. We’d walk home to my girlfriend’s house through all these beautiful neighborhoods and we’d pick out our houses, you know, smoking cigarettes to be cool, and walk back to one friend’s house where we’d listen to music and, you know, dream and imagine. And this scene evolved. And you know, there were more and more concerts on the weekends.”

She and her friends saw Berry and The Second Coming at the Jacksonville Woman’s Club in Riverside, which may seem now like a strange venue, but once-tony outlets in Jacksonville’s erstwhile grand neighborhoods were often game.

Jacksonville Woman’s Club, courtesy Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission

This was the late 1960s. Rock ’n Roll was shaking conservative America out of its constraints. Growing up in these years meant growing your hair out, a statement both of rebellion and joy, denouncing materialism against parents who learned to grub and cling to money in the Great Depression, noticing the sparkling eyes of the bassist on stage, imagining all the world before your time ignorant of what truth and beauty and adventure you’d found, which, if it didn’t last forever, lasted for now, and the beautiful now was as far as you need imagine. Few others could imagine as much. Youth meant youth meant time didn’t pass like it later would and that meant the beautiful now.

3. Escape from Base

Donna grew up on the Westside, went to Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, and as her father was in the military, lived on base at Naval Air Station Jax, or “N.A.S.” So the best game to play was “Escape from Base.”

Donna Goddard, late 1960s, image courtesy Donna Goddard

She says, “We had a way. There were places you could go under the fence. We’d slide through on a piece of cardboard, then we’d hitchhike and get to the be-ins. We’d hitchhike or meet a friend who had a car. And nobody I knew ever got hurt, never had bad stuff happen to them. It was like the skepticism and mistrust in the cultural climate came later. And this time was much more pure.”

She met her first husband Gary then, though it would take years for a romance to evolve. After all, he was five years older than her. Instantly, however, they were very good friends. One of the few photos to have surfaced from the be-ins is of Gary’s band, the Wapaho Aspirin Company. Reese Wynans doesn’t remember playing with them, but he’s there in the photo, playing keyboards in a black hat.

Wapaho Aspirin Company, Willowbranch Park, image courtesy Richard Price

Donna first met Gary at a teen dance called the Sugar Bowl at Twin Hills Civic Center on Watoma Street in the Westside neighborhood of Cedar Hills. The concrete block building, with breeze blocks around the swimming pool, amidst those ranch style 1960s’ houses, is where I first learned to swim in the early 1980s.

“There were dances every Saturday night,” Donna says. “We didn’t date until well after that experience. And then there was Wapaho. You know the weirder the band name, the better back then.” She thinks “Wapaho” was like “Navajo,” but “‘Wop,’ you know, for Italian, which they didn’t realize was as offensive then.” It was like Navajo plus Italian equaled American.

Willowbranch Park

Donna looks at that be-in photo, identifies Randy Scott on drums, Reese Wynans sitting in on keyboards, Gary Goddard on bass and his brother Dave singing. In another Willowbranch iteration, Gary played with Reese and Fuzzy in a band called Ugly Jelly Roll.

I don’t ask if “jelly roll” refers to the ragtime jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton and that crude “Negro” slang term Thomas Wolfe mentions in his 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel, for “that thing”—says the Blind Blake song “Diddie Wa Diddie”—“you sittin’ on.” Or all, or none, of the above.

Blind Blake, circa 1930

As for James “Fuzzy” Land, Donna says, “I never knew what his name really was. He played drums. He was tall and had this tiny face and this giant head of hair.”

4. The Second Coming

“The Second Coming guys,” keyboardist Reese Wynans says in May 2021, “that was Dickey’s band. Dickey and Berry Oakley. When Dickey and Rhino,” meaning guitarist Larry Reinhardt, who later played with Iron Butterfly, “and Berry put together this band, they had this offer from this guy in Jacksonville.” He’s speaking with much younger guitarist Josh Smith.

Wynans calls it “a portent of things to come” that “they all” moved to Jacksonville in the spring of ’68, while he stayed in Sarasota, “since they’d go on to form the band without me.” He means the Allman Brothers Band. He’ll get to that in a minute.

Reese Wynans and Berry Oakley, Willowbranch Park, image courtesy Richard Price

“As it worked out,” he says, “Dickey’s wife Dale was playing organ with the band and she became pregnant with her first child and when the due date came along, Dickey had to keep playing, even though Dale went into the hospital, so they asked me to come up and fill in for a while.” So he did. He’d bought a new organ and also had what he lovingly calls “my old Wurly,” short for Wurlitzer. Wynans gelled so well with the Second Coming, playing at the club called The Scene and at the be-ins in Willowbranch Park, that he stayed on when Dale returned to the band. Now Dale Betts led vocals and played congas and Reese Wynans played organ.

“I was kind of in awe of Berry Oakley,” says Sherri Wildstein Meadows, who saw the Second Coming play in Willowbranch Park, at the Forest Inn and Jacksonville Beach, then caught the Allman Brothers Band at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970. “But oh, who I really loved,” Sherri says, “was that female singer.”

Dickey and Dale Betts, image courtesy Richard Price

“So that was the Second Coming,” Reese Wynans says. “And Dickey and Dale sang great together.” Dickey sang songs like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “I Got a Mind to Give up Living” and “Born in Chicago,” while Dale sang Jefferson Airplane songs. “So it was a cover band,” he says, “but we stretched all the songs out, which was unusual back then.” That stretching out meant jam sessions, a reaction to formulaic two-and-a-half minute Top 40 songs that formed the “hit parade” on the radio.

5. Willowbranch Vibes

Somebody introduced Berry and Linda. He sang on stage and his eyes sparkled. Their sweet friendship became an innocent romance. Lizards in palm trees became dragons and the kids, deep in love, ran through Willowbranch Park at night, scurried on all fours, like dragons or lions, and the hills ran about the creeks that ran through it.

Berry Oakley and Linda Miller, image courtesy Jim Marshall Photography, LLC

“We’d sit on the porch and watch dragons crawling through the palm tree in the front of the yard and everything is sparkling and colorful,” she says. “You know what I mean? Then we’d walk down the street to Willowbranch Park and we were just running around on all fours in the grass. There were little creeks running through the park, you know, and hills, sort of running around.”

Then Berry said, “You’re my mate,” you know, says Linda, “like we’re tigers or lions.” Yes, or Beatles or Airplanes. “And he runs on all fours,” she says, “and jumps across this creek. And he says, ‘Come on, Linda. You’re my mate. You have to do this too. You have to follow, you know, follow your mate.’ So I jumped over the creek on all fours. You know we kind of put out our vibes and soaked up the vibes of Willowbranch.”

Willowbranch Park

And the dragons ran up the palms and the creeks through the hills. The moon shone through the longleaf pines and Willowbranch sent out its vibes and it soaked up Linda’s and Berry’s.

6. Barefoot in Riverside

Thinking back, it seems so strange the way the happenings grew. Then again that’s how things worded themselves. As though you mentioned the way the growings happened. “It’s not like there were advertisements on the radio,” Donna says. “People just seemed to know to come.”

Park Street at Five Points, 1950s, photo courtesy Steve Williams

Sherri Wildstein Meadows speaks of that knowing with the same kind of wonder. “It might have been because I went to high school with Chris Trucks, drummer Butch Trucks’s brother, at Wolfson, but it added to the magic that everybody just seemed to know. You know,” she says, “that was the crowd we were, the hippies.”

There were, however, “the headshops in Five Points,” Donna says. “And the flyers hung up there. And there was that whole little strip along Park Street. It had become a blighted area, but it was perfect for us. The hippies, the counterculture, you know, we’d kind of taken over the cheap apartments. We walked all over Five Points and Willowbranch and Riverside barefoot. It was a really good time.”

image courtesy Richard Price

The hippies shopped in Five Points and then at Abe Livert’s downtown on West Adams Street. If you’d heard a local band play something from an English import, Five Points shops would “let you take the record home and listen to it. If you liked it, you could come back and pay for it. If not, you could return it.”

The music at the be-ins was full of the blues, Donna says, but also English rock blues-infused, Jimmy Page or the Yardbirds and Eric Clapton. “Or sometimes you could take a record home if you only had some of the money and pay the rest later. There was just that kind of trust.”

7. Open and Free and Honest

“Playing in the park expanded the Second Coming’s fan base tremendously,” Byron Colley says, though he also heard the band play at the club called The Scene, formerly the Forum, at 4403 Roosevelt Boulevard, just outside Roosevelt Mall, on the Westside but close to Riverside.

Roosevelt Mall, 1967

His friend Ray Odum projected psychedelic images of swirling oils behind the band, while his surfing buddy Tim Swanson worked as bouncer and doorman. Byron got in when he was 18 and it never bothered him that he couldn’t drink if he wasn’t 21. He wasn’t interested in alcohol at all.

“One of my best memories of The Scene,” he says, “is when after seeing some bands play at the Coliseum downtown—I think it was the Beach Boys and when Buffalo Springfield and Strawberry Alarm Clock all played together, and several of those musicians came back to The Scene and played with Second Coming and other Jax musicians. That was pretty incredible.”

Willowbranch Park

He remembers first meeting Dickey Betts in Willowbranch Park, “when somebody said, ‘Hey man, we got a couple joints over here,’ and we smoked just before the band started playing.”

He thinks probably 50 to 60 people attended the first Willowbranch be-ins, though they soon grew to crowds of a couple hundred. Other impromptu jams happened outside the Forest Inn on the Westside, at a place everyone called “Sandspur Park” in Arlington, and Greenfield Stables near the beach, where the gated neighborhood called Queen’s Harbor is now.

Duane Allman, Forest Inn, photo by Charlie Faubion, courtesy Richard Price

“I thought the Forest Inn was the coolest place,” Sherri Wildstein Meadows says. “It was in the neighborhood, but it was still like this small place hidden in the woods. Did you ever know Harley Bryan? His family owned it. He was this bigtime pool player in Jax.”

Byron says one of the best jams happened at Wolfson Baseball Park downtown. “That was one of the better ones,” Byron says. “The musicians set up right at home plate.”

image courtesy Donna Goddard

Waxing nostalgic, Byron says, “Ahh, it was this incredible period of time in my life. It amazes me now to think how open and free and honest things were. I mean, just going down to the park to listen to musicians play like that, just jamming, jamming, for hours at a time like that. And for free?”

8. The Headspace

To be true to what happened, Donna says, it’s important to remember this wasn’t just the Allman Brothers Band playing in the park and developing their first set of fans. It really wasn’t the Allman Brothers at all, until maybe the end.

Berry Oakley, Forrest Inn, from a photo by Charlie Faubion, image courtesy Donna Goddard

“All these bands were in transition. They swapped out members. Everybody jammed with everybody wherever they could. They played teen clubs, the Woman’s Club, the Woodstock Youth Center and the Cedar Hills Armory. There was a really great jam session once at Friendship Fountain downtown.” Musicians just popped up and cross-fertilized wherever the landscape obliged.

Donna remembers a few times police broke up the be-ins at Willowbranch. If they were looking for illegal substances, it was easy enough to find them. “Sometimes the police would come in and start working the crowd. A couple times they arrested kids, came in and stopped the music.”

Butch Trucks and Duane Allman, Forest Inn, photo by Charlie Faubion, courtesy Richard Price

“There was a lot of pot,” Donna says, “which the police didn’t like, but it was always very peaceful. You were just where you were. You’re just being. That was the headspace, being in the moment. It was such a simple time. Time was just the music.”

9. These Huge Gatherings of Freaks

It was the Second Coming, Michael Ray Fitzgerald argues in his 2020 book Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock, who’d set the example by playing at the club called The Scene six nights a week and at Willowbranch Park be-ins their only day off. At least God, according the second chapter of the Book of Genesis, rested on the seventh day.

The Green House, Riverside Avenue

Lennie Renzler had converted a club called The Forum to The Scene, a ’60s psychedelic venue like its namesake in Atlanta, lured the Blues Messengers north as the Second Coming and made them house band.

Members of the Second Coming first lived at the Green House, a ramshackle Victorian carved into apartments at 2799 Riverside Avenue, around the corner from Willowbranch Park in what Fitzgerald calls “Jacksonville’s burgeoning bohemian district”—picture the Grateful Dead in Haight-Ashbury reduced to their country roots and removed to a Southern city. When too many musicians filled up the Green House, Second Coming members moved down the street to the subdivided Gray House at 2844. It’s the Gray House that’s known as the site where the Allman Brothers Band formed.

The Gray House, Riverside Avenue

Meanwhile things at The Scene weren’t always as they’d promised. Many of the Second Coming’s fans weren’t old enough to drink legally in a bar. As Dickey Betts remembered to Andy Aledort of Guitar World Magazine in April 2007, “Nobody was coming to the club to see us, and the ones that did had ‘white wall’ haircuts,” meaning military buzz cuts. “So we started to play for free in the park and got some guys to put a little makeshift stage and a generator together for us.”

The free outdoors gigs, the be-ins, started at the Forest Inn, out past the Westside neighborhoods of Hillcrest and Hyde Park, but soon moved to Willowbranch when the crowds swelled. In Fitzgerald’s preface, first published in the December 2019 issue of Kudzoo Magazine, he writes of being a teenager in Jacksonville and hitchhiking all over Northeast Florida to hear the Second Coming. He traveled with Paul Glass, a high school dropout who played guitar with a band called Marshmallow Steamshovel and lived with his parents in a place called Freeman’s Trailer Park.

Richard “Hombre” Price, the classically trained musician who played bass in Sarasota and then Jacksonville, alongside Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt with the band The Load, remembers an announcement for a Willowbranch be-In.

Price says, “Yeah, you can hear it today on the tape. The Allman Brothers Band…they weren’t the Allman Brothers Band yet…they’re the Second Coming but now Gregg is there in attendance…they’re playing at the Jacksonville Beach Coliseum. [It’s actually the Jacksonville Beach Auditorium.] It’s March 1969. You can hear Allen Facemire, the disc jockey from WAPE who became the Second Coming’s manager, and he says, you know, there’s gonna be a be-in.”

Second Coming/Allman Brothers Band, Jacksonville Beach, 1969

Recalled Dickey Betts in 2007, “Berry would say things like, ‘We’ve got to get our people together,’ and I’d say, ‘What people?’” and Berry Oakley said, “They’re out there. They just don’t have any place to congregate.” Betts said the crowds got bigger, the hair got longer, the shirts became tie-dyed.

By the time Duane Allman was jamming with bands at The Scene and in Willowbranch Park, he sent his girlfriend Donna Roosman a letter describing “these huge gatherings of freaks in Jacksonville, every Sunday for the past few weeks. Millions of bands play.” He called it “a miracle.”

10. My Brother and I

Reese Wynans, 73 years old, tilted way back in his comfortable chair, wearing box-frame glasses and white beard, continues to reminisce with Josh Smith. The Second Coming, playing at The Scene, “had this reputation as the first psychedelic band in Florida,” he says.

Then along came Duane Allman. “He sat in with us and it was the most beautiful thing we ever—.” Duane had come back to Florida from playing as a session musician at FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he’d backed up Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs and numerous other musicians.

Gregg and Duane Allman, image courtesy KUVO.org

“None of us had ever heard anything like Duane’s slide guitar style,” Wynans says. “And he could fit in and play anything we were playing. So he would come by more and more often. He would come by Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night.”

Then Duane Allman came out to the Willowbranch be-ins, where “all these other local bands in town would come join us. And Duane was lovin’ it.” Another “one of the guys who’d come out and play” drums in the park on Sunday was Butch Trucks.

“And finally Duane said, ‘My brother and I are puttin’ a band together. I want you guys to be in the band. You know, Dickey, Berry, Butch, Jaimoe,’ and then he had a conversation with me.” Wynans says Duane said something like, “Well I’ve got two drummers. I’ve got two guitar players. I could either have two keyboards or I could have two guitars. And I think I’m goin’ with the two guitars. So uh, you’re out.”

Allman Brothers Band at Rose Hill Cemetery, photo by Stephen Paley, from their eponymous debut album

This was 1969. The two drummers were Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson. The two guitarists were Dickey Betts and Duane Allman. The two keyboardists would have been Gregg Allman and Reese Wynans. There was only ever talk of Berry Oakley on bass. If Wynans, however, became the proverbial “fifth Beatle” of the Allman Brothers Band, missing by an inch becoming the seventh founding member, this moment is where his career took off. He later played with Captain Beyond, Stevie Ray Vaughan and, from the 1990s on, more than a dozen famous country acts in Nashville.

“It hurt my feelings a little bit,” Wynans says, remembering Duane’s decision, “but I felt like I was lucky to be in the Second Coming. And when Duane broke that band up, I had a feeling something else was right around the corner. It turned out Duane had been recording with a guy in Muscle Shoals, Boz Scaggs, who was putting a band together and going to San Francisco. And Duane recommended me for that gig.”

11. The Best of Towns and the Worst

The truth in this case is a bit paradoxical. As it almost always is. Jacksonville was a terrible place to start a blues rock band. Jax was the perfect place.

Dickey Betts, image courtesy Sarasota Herald-Tribune

“We were the only [guys] in town with long hair,” Dickey Betts, guitarist, vocalist and founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, told Andy Aledort of Guitar World in April 2007. “We’d be driving around and people would throw shit at us.”

Michael Ray Fitzgerald gets at the culture clash in his book, saying, “Jacksonville had a reputation of being the unofficial capital of redneck South Georgia.” Indeed, as the Southern Gothic fiction of Harry Crews so aptly demonstrates, Jacksonville was the mecca for millions of rural Georgians who migrated south in the middle of the 20th century anytime the crops failed. It was Jacksonville’s own Great Migration, creating a city of broken farmers.

Yet it gets more complicated. There was also a kind of hybrid creature between the longhairs and the people who threw things at the longhairs, and that was the long-haired redneck, best exemplified by Lynyrd Skynyrd, who’d played under different names since 1964. If you thought a hippie was just a longhair who flouted conventions, you’d think Skynyrd were hippies too. And Charles Manson. Though the 1969 film Easy Rider would’ve made sense. You’d think, as certain commentary has it, that places like Northeast Florida melded together a strange chimera called the redneck hippie. And you’d have missed the deep cultural divide between the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Gregg Allman always recoiled from the label “Southern Rock.” This rock band was Southern, but, as Fitzgerald writes, “If one substitutes the term ‘redneck rock’ for ‘southern rock,’ the nature of Allman’s complaint becomes clear: He didn’t appreciate being lumped together with rebel-flag-wavers and redneck yobbos.”

Allman Brothers Band, Atlanta Pop Festival, 1970, image courtesy Dennis Eavenson

With the exception, Fitzgerald writes, of Dickey Betts, the Allman Brothers Band “were anything but rednecks.” Though Betts, like Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant, “was a long-haired redneck who would stoop to bullying and violence to get his way,” the Allman Brothers Band played blues and jazz rock to Skynyrd’s country blues and after the briefest fling, abhorred the Confederate flag.

So Jacksonville, capital of South Georgia, seems even now to have celebrated Lynyrd Skynyrd more than it ever has the Allman Brothers Band. Not long after the latter formed in 1969, they left Jax for Central Georgia, made their home in Macon. Belatedly, Jax boosters and cultural leaders have celebrated the founding of the Allman Brothers Band. Indeed, the city should be proud of how cultural elements came together here to form one of the great rock ’n roll bands, but it should also keep asking itself why it shed the Allman Brothers to a town one sixth its size.

Allman Brothers Band, Bell Building, Macon Georgia, image courtesy Twiggs Lyndon Estate

It was the best of towns, it was the worst of towns. Writing about the band Cowboy, which formed in a house on Euclid Street near Avondale in 1969, Fitzgerald says, “If a band wasn’t tight and polished, it would get outclassed pretty quickly by groups who were—especially in Jacksonville, where there were so many bands.”

Cowboy, image courtesy Chris Thibaut

Cultural critics often ask how a particular place can birth so many artists at a particular time. Regarding rock ’n roll in Jacksonville, either side of 1970, Fitzgerald writes, “There was so much competition that they all realized they had to work like maniacs just to get noticed.” Questions about which bands stayed, what bands left, and what the city did to promote and foster creative growth, still haunt this city, as similar “brain drain” anxieties have for most of its existence.

12. Separate Strands of Southern

Donna says there’s no fine line, it’s a broad chasm, between the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s the problem, she says, with the label “Southern rock,” and the reason Gregg Allman rejected it. “The two bands were so different,” she says, “they’re not even in the same category.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Greenfield Stables, photo by John C. Christian

The bands seemed to represent two separate strands of Southernness. “I knew the guys from Skynyrd,” Donna says. “They were good ol’ Westside boys. They were rednecks. They were hard-drinking, though still disciplined musicians, who had no problem with fighting.” Lynyrd Skynyrd, Donna says, “was Jacksonville born. They all grew up on the Westside, had the same background, shared experiences.”

The Allman Brothers “though, those musicians came from different backgrounds. The way they came together was different and they brought a whole different sound and vibe.”

She admits, “If the Allman Brothers were Southern rock, they were the crown jewels. The gold standard. They had a whole different level of musicianship. Skynyrd was very talented, but they were always about, ‘We’re gonna kick some ass.’ They embraced that. The Allman Brothers Band was always about the music. They didn’t attach themselves to anything in this world but the music itself.”

13. Come to Jacksonville!

Linda first saw Duane and Gregg Allman play downtown on Forsyth Street. It was either the Beachcomber or the Comic Book Club. She told her mother she was going to a dance. Her mother gave her a quarter to call home in case anything bad happened. So she took her friends downtown to see the Allman Joys. That’s one story. Or to see the Hour Glass. That’s another. She said, “Duane, just, there was like, there was this fire around him. He emitted these vibes that just sucked the air out of the room and the melodies were just right on it.”

Duane Allman, image courtesy Michael Ochs Archive

After the show, band members came over to the girls and invited them to the motor court they’d rented down on seedy Philips Highway. “And then they invited us to stay for the bottle club, which started at two a.m., where all the kids had to leave and, you know, everybody brought their bottle and had their mixers and the Allman Joys just played all these old blues. They just cut loose and played what they wanted to play.”

Fitzgerald says bottle clubs “were all over the place. There were a dozen or more of them. They were like bars, except they didn’t have liquor licenses. They had bands and waitresses like regular bars. Except you brought your own bottle. They made their money off cover charges and selling setups instead of drinks.”

It was innocent, but wasn’t all that innocent. You know. It wasn’t all that innocent, but it was innocent. Sometime, during all that time, Linda introduced Berry to Duane when the Hour Glass played at the Comic Book Club. Berry was her boyfriend. Duane and Gregg were the Allman Joys.

Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, image courtesy liveforlivemusic.com

And then Berry was inviting musicians down to Willowbranch Park on Sundays, assembling them variously, jamming beneath and up into the trees, hour upon hour. Nobody realized the midsummer heat, skinny in torn pants, hair long. Even in Florida, back then, a lot of people still had no have air-conditioning at home anyway. A black friend, shirtless, sat on your white shoulders and watched the band and took in the music. Sweat was sweat under the pines and the music became its own life. Paradise wasn’t the place, but the making of the place, of doing what you needed to do, whatever time of day or night, whatever space made itself right.

Willowbranch Park was that. Willowbranch was the center of all that yet outside it. Like the heart of young hippie rock all Romantic blasted up into and blown through the ancient trees. The trees didn’t mind. They were young long before the hippies. The trees in the park were old, so old, but all so young, still young.

Duane Allman, courtesy jacksonville.com

One morning, well before dawn, or maybe it was night, so late after midnight, Duane Allman, wild-eyed, bearded, reddish hair flowing, knocked on the front door of the Green House, the flophouse on Riverside Avenue where lived a dozen hippie musicians and their girlfriends, including Berry and Linda. Duane had just come back from Muscle Shoals.

One night, everybody had gone to bed, Duane came over and jammed, “very mellow,” with Berry, and before Linda knew she was pregnant, she heard “this magic being born” the floor beneath her in that very old house, “this sort of love affair growing.”

Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson, courtesy jacksonville.com

It was as though her baby was born of the coming together of the Allman Brothers Band. Already Berry Oakley, on bass guitar, Dickey Betts, on guitar and vocals, Butch Trucks on drums and Jaimoe on drums had come together with Duane Allman on lead guitar when Duane called his brother Gregg, doing studio work in Los Angeles, and told him—these now fateful words—“Come to Jacksonville!”

14. Beautiphemera

It was ephemerally beautiful, as Romanticism always acknowledged beauty to be heightened, if not defined, by being ephemeral.

“As fast as it showed up,” Donna says, “It just went away.”

15. After the In-the-Moment

He wishes there were more documentation, more he could share, but just like others who remember the Willowbranch be-ins, Byron Colley says the lack of documentation is both a result of and a testament to the ethos of the time. It was full immersion in the moment, not standing outside the moment to take pictures of it.

Byron Colley, image courtesy Byron Colley

And then the fall of ’68 came round, his probation was up, and Byron left again for Huntington Beach, California, surfing capital of the world, where his friend Ray Odum had already relocated.

Strangely, when Byron finally settled in California, he heard the musicians he’d been following back home come play live on this opposite coast. “We caught the Allman Brothers Band at Whiskey a Go Go in L.A. in ’70. Here we are, seeing this band with all these musicians we’d been following in Jax and at the be-ins.”

Byron’s VW, image courtesy Byron Colley

So Byron spent his early 20s surfing in California, says, “I missed the whole Lynyrd Skynyrd thing,” and when he came back to Jacksonville in 1975 to be near his family, he asked himself, “Where are all the hippies?”

He found lots of longhairs playing rock ’n roll, but they were different somehow. They played some really good songs, he says, but these bands “were just into rock n’ roll bar music.” It couldn’t have been more different than the improvised, jam-based, jazz-influenced musicianship he’d heard cross-fertilize for hours in the clubs and the parks in Jacksonville that briefest moment in time.

Randy Scott and Dave Goddard, Willowbranch Park, image courtesy Richard Price

He’d hold onto it for the rest of his life. He recognized it was special, rare. He knew he’d been there at the start of something, but knew it was gone by the time it started. What it was, he wasn’t sure, but in its origins, he was young and didn’t need to know and the moment was the now that would always be the now it had been. As it was, when it was. It was perfect.