Shared from the 2017-05-03 Chattanooga eEdition

Musician collapses during birthday concert, dies



Col. Bruce Hampton performs at “Hampton 70,” his all-star jam celebration of his 70th birthday Monday at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — When Col. Bruce Hampton slowly fell to his knees during the finale of his star-studded birthday concert, fans and musicians alike thought it was another one of his quirky performance acts.

Fourteen-year-old guitar phenom Brandon “Taz” Niederauer tore into a blistering solo as the 70-year-old man lay motionless just feet away, his arm draped over a speaker.

For several more minutes, dozens of musicians — including John Popper of Blues Traveler, Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and John Bell of Widespread Panic — jammed away to one of Hampton’s favorite songs “Turn On Your Love Light.” The fans danced and the musicians smiled as they waited for him to get up.

But Col. Bruce never did.

The eccentric guitarist and singer known as the forefather of the jam band scene died after collapsing Monday night at the end of the show billed by Atlanta’s Fox Theatre as “Hampton 70: A Celebration of Col. Bruce Hampton.” He had turned 70 a day earlier.

“As I played tonight, I had a joy that I’ve never had … But it was eerie,” banjo player the Rev. Jeff Mosier said in a tearful Facebook post. “And then at the end, Bruce looked like he was jokingly worshipping that young guitar player. And he got down on his knees and I was getting ready to do the same thing. … I was lucky to know him and I was lucky to be there.”

Hampton founded several bands, including the Hampton Grease Band and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and had a knack for surrounding himself with talented musicians, including Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band and Jimmy Herring of Widespread Panic. While wealth and fame eluded him, he was widely acknowledged as an influence on other leading musicians. He also played the role of a songwriting band manager in Billy Bob Thornton’s 1996 film “Sling Blade.”

Thornton joined Hampton on stage for the “Love Light” encore and beamed as Hampton belted out the first part of the tune with his bluesy growl. Hampton paced across the stage and teased the audience by pretending to leave before he re-emerged. Then he fell to his knees.

When people began to realize this was no stunt, the band abruptly ended the song and a hush fell over the crowd. Stunned fans looked at one another and asked, “What just happened?”

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