John Hartford & the Great Southeast Music Hall

Posted by in Music

Visiting Atlanta last week put me in mind of the time I played Atlanta’s Great Southeast Music Hall with my duo, Timberline Rose, opening for the late, great, John Hartford. I understand that the venue is now defunct, but around the early 1970’s, it was a mainstay on the acoustic circuit and a desirable room to perform in.

I don’t remember much about the shows we did there. I think we were booked for two nights with John and it was early springtime. What I do recall was that I had never been colder in my life, Wayzata, Minnesota, being a close second. And this from a Colorado resident complete with a big, blue, Michelin Man parka. “This is where,” I thought, “the term bone-chilling must have originated.” I also remember that Mr. Hartford was out on the road alone and wanted some company, especially at dinnertime, telling us he would prefer to dine with a person or persons instead of the alternative. For that reason, we were treated to two nights at Victoria Station (also defunct) in the company of the author of “Gentle on My Mind” and a mainstay on the Glen Campbell Show. An extremely generous gesture, we said in gratitude, and we meant it, being poor hippie musicians far from home. He insisted it was well worth the price in exchange for someone to talk to while eating. He had Prime Rib. I don’t remember what I had, but I recall the huge pink slab on his plate, something Victoria Station was then noted for.

He mentioned that he had a car and offered to drive us somewhere if we had a need. I had a need to see the Cyclorama in Grant Park, having a long-time interest in things Civil War. I had seen the famous painting in books and we were here, so…we went to Grant Park the next morning and saw the Cyclorama in person. It was monumental. It is a giant painting done by German artists of the battle of Atlanta in 1864. The details of the actual work on the painting are dim, but it seems it was undertaken in the Milwaukee area in the last quarter of the 19th century and over a hundred people worked on it. The internet has the answer but I’m not stopping to verify. Interactive: Google the cyclorama in Atlanta. It’s housed in a special circular building, and a visitor walks the circle inside the painting, while various lighting effects and narration take place. It’s a magnificent achievement. In the foreground of the entire painting, there are free-standing, three-dimensional figures, creating a marvelous effect of depth.

R. Dean, circa 1971

During dinner the second night, John told us he was looking for some new shoes and was going shopping for them in the morning. When he performed, he placed a microphone under a wooden box that he always carried on the road. He would tap out the time on that box during a tune and the tapping would be amplified, adding a kind of accompaniment to his guitar, fiddle, or banjo. He even sound-checked the box, just as one would any other instrument (could you take out those low mids and add some highs on the box, please?). I have never seen that approach before or since. Before the show that night, he excitedly revealed to us the new tapping shoes he had purchased that day: pointed toe, orange leather, Florsheim like, ugly, ugly, shoes. I guess he understood by our faces what we thought of his choice in musical footwear.

Then the  great John Hartford, a gracious, funny, and known-to-be-eccentric human being, said to us in complete seriousness, “Look, I know they’re ugly and they are not in the least bit comfortable… but these shoes…they’ve got great tone.”




  1. 7-2-2012

    Hey, I can’t tell you which night, but I was definitely at one of those shows!
    Glad to hear the “back story” to the event.

    Good luck and peace,


  2. 7-24-2012

    I was there too!

  3. Richard

    Excellent! That makes three of us that can still remember back that many years.

  4. 9-21-2012

    I saw John there when he was a solo act, probably much earlier. My over-bearing buddy went up and introduced himself when John was checking the equipment and had a nice talk with him. A little later, I saw John play at the University of Georgia with several other acts. During one of them, I happened to notice that the guy in front of me that I was sticking my knees into his back, was Mr. Hartford. He was grinning and laughing and having a great time with a very cute coed. What a guy and what a voice!

  5. 7-11-2013

    I saw John there at least a couple of times, coulda seen the shoes… I also ran the board at WRAS during a live broadcast of his first set, then rushed to the Music Hall to see the 2nd set live. I was yelling for him to sing ‘Golden Globe Award’ and he did, even though he had already sung it first set.