ATLANTA -- The music community in Atlanta and beyond is mourning the sudden death of a jam band legend who died after collapsing during a sold-out show celebrating his 70th birthday.
Fans of jam-band legend Bruce Hampton knew him as Colonel Bruce. He started playing in Atlanta a half-century ago, collaborated with numerous bands and projects, and influenced nearly every guitarist in his orbit.
“He may not have been famous as someone like Jerry Garcia but he certainly influenced so many artists,” said Atlanta radio personality Mara Davis, citing the Dave Mathews Band and Phish among those Hampton’s music reached.
Six months ago, Hampton reached out to a much less iconic space, the newly-formed Vista Room in Oak Grove, to play every Thursday night.
"I'll never forget it. He just said, 'Wow … I've finally found a place that feels like home,’” said Vista Room co-owner Mike Rizzi. "He said, 'I want to play here every week.' I said, 'Done.'"
In the jam-band culture, the concert never ends early, and it runs on community.
“It's about coming into a place and forgetting about the outside world,” Rizzi said. “You come in, you get lost in music, and the fan meets the band. He solidified that on Thursdays. And, I mean, last night was just incredible."
Monday night marked Colonel Bruce's 70th birthday. It brought musicians galore to the Fox Theatre for a four-hour tribute.
"He was so excited for this show,” Davis said. “He couldn't even believe it. He couldn't even put it to words that all of these people would come together for him."
It ended with Hampton collapsing on stage. Later that night, he was confirmed dead.
"I think his heart just couldn't handle it,” Davis said. “He was such a sweet and kind, loving man and it was such an honor."
Those who loved Colonel Bruce have tried to take solace in the company kept by this icon in that final show.
"I just keep turning it around to, 'What a beautiful way to go: doing exactly what you love surrounded by the people that you love,” said Lark Abrams, who was at the concert.
"It was truly moving, and what a way to go,” said Ronna Mingus.
Davis said she hopes that more people will learn about Hampton’s music after his death.
“I hope in his passing that people would take great interest into what he played over the years,” Davis said.
Proceeds from Monday's show benefited the Fox Theatre Institute and various musician-based charities.
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