On Monday, May 1st, Col. Bruce Hampton celebrated his 70th birthday surrounded by friends. From Jimmy Herring, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks, to John Bell, Dave Schools, and Duane Trucks, over 30 renowned musicians gathered at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia to celebrate the life of the beloved “Grandaddy of the Jam Scene”—a legend whose impact on all those in attendance, musician and fans alike, is inconceivably insurmountable. Col. Bruce Hampton forged the jam scene as we know it today, fearlessly leading the way and bring up others with him every step of the way. Without Col. Bruce Hampton, many of the players at tonight’s show would be without name.

From his beginnings with the groundbreaking avant-garde group the Hampton Grease Band to the seminal Aquarium Rescue Unit, Col. Bruce Hampton’s idiosyncratic blend of improvisational space rock had an influence that reaches far beyond Atlanta’s music clubs. He is responsible for the success of many musicians, and he gave confidence to those worthy to follow in his footsteps, to leave the ego at the door, and to be true to the heart.

Four hours of beautiful music celebrating the life and work of Col. Bruce Hampton took place across the night, which featured Susan Tedeschi, Chuck Leavell of The Allman Brothers Band and The Rolling Stones, John Popper of Blues Traveler, Jon Fishman of Phish, ARU’s Jeff SipeKarl Denson, Drew Emmitt, and Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon, and so many more. As the evening began to wind down, Col. Bruce Hampton ushered the one and only Brandon “Taz” Niederauer to step to the front of the stage and take his final solo of the evening during the encore of “Turn On Your Lovelight.”

The 14-year-old guitar prodigy and young student of Col. Bruce was standing between and performing for his two biggest idols, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, when the celebrated musician collapsed to the ground. All those in attendance were forced to believe that Col. Bruce’s actions were planned, that Bruce had another trick up his sleeve, that he was falling at the feet of his youngest star as he listened to Taz’s guitar soar through the roof on the year’s biggest night.

The curtain closed, the theater emptied, and all those who were close to him waited for updates. The signs eventually pointed in the right direction, as the ambulance took him to safety and the artists piled out of the venue with hopeful eyes. Col. Bruce Hampton made it to the hospital, but passed away shortly after arriving. He was surrounded by his greatest fans, a room full of his many talented friends, and every member of the extended crew he considered family. Col. Bruce Hampton is “Uncle Bruce” to everyone he has ever met and to everyone whose birthday he guessed upon meeting. He will be deeply missed.

[photo by Gary Niederauer]