Keith Wortman knows about musical legends.
As the executive producer of the 2012 “We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash” and “Love for Levon: A Benefit to Save the Barn,” Wortman had to corral plenty of top-name acts for the musical tributes.
On Friday, Wortman will be stationed at the Fox Theatre to commandeer, along with musical director Don Was, “All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman,” an all-star homage to the Georgia legend.
The show, which sold out immediately after being announced last fall, boasts marquee names such as Vince Gill, Natalie Cole, Jackson Browne, The Allman Brothers Band, Eric Church and Martina McBride. It will be filmed to air on AXS TV in May, an event that will coincide with a CD/DVD release of show.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wortman ducked out of overseeing load-in and other technical arrangements to chat about what fans can expect from Friday’s shindig.
Q: At this point, two days out, what are you working on?
A: We’re loading in sound, checking lights. We have our all-star house band rehearsing the show, about 25 songs. We have a crew of about 60 people and 12 cameras filming the event. When I do a project like this I’m looking at it as a concert from an audience perspective, as a pure music experience to make sure it sounds great, and a filmic aspect.
Q: Without giving away any surprises, what will be the format of the show? Are the artists singing their own sets or performing together? And are they doing their own songs or Gregg’s songs?
A: Artists will perform their own sets, but there will be a series of duets, there will be some multi-artist jams and an encore with all the artists. The songs will all be synonymous with Gregg - he was either the songwriter, so that covers the Allmans material - or his solo career, or songs synonymous with his voice.
Q: How about Gregg? Will he be performing or just hanging out being honored?
A: [Pauses, then laughs] I think people will be very excited from what they’ll see with Gregg. I believe he will be honored with some special awards at the set break.
Q: Will there be any surprises beyond the artists already announced?
A: I think there will be a couple of unannounced folks. I don’t want to commit to any names because schedules always change.
Q: You’ve got a range of artists from Natalie Cole to Eric Church to Vince Gill on the bill. When you and Don were going through the list of performers, were you seeking a certain amount of diversity?
A: We weren’t specific in what we were aiming for. We know that Gregg transcends, no one label defines him. He’s a rock artist, he’s a southern rock artist, he’s a blues artist, he’s a soul artist. He’s influenced artists in so many different genres, but the threshold was, you had to have some special feeling for him or for his music, either played with him before or recorded with him before, or he’s heavily influenced that artist or there’s a relationship. But I didn’t set out to say we need five country artists and five blues artists and five rock artists.
Q: What has been the most challenging thing so far?
A: For the most part it’s been smooth, it really has. Schedules are always the toughest part. We have 15-16 artists on the show. Forty wanted to do it, but schedules intervened. But it’s really been a pleasure and an honor. It’s run as a pretty tight ship. At this point every artist knows what time to be in for rehearsal, for hair and makeup. We have a team to guide them through that, and we also go above and beyond and pick them up from airport, get them to their hotel and to the venue.
Q: What will you be doing the night of the show?
A: My focus is two things: I’m really in lockstep with Don, who will be onstage as musical director. We’ll look at each other throughout the night to make sure that things are happening the way we want it. And then I’m overseeing what is happening in the production truck, that it’s being filmed and recorded the way I want it.
Q: Have you been to the Fox before?
A: I haven’t done anything at the Fox before, but I’ve been here several times to plan this production. It was the only place that I would do the show in Atlanta. It has some history with Gregg, and people in Atlanta have a connection to the venue. Also, the venue has meaning moreso than arenas, which tend to be more antiseptic. I wanted this to be a very intimate, close type of event.
Q: Whose idea was it to focus on Gregg? Why do you think he’s a compelling topic?
A: It was my idea; I’m the creative visionary of the concept. I work with Don Was on these things and we only work on things that we’re passionate about and think creatively could be impactful. Gregg is a living legend and an icon, but in many ways, Gregg has sort of been behind the scenes because he’s kind of shy. We just felt like wow, look at this body of work, how can we do this in way that honors the body of work and Gregg the individual? I approached Gregg’s manager about it about a year ago and it started going from there.
Q: The Levon and Johnny Cash specials both were released on DVD and aired on PBS. Do you think the same will happen with this?
A: Definitely a CD/DVD release, possibly something with PBS. The CD/DVD will be out in conjunction with the May broadcast on AXS and the CD will be released on Rounder Records.
Q: How do you think this will differ from “Love for Levon” and the Johnny Cash celebration that you produced?
A: The main difference is that the artist we’re honoring is alive. That changes it to a whole different level of excitement because you know at some point that artist will take the stage. Getting to do this in the home state of the artist also adds a layer of being special and the process by which I had a chance to work with Gregg on it, to be able to pick up the phone and say, ‘What do you think about including this song in the set?’
Q: When I talked to Gregg about the show shortly after it was announced, he almost didn’t know what to say, except that he was very humbled. As the date gets closer, have you gotten a sense of how he feels about it now?
A: He is very humbled that we’re doing this. As he’s seeing this list of artists, he’s become so appreciative of this. He’s almost like, ‘Really? You guys are doing this for me?’ It’s a refreshing response to see from an artist.