Rome has its Coliseum and they tell me Athens has the Acropolis. There sure are lots of places I’d like to go and see before I take the final swan dive off of this spinning world. I’ve never sailed the Aegean seas nor walked the dusty path to the Oracle at Delphi. But you can bet your bottom dollar I’ve been to Buckhead, and Buckhead is home to the Amphitheatre. 

When I was 11 years old in the summer of 1962 my family moved to a neighborhood near Chastain Park. One Saturday night I heard a wave of sound coming from somewhere in the distance. There seemed to be voices and musical notes mixed into the din that floated on the breeze over those Georgia pine trees. I asked my dad what the noise was. It was then revealed to me that we lived near the infamous structure that I came to know as the Amphitheater. 

That first summer on many hot summer nights I heard show tunes coming on the breeze. The Music Man, Showboat and all those Broadway musicals were the background music to us that summer and for years to come. Hell, sometimes it was so loud we could hear it even through closed windows after my dad broke down and bought an air conditioner to shield us from the sultry dampness of summer nights in Buckhead.

Later, as the 60s rolled by, the Amphitheater became the site for numerous rock concerts. The Monkees, James Brown, Cream, Steely Dan, The Moody Blues, and Santana were only a few of the acts that pounded the stage. We would ride our bikes down to the Amphitheater and climb the magnolia trees just outside the fence to gain a better view.

That is how I saw Three Dog Night and Vanilla Fudge, high in a tree gripping a branch. The security guards would yell at us to come down, but we never did and eventually they would give up and go back to their important business of busting kids for smoking pot. Sometimes my brother and I would climb up on the roof of our house and listen to the distant renderings of Deep Purple and ZZ Top. The spectacles weren’t just for the kids; our parents tapped their toes to the melodies of Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli. 

The Amphitheatre was even used for high school graduations and that is where, in the turbulent year of 1968, I walked across the stage and received my diploma from Dykes High School during the raging culture war.

I’m told that over the decades a gentrification has taken place. I understand that people set up teak wood tables, drink wine and eat butterfly wings, just like in the royal European courts of old. I have even heard that a renaming of the Amphitheater has taken place. I guess this is what they call progress. As long as kids can ride their bikes down to the corner of Powers Ferry and Stella Drive and climb the magnolia trees for a better view, I am okay and will withhold further judgment.

Buckhead Tales author Jim Tate reminisces in the stands

Some say it is not good to dwell in the past, but for those of us that have a lot of past behind us that is not such an easy task. Now, over 50 years later and 500 miles away from Buckhead, on hot summer nights I find myself straining to hearing the sounds I first heard from the Amphitheatre. If I can just hear a baritone singing Old Man River or catch Terry Reid rip off a guitar solo maybe I can reach deep down inside and come up with some youthful mojo. Maybe it is not too late to learn to play a sitar, write a novel, or sail the Aegean after all.

Jim Tate
Author, Buckhead Tales