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by Christopher A. Daniel

Just before dusk on Jun. 8, a euphoric audience at Lakewood Amphitheatre anticipated the classic sounds of veteran pop/rock acts Journey, The Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason. Live Nation Atlanta, on the other hand, opened Lakewood’s gates in advance to some of us VIPs for an intimate preview under its new outdoor venue, Cellar 89.

The gray-painted structure named to commemorate the performance venue’s opening year hosted a light tasting menu consisting of some of its local eateries’ signature dishes. The incredibly hospitable, hour-long reception, allowed each of us to converse with a few other journalists/colleagues as well as Live Nation Atlanta staff. Lakewood’s general manager and marketing director Akeasha Branch was quite welcoming, ensuring that I kept a drink in my hand the entire time (three 24 oz. Dos Equis precisely).

The spread to the right of the wine bar was pretty cool. There was the standard cheese and cracker tray alongside Zora’s Fresh Market’s veggie crudité on both a tray and in really cute miniature martini glasses. The guests raved over the craft dogs courtesy of Craft House Draft House until the tray was wiped clean. Those mini smoked sausage dogs were topped with melted cheese, grilled peppers and onions. I must say they paired well with the Dos Equis nestled nice and chilled by my plate(s).

A flatbread topped with chicken, pesto, feta cheese, grilled peppers, caramelized onions and garnished with fresh arugula leaves instantly became one of my favorite dishes. I went stir crazy with the tongs piling the smoked chicken wings from Doc & Roc Henderson BBQ on a plate (ok, three plates). Again, considering I had a few Dos Equis to wash the chicken down with, something about that sweet & spicy sauce drizzled and smothering over the blackened flats sent that flavor into a whole ‘nother stratosphere. Needless to say, I made quite a few trips to that aluminum pan the entire hour we were under that small pavilion, but I digress.

The winner in the heavy appetizer category was the round salted caramel brownies. Talk about a good mesh of scattered sour crystals with gooey, decadent goodness. I had no shame stacking those moist, round treats and pulling them off one-at- a-time. I made sure to snatch a few before everything was taken away so that we could enjoy the performances.

The cool thing about experiencing legendary bands like The Doobie Brothers and Journey is how their repertoire on-stage closely resembles the original recordings. They clearly don’t make ‘em like they used to. Yes, I was waiting to hear timeless cuts from the Doobies like “Listen to the Music” and “Black Water.” I stretched out comfortably on one of the comfy brown chairs in the VIP lounge, continuing to drink my tall brews.

Once Journey took center stage, I put those two drink tickets to good use. I started with a little boring Tito’s Vodka and Sprite with a twist of lime but quickly migrated to partake in the specialty cocktail option us VIPs had. A sucker for a stiff drink, I experienced Americus, GA’s-based Thirteenth Colony’s Southern Rye Whiskey for the first time.

One of the bartenders on the patio mixed an Americus Mule with ginger beer and lime juice. For the serving to be as small as it was, the bite from the flavor was something serious. Well-balanced in volume, the drink definitely helped to enhance the sing-along flash mob the audience and I had with classics like “Anyway You Want It,” “Open Arms” and “Who’s Crying Now?”

All in all, I’ve been to Lakewood quite a few times over the years for a variety of showsspanning genres, but it was cool to have just a chilled night as a special guest. It felt good to shake Live Nation Atlanta president and iconic concert promoter Peter Conlon’s hand and to switch from indulging in posh, high-brow menus for some comfort food. Not to mention, it’s always fun to revisit something nostalgic while getting a taste of what some of my favorite live venues have to offer.

 

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