I have never been to a true revival, and if the Allman Betts Band’s aim Tuesday night was to gather new converts among the attendees, no doubt they succeeded. I joined The Church of Allman decades ago after a few listens of Eat A Peach, and I have no intention of apostatizing—from the look and vibe of most of my fellow concertgoers, they were already part of the flock as well. Sure, there were a few members of the crowd probably pulled along by friends or parents eagerly introducing this music to their progeny, but the core audience hewed older. A few younger fans sprinkled themselves amongst the group, forgivably believing that this was music from their era. In a way, the cast and characters involved in the Allman Family Revival proved them right.
Less of a revival, the collected musicians performed what might be called a resurgence. The show wasn’t based around a few rote cameos by baby-boomer rock ‘n rollers past their prime. This musical carnival featured artists, yarnspinners, and instrumental aces from the modern rock elite. Of course the show leaned heavily on Allman Brothers’ staples, but that is largely due to the fact that they are songs that everyone in the ensemble knows and has listened to for years. If there was a doubt as to the authenticity and artistry of the Allman Betts Band’s role in this performance, they immediately dispelled that notion by opening the show with their song, “Magnolia Road.” Introduced on last year’s Bless Your Heart, it served as proof that far from coasting on their fathers’ names, Devon Allman, Duane Betts, Berry Duane Oakley and crew are capable contributors to the southern rock tradition. The Dickinson Brothers and Lamar Williams Jr. quickly joined in for a groovy rendition of “Up And Rolling,” a North Mississippi Allstars original from their latest album. Both tunes would have fit well with previous eras, and they have a similar timeless quality to them that suggests that they will be appreciated well into the future.
The walk through the past began with slight hints of “Mountain Jam” that evolved into a crowd-pleasing “Blue Sky.” A song that many consider to be among the best of The Allman Brothers Band’s catalog, the team had no problem handling the timing and expressive soloing, but more importantly, they found a way to make it sound their own. “Sweet Melissa” fell to Lilly Hyatt, who comes from rock royalty (daughter of John Hyatt), but displayed herself as a self-made musician for those not already aware. Much like Lamar Williams Jr. (son of Allman Brothers bassist Lamar Williams), these are bona-fide artists in their own right, not generational novelty acts.
Joanne Shaw Taylor led a gutsy version of “I’m No Angel,” a track made famous by The Gregg Allman Band, and the cast deftly tackled another Gregg Allman staple, loosely tethered to his arrangement of the traditional “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home.” Jimmy Hall helped to tear into an energetic cover of “Statesboro Blues.” “Southbound” was a group effort and another fan favorite, and Samantha Fish lent her voice and guitar to a moving interpretation of the lesser known “Please Call Home.” Finally rounding out the evening, Kenny Wayne Shepherd added his searing licks to “One Way Out” and “Midnight Rider.”
If there were to be a complaint about the show, it might be that the set needed to be longer, not because the ticket holders felt short-changed, but because each of the guest musicians could have easily contributed as the only guest on an Allman Betts Band headliner and music lovers would still have been sated. Did I mention that Eric Gales, Robert Randolph, Ally Venable, and George Porter Jr. dropped by to lend a hand on a few cuts? I know I’m forgetting a couple contributors. The audience was truly spoiled for choice.
The Allman Family Revival was a unique concert experience. Perhaps a fitting comparison might be to think of it in terms of a modern day descendant of The Last Waltz. The Band chose to focus on finality and history. The Allman Betts Band chooses to highlight beginnings and new traditions. There will never be another Allman Brothers Band, but a couple nights ago a gathering of brilliant musicians made the case for music fans to put down their old vinyl and head out to the show. Any Allman acolyte in attendance on Tuesday would have to admit that the kids can play.