Time and space feel like they’re in flux here at the Fillmore this Sunday evening of 20 February, though there’s been no sighting of a Delorean with a flux capacitor. The Allman Betts Band and friends are here in town to play a makeup show for the originally scheduled Allman Family Revival date on 18 December, which was postponed due to COVID-19 issues on tour. They’ve even got the limited edition prints made for the original date on sale at the merch booth, which makes it feel kind of like the current timeline is shifting.
The Fillmore is also known for its timeless vibe that comes from being ground zero for the sociocultural rock revolution of the 1960s. It also continues to serve as one of rock’s most essential venues since re-opening in the 1980s (and then again in 1994 after the earthquake of 1989 caused structural damage that led to a five-year hiatus.) Therefore, the venue is an ideal location to pay homage to music heroes of the past, hence the annual Allman Family Revival tour originated here in December 2017 to honor what would have been Gregg Allman’s 70th birthday after the rock legend had passed on that year. That show was also the beginning of the fruitful professional collaboration between Devon Allman and Duane Betts.
The Allman Brothers Band have had an incalculable impact on the music world and pop culture. Guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts pioneered the concept of melodic dual guitar harmonies with influences from the jazz, country, and pop realms, while the band also helped write the book on the highs and lows of rock stardom. Rolling Stone writer and filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s cinematic memoir Almost Famous featured numerous story elements based around his time covering the Allman Brothers Band on tour in 1973.
In that same year, legendary journalist Hunter S. Thompson cited the Allman Brothers Band as a personal favorite in his “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl” story for Rolling Stone. Thompson often utilized the music of classic rock artists such as Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, and Grateful Dead as spiritual fuel of sorts, with the Allman Brothers Band joining the ranks.
“It’s almost dawn in San Francisco now, the parking lot outside this building is flooded about three inches deep with another drenching rain, and I’ve been here all night drinking coffee & Wild Turkey, smoking short Jamaican cigars and getting more & more wired on the Allman Brothers’ ‘Mountain Jam,’ howling out of four big speakers hung in all four corners of the room,” Thompson wrote. The space-time continuum ripples again upon the realization that tonight is the 17-year-anniversary of Thompson’s untimely departure from the Earth, for America could surely still use his sharp insights on the socio-political state of affairs in this crazy world.
It’s been inspiring to see the sons of three Allman Brothers Band members come together as the Allman Betts Band to keep the vibe alive while pushing the music forward with their own songs to continue providing that spiritual fuel for the next generation. Guitarist Devon Allman, guitarist Duane Betts, and bassist Berry Duane Oakley all seem to have inherited some of their fathers’ talents, as well as the drive it takes for any band to make it even if they have second-generation roots (though bassist Justin Corgan from the Devon Allman Project is filling in for Oakley tonight.)
The Allman Betts Band comes out hot right out of the gates as they open the show with the infectious “Magnolia Road”, from their sophomore album Bless Your Heart (released in 2020.) The band’s chemistry is instantly apparent on this number, with Betts and Allman trading verses on a melodic rocker with an uplifting sound that simultaneously pays tribute to the early 1970s Allman Brothers vibe while also pushing it forward in an intoxicatingly fresh way. When a band opens with this kind of triumphant energy, the audience knows it’s going to be a great night.
They have the visual aspect of the showdown, too, with alluring psychedelic visuals on the screen behind the band, just as the Allman Brothers utilized to boost the atmosphere. And it’s instantly clear that everyone in the band is an ace – slide guitarist Johnny Stachela, keyboardist John Ginty, drummer John Lum, and percussionist R. Scott Bryan all sound like they’ve been playing together with Allman and Betts for decades.
“King Crawler” is another winner from Bless Your Heart, a high-octane rocker with Betts singing about how “It ain’t easy keeping gas in the tank, working hard just to make my way.” This line conjures a universal quality recalling AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’ N’ Roll”), a timeless anthem for hard-working bands everywhere. “Southern Rain” completes a trifecta from the group’s second album, with Allman fronting a bluesy ballad that pays tribute to his father.
The revival aspect of the show quickly goes to the next level as compadre Luther Dickinson is welcomed to the stage, renowned guitarist from the North Mississippi Allstars. Dickinson has just come through California on a great run with his own band earlier in the month, so it’s an extra treat to see him again here as he joins the team for the Allman Brothers’ classic “Dreams”. Each of the guitarists takes a turn tearing it up, as well as some tremendous harmonic interplay for some 17 minutes of crowd-pleasing jammy goodness that really energizes the room.
The band pays Dickinson his own tribute as they back him on the North Mississippi Allstars’ “Up and Rolling”, an instant classic from 2019’s album of the same title in which Dickinson sings of growing up as “a Mississippi hippie tripping LSD, smoking stems in season, drinking mushroom tea.” It’s a fan favorite with the Allstars, and it’s naturally well received here, too, with some appropriately jammy treatment as the set’s energy keeps on growing.
There’s no let-up as Dickinson stays on to assist the band on a sensational rendition of “Blue Sky”, one of the Allman Brothers’ most enduring classics from 1972’s Eat a Peach album. The uncanny resemblance of Duane Betts’ voice to that of his father’s while singing one of his most iconic hits is both remarkable and heartwarming. That leads to a glorious jam of extended sonic bliss to complete a terrific trio of tunes with Dickinson on board.
Dickinson then exits the stage, though it seems fairly certain he’ll return at some point. The guest parade has only just begun though, as singer Jimmy Hall and guitarist Marc Ford (of vintage Black Crowes fame) join the festivities. Hall sings his band Wet Willie’s 1974 song “Keep on Smilin'”, which seems unfamiliar to most. But the energy surges again as he continues to front the band on the classic “Statesboro Blues”, with more slide guitar heroics.
The band closes the first set with a sizzling jam on “Trouble No More”, as guitarist Frank Hannon from Tesla joins the party. Tesla always felt like a hard rock descendent of the Allman Brothers with the smoking twin guitar leads from Hannon and Tommy Skeoch, but Hannon became a genuine family member too when he married Duane Betts’ sister Christy, which made them brothers-in-law. The ensemble digs deep into the bluesy jam here to end the set with a bang as Hannon makes the most of the opportunity by melting face on the fretboard.
One attendee remarks at the set break about how it seems somewhat odd to her how Duane Betts has had an expression with a noticeably stiff upper lip throughout most of the set. There’s undoubtedly an uncanny resemblance to his father, Dickey Betts. But there’s also an endearing sense of Duane Betts imparting a vibe akin to that of a colonel leading a regiment of rock soldiers, and he is darn well going to ensure that the rock ‘n’ roll is of a sufficiently high caliber under his heady watch.
The group goes back to the future in a manner of speaking to start the second set by returning to the Allman Betts Band’s Bless Your Heart album with the dynamic instrumental “Savannah’s Dream”. The song sounds kind of like it’s descended from classics such as “Dreams” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”, yet it carries the instrumental jam concept forward to give the band a chance to stretch out on their own tune. Betts, Allman, and Stachela are in fine form here, trading hot licks as the Fillmore heats up again.
Jimmy Hall returns along with renowned pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph for a rousing take on “No One to Run With”. It’s one of several instant classics that appeared on the Allman Brothers Band’s 1994 album Where It All Begins that won the band a new wave of Gen-X fans. The song built off the seminal grooves from Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love”, yet spun the sound in a crafty new direction to create a modern Allman Brothers classic. The love in the room is off the charts here as the band jams out while the audience gets down.
Another stirring highlight occurs on an extended run through the instrumental classic “Jessica” from 1972’s Eat a Peach. The triumphant melodious bliss is at a multi-dimensional level here, as the show starts to feel like it’s melting into a dream across time. At some point during the set, Luther Dickinson returns to rock out with Robert Randolph on a hot “Turn on Your Lovelight” jam that seems to pay homage to the Grateful Dead and their original keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, another blues-rock counterculture pioneer who left the Earth all too soon in the early ’70s as Duane Allman and Berry Oakley did.
Devon Allman shines on the bluesy lament of “Please Call Home” from 1970’s Idlewild South, providing a bit of a cathartic breather before the group cranks it up again on a raucous rendition of “One Way Out” with Frank Hannon and Marc Ford helping tear it up again. Ginty and Corgan take hot piano and bass solos too, inspiring the audience to hoot and holler over the last verse as a genuine revival vibe is indeed conjured.
The band goes third generation on the encore as Devon Allman’s son Orion Allman sits in on Hammond B3 organ for the Allman Betts Band’s “Pale Horse Rider”, a bluesy gem with an old west vibe and fiery lead guitar lines. Then it’s all hands on deck for a transcendent finale with a big crowd-pleasing jam on “Midnight Rider”. There’s a deeply soulful vibe here as Devon Allman strums an acoustic guitar while singing one of his dad’s most memorable songs while the all-star cast jams out.
The future for this music still feels bright, with Devon Allman, Duane Betts, and their many friendly cohorts carrying the flame forward both together and on their own. As attendees exit out into the chilly San Francisco night with their spiritual fuel tanks filled to overflowing, there’s no doubt that Gregg Allman and Hunter S. Thompson are smiling down in approval even as the road takes another turn. The Allman Betts Band had already announced a hiatus for most of the rest of 2022 at the end of January, which has made tonight’s show even more precious.
“After three years of album making, non-stop touring, songwriting, globe-trotting, COVID dodging, etc. … we are putting the Allman Betts Band on our first hiatus,” Devon Allman and Duane Betts announced on social media. “We are aiming for a return to the stage at the end of 2022 for the sixth annual Allman Family Revival concerts, held between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We look forward to the extra time with family and to embark on some new endeavors.”
The first week of March finds the Devon Allman Project out on tour back east, while Duane Betts voices enthusiasm on social media for beginning recording on his new solo album at the Swamp Raga Studio of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s a boon for fans with fresh music coming from both Allman and Betts while they refill their own spiritual fuel tanks for the next cycle with the Allman Betts Band.