Dickey Betts Returns To The Stage For Family Affair In Macon May 22, 2018 18:48
Words and Photos by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
After retiring from the stage in 2014, many fans were left wondering what the future would hold for legendary guitarist Dickey Betts. Best known as a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, Betts and fellow guitarist Duane Allman were said to have "rewrote the rules for how two rock guitarists can work together, completely scrapping the traditional rhythm/lead roles to stand toe to toe." Following Allman's tragic death in 1971, Betts became the band's sole guitarist and would go on to write many of the band's biggest hits, such as "Ramblin' Man," "Blue Sky," "Jessica," "Southbound," and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and GRAMMY award in the mid 90's, Betts and ABB would ultimately part ways in the summer of 2000.
It's no secret that 2017 was an absolutely devastating year for the Allman Brothers' family. Founding drummer Butch Trucks took his own life in late January, while Gregg Allman lost a hard fought battle with liver cancer over Memorial Day weekend. Rumors of a Dickey Betts comeback tour began to surface in December, and these rumors became a reality on December 12th (his 74th birthday). While Dickey's latest band would play a 'live rehearsal show' at an intimate venue in Sarasota on May 15th, the first official gig would come on Thursday, May 17th in the Allman Brothers' home city: Macon, GA.
Friends With Benefits Productions teamed up with Ear For Music for this special occasion at the beautiful Macon City Auditorium. The new and improved Dickey Betts Band lineup includes Damon Fowler and Dickey's son Duane Betts on guitar, Mike Kach on keyboards, bassist Pedro Arevalo and drummers Frankie Lombardi and Steve Camilleri. The bill would also include the Devon Allman Project, which features the late Gregg Allman's son, Devon, as well as Duane Betts.
Devon Allman and company kicked off the show, which was sold out weeks in advance, in powerful fashion. We arrived just in time to hear a lively cover of The Spinners' "I'll Be There," which made room for one of Allman's many blistering guitar solos. Duane Betts would join Allman for the majority of this set, as the two have spent a significant amount of time touring together this year. The set would also include tunes such as "Mahalo," "Ten Million Slaves," "Left My Heart In Memphis," "Taking Time," "Multicolored Lady," and "Midnight Lake Michigan." The younger Allman has a tremendous stage presence and even made his way out into the crowd, as he traded licks with the younger Betts, who had the chance to play Duane Allman’s 1957 goldtop Les Paul, on loan from Macon’s Big House Museum. Allman's capability to captivate the crowd and work a stage was very much indicative of his late father's legacy.
During intermission, I took a few minutes to walk around the venue and do a little people watching. Being in the heart of Allman Brothers country, nearly 3000 of the band's fervent fan base was out in full force. Many were decked out in vintage ABB tie dyes, beaming with excitement from ear to ear. There must have been 60-70 grown men and women standing over the area where Dickey's bus was parked, simply waiting for a chance to cheer on the legendary guitarist as he headed toward the stage. I saw multiple fans shedding tears of joy, as well as couples embracing one another as if it was their wedding night. Concerts have a way of sparking moments that are difficult to describe, and this was certainly the case on this night. The spirit of the Allman Brothers was in the air as Dickey Betts took the stage for the first time in nearly four years.
The set began with the classic instrumental, "Hot 'Lanta," before Mike Koch led the band through the always explosive "Statesboro Blues." Slide guitarist Damon Fowler and Duane Betts wasted no time trading licks, and it wasn't long before Allman returned to lead the band through one of his father's signature songs, "Midnight Rider." A beautiful take on "Blue Sky" would follow, as well as one of Dickey Betts & Great Southern's signature tunes, "My Getaway." Two of the ABB's later releases, "Change My Way of Living" and "Seven Turns" continued pouring energy into the packed house.
With Jaimoe's Jasssz Band set to play the official afterparty, many were expecting an appearance from one of the ABB's founding drummers. Sure enough, Dickey welcomed Jaimoe to the stage for what was easily the highlight of the night. For the first time in 18 years, Betts and Jaimoe would share the stage, and "Whipping Post" seemed like the perfect choice. Saxophonist Kris Jensen would add a nice jazzy flavor to the power tune, and he would also stick around for the set-closing "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" that followed. Dickey then assured the enraptured crowd that they would be right back to finish the show with a few more classics.
Dickey and the band returned to the stage to finish off this special occasion with two of the Allmans' biggest hits. "Ramblin' Man" gave the lively Macon crowd one more classic sing-a-long, while "Jessica" allowed Dickey, Duane, and Damon Fowler the opportunity to showcase their cohesive guitar playing. One would be hard pressed to find a more appropriate encore for the occasion.
There is no question that I was looking forward to this show, but I have to admit that I wasn't sure what to expect. As soon as I got to the hotel and saw at least 10 people in ABB or Dickey Betts t-shirts, I started to realize how unique and special this experience would be. Macon was the perfect location for a celebration of this magnitude. Not only did we witness the return of a legend, but the show also raised $3000 for The Big House Foundation. Watching Dickey and Jaimoe reunite for "Whipping Post" made for a memory we will never forget. The mutual respect and admiration between multiple generations of the ABB family was felt in every corner of this beautiful venue. While many of the founding members have passed on, their legacy lives on through this timeless catalog of music.
Setlist: The Dickey Betts Band - Macon, GA - 05.17.18
Set: Hot ‘Lanta, Statesboro Blues, Nothing You Can Do, Midnight Rider, Blue Sky, My Getaway, Change My Way Of Living, Seven Turns, Whipping Post, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
Encore: Ramblin’ Man, Jessica
As mentioned earlier, this show would not have happened without the efforts of Friends With Benefits Productions and Ear For Music. We recently spoke with George Claussen (FWB) and Rob Lamble (EFM) who shared a few personal thoughts on this special experience:
George: This opportunity was once in a lifetime. As a promoter, you dream about a concert like this. Bringing the remaining original Allman Brothers, children of the band members, and past members together one last time...back where it all began in Macon, GA. It's hard to describe the feeling we all felt that night...like writing a page in the history books. Not everyone gets that chance, and we are truly grateful. Thanks for all the love and support before and after the show. I know the road goes on forever!
Rob: From the minute we arrived in Macon last Wednesday, there was a feeling in the air that something really special was about to take place. Not only the vibe that was happening in town, but it was like Duane, Berry, Butch, & Gregg were alongside us the whole time. We knew in our minds what was going to happen, but didn't realize how special this show really was going to be until it was upon us.
I know what this music has meant to me over the years and the countless other fans as well. With the recent and unfortunate passing of both Butch and Gregg, I think we all had an empty musical space in our hearts...knowing we would never hear this music played again (in a live setting) until last Thursday night. When Dickey walked out on the stage and hit the first note of "Hot Lanta," it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It was pretty surreal, and I think the audience felt the same way.
We were then standing stage left with Jaimoe, and he seemed to be extremely excited about what was taking place as well. George and I asked him if he was ready, and he said "Never been more ready." He then proceeded to tell us we had really pulled off something special that night, and we should feel really good about it. That was the best compliment I have ever received in my 25 years of being in the music business.
That was it for me...you could close the book, and then Jaimoe took the stage to join Dickey after an 18-year hiatus years and played "Whipping Post." The energy in the auditorium could have rivaled any live concert experience in times past. Needless to say, I won't be closing the book anytime soon. It was the most magical evening I have ever been a part of!
Watch a clip of "Jessica" here:
Watch a clip of "Whipping Post" with Jaimoe here:
Watch a clip of "Midnight Rider" w/ Devon Allman here: