One of the unexpected challenges of writing concert reviews when the artist is the offspring of an iconic musician is determining whether the rising artist is trying to embrace the legend of the parent or hoping to bury any familial comparisons. Ironically, most musicians seem to be internally struggling with the same thing. Fortunately, The Devon Allman Project relieves this burden by striking a perfect harmony between the past and the present. Watch any of his interviews, read any bio, or go to any of his concerts, and you will hear Devon Allman talk about the influence his father, the late Greg Allman, has had on his musical path. However, you will also find in the same interviews and concert clips, the power that bands like The Rolling Stones and The Doors have had on Devon. These combined influences have allowed him to create his own style, which puts a little more rock in his blues-rock than his dad did. This balance is the backbone of The Devon Allman Project and was on full display at the band’s recent show at Nashville’s Exit/In.
Teaming with Duane Betts (son of Allman Brothers Band member Dickey Betts), along with a backing band filled with seasoned touring musicians, the Project serves as a complete night of music. While Betts may be billed as the “opener” and there are a few set breaks, the night could easily be called an “All-Star Jam.”
Starting the night off with a slow, country-blues burn, Betts drew the head-nodding, swaying crowd close to the stage. He used every second of his 30-minute opening set to show why he is considered a master at making a guitar cry. Supported by his touring guitarist, Johnny Stachela, and backed by Devon Allman’s band, he played several songs from his debut album, Sketches of American Music. With the set filled with sultry blues-rock and just a hint of country twang, Betts created a hazy, throwback vibe that remained for the rest of the night.
With most of the stage already set, there was a pause barely long enough to grab a new beer before the band returned and Devon Allman took control of the stage. Where Betts leads from behind his guitar, Allman prefers to teeter on the edge of the stage, getting close enough that fans could reach out and touch him during guitar solos. With hands and beers raised in the air, the crowd was electrified by Allman’s up-tempo change of pace and riff-filled extended jams. Leading with “Mahalo” from his Honeytribe days, Allman embarked on a band-spanning setlist that also included tracks from Royal Southern Brotherhood and, of course, The Devon Allman Band. After only a couple songs, Allman brought Betts back onto the stage and the pair tore into a Betts-fronted version of “Blue Sky,” the first of several homages to their namesakes and the Allman Brothers Band. It only took a few notes of the song to make the crowd roar in appreciation. It was clear that the Allman and Betts collaborations were the audience’s most anticipated and loved parts of the show. Before leaving the stage, Betts joined Allman in playing some new songs the two have just recorded, giving a sneak peek at material that will be on an upcoming album from The Allman and Betts Band. However, there was plenty of collaboration still to come—the tour includes a third set billed as “Allman Brothers tunes and other favorites.” For the last 30 minutes of the night, the stage was at capacity. Allman, Betts, and all their players came together for one final jam session.
For three hours, the Devon Allman Project bridged the legacy past of the Allman Brothers Band with the present creations of Devon Allman and Duane Betts. This link was strong enough to bring together a generation-defying audience that appreciated every minute. From the college-age gent buying a tour T-Shirt to the more seasoned concert-goer who stopped the club’s manager, nearly in tears, to thank him for bringing back so many memories, the night created a common bond. Even in a venue as storied as Exit/In, in a city full of people that live for music, that says a lot about the power of the Project as a live performance.
[This lovely review and its accompanying photos were handcrafted by Eo8’s own George Maifiar.]