“Guitarmeggedon!” That is one of the words used by Devon Allman to describe the sheer volume of talent and amplitude displayed at Denver’s Mission Ballroom on December 8th. The metropolitan’s newest venue played host to the Allman Family Revival, a conglomerate of the Allman Betts Band and a rotating stage of support that included 17 faces from the music world, including both well-known veterans and some new faces on the scene.
The Allman Family Revival has been an annual event for the last three years, but 2019 was the first time it has been taken on the road, with dates in San Francisco its usual home, Denver, and New York. Not only did Denver get shown the Southern love, but this night at The Mission would also fall on what would have been Gregg Allman’s 72nd birthday. This fact was repeatedly referenced in celebration throughout the night by both band and guest and added an additional emotional component for many in attendance who stated they had seen the Allman Brothers Band many times over multiple decades.
To blur the lines even further between past and present and reinforce the theme of family revival while adding an ethereal component, the fact that both Allman and Betts have such a striking resemblance to their fathers, it was easy to find oneself doing a double-take when gazing stage ward. This genetic characteristic also spilled over to the remarkable likenesses that Berry Oakley Jr. and Lamar Williams Jr have to their patriarchs, both of which filled the Allman Brothers Band bass role consecutively from the band’s inception through to 1976.
The evening got started with a single five-song set of original Allman Betts Band tunes from their debut album, Down to The River, and closed with the ABB classic “Blue Sky.” This band, fronted by the progeny of greatness, has enlisted equals in every respect. Outside of Allman, Betts, and Oakley, the seats are filled by Johnny Stachela on slide guitar, a stoic master of the bended note, John Ginty on keys and the Hammond B3 organ who effortlessly swirls that gospel sound and drives the drone of the undercurrent, and carrying the rhythm are R. Scott Bryan on percussion and John Lum on the kit, both of whom would give Butch or Jamoie a run for their money.
Following the opening set from the septet from the south and without leaving the stage or taking a break, the band continued, welcoming Eric Krasno and Dickinson Brothers of North Mississippi Allstars fame, commencing on a collaborative evening with a 13-minute rendition of The Allmans original “Dreams.” Next up was the NMA original from their latest album, titled “Up and Rolling,” a bluesy number that told the tale of psychedelia through mushroom tea and friendship. “Ain’t Wastin Time No More” and “Trouble No More” followed and saw Lamar Williams Jr lead the band vocally through the Allmans blues catalog as Luther Dickinson, Krasno, and Betts alternated leads over the bluesy foundation the rest of the band was laying down. Following the shred fest, and to great applause from the crowd, Devon Allman let the crowd know that “it was time to bring up some young blood to keep the evening moving,” and welcomed Ally Venable, a Texas spitfire on the guitar with vocals to match, and the familiar kid slide Taz Niederauer to the stage.
Taking the lyrical lead, Venable delivered a version of “The Thrill Is Gone” for the history books and showed the crowd her old soul and honed chops, exchanging all the while with the sonic mastery of Niederauer with his skyward gaze and contorted grimace of emotion. “With A Little Help from My Friends” upped the energy, and another new face was introduced to lead the way. J.D. Simo, with his ruff and gruff presentation, took the song over the top like a young Joe Cocker while being backed by all the musicians introduced previously plus the addition of talented bluesman Jimmy Vivino. At this point, the turn of guests alternated again, and Eric McFadden, as well as longtime Gregg Allman collaborator and frontman for the 70’s band Wet Willie, Jimmy Hall, were brought center stage to deliver the blues in true “going to church” Sunday form. “Ballgame On A Rainy Day” by Earl Hooker and “Keep On Smiling,” a Wet Willie Song, were the sermons of choice, and Hall held each ear in the room in the palm of his hand, while McFadden showed his talent on the hollow steel body. Taking the blues to the funk, G. Love was welcomed out next and presented his fusion tune of “I Like Cold Beverages” that got the not only the crowd hopping and smiling but the stage players as well.
As if the joy of the room couldn’t be taken any higher, the opening ditty of “One Way Out” seemed to do the impossible, and the crowd erupted in acceptance. The exchanges between Hall and G. Love on harmonicas and McFadden and Vivino on guitars were unrelenting and dispelled any idea that the performance was anything but created in the moment and full throttle. Giving everyone a chance to catch their breath, another upbeat blues selection was dialed up in the Allman Brothers original “Come and Go Blues,” this time being led by Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke on guitar and Lamar Williams Jr. on vocals. This gritty number showcased Williams’ talent, and emotion and Starr’s credible leads were pulled off seemingly without effort through his laid-back effect and classic presentation. Closing out the set, the group ushered in the Roy Orbison classic “You Got It” with none other than Alex Orbison, son of the late great and skilled talent in his own right, carrying the tempo on the kit and making his dad proud. With the final notes of the tune, Devon Allman announced, after nearly two and a half hours of consecutive music, that the band was going to take a break and get ready for round two.
Meandering between sets, it was clear that all that had shown up for the Sunday show were more than satisfied with their decision and were ready for more. Amongst the crowd, local musicians could be spotted as well, coming out to catch this fantastic caravan of talent, and included members of both the Kyle Hollingsworth Band and New Mastersounds. The age range of patrons was not limited to the upper end of the chronological spectrum and included equal distributions of both years and gender.
Thirty minutes after the stage went barren, a seemingly short span following multiple hours first set, the house music went silent, the lights dropped, and the crowd assumed its role in ushering back to post the players and whatever they had in store. With still so much material left on the table, the set opener was anyone’s call. It quickly became everyone’s joy when the Allman Betts Band backed by Luther Dickinson and Robert Randolph laid out an 18-minute version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” With all its psychedelic twists, jazzy flares, and thundering drive, this interpretation brought as much ecstasy to the stage as it did the floor as players played under closed eye and then reconnected with goosebump grins and hearty laughs. The revolving door continued, and Niederauer and Cody Dickinson joined the group. After that, Randolph played bandleader and led the group through his original “The March,” a powerful instrumental with several breakbeats and changes that reflected the prowess on the stage. Hall and Vivino were brought back to join the already present giants to deliver on another Allman's classic in the number “Done Somebody Wrong.” Again, Hall’s expression on the harmonica had the house stomping and getting down while the slide trading between Niederauer, Randolph, and Vivino reached the point where joyful laughter was involuntary. No one could control their inner child dancing the night away. Although it seemed that all the talent in the house had already been brought to the stage, there, of course, was Mohr.
Todd Mohr, of the renowned Big Head Todd and The Monsters, came front and center and delivered on his original “Circle,” which displaced any thoughts that this man was a one-hit-wonder or a pigeon-holed talent, as his playing and vocals came through with such verve that anyone unfamiliar sat up and took notice. He then continued his contribution leading the band through a well-executed version of “Melissa,” taking lead vocals while Devon Allman played a white acoustic guitar adding the classic feel of the original recording. Having given the band and audience a chance to reflect in the softness that was yet another side to the Allman Brothers legacy, the evening’s energy was far from waning and was taken up a notch with the introduction of Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander who closed out the set with “I Want You To Want Me” and a rousing version of “Ramblin’ Man,” both of which were presented with the expected rock-and-roll flare that Zander embodies in his guitar playing, vocal command, and sheer stage presence.
The stage quickly cleared, and the audience began its customary chant for more as the clock ticked past midnight. It only took a few minutes for the crowd’s call to be answered as the stage filled once again to close out the evening and send the faithful out into the night. With Zander once again at the center, the band, which now consisted of everyone who had played throughout the night, began the 1978 Cheap Trick original “Surrender’, which had the audience singing right along with Zander, who offered up the opportunity for the audience to sing without musical accompaniment the resounding chorus, lifting the spirits of the crowd through a singular unified voice. This dynamic continued with the second encore choice in Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” that provided an opportunity for Todd Mohr to do his best Orbison vocal impression, bringing, even more, grins to both sides of the stage. Finally, and appropriately, referencing both the time and notion of hitting the road, the group drove a jammed-out rendition of Midnight Rider to send everyone home with a final tip to the southern comfort of the Allman Brothers heritage.
In the end, the Allman Betts Band and the revolving cast of contributors delivered a night to remember, playing 4 hours of music and honoring not only the memory of The Allman Brothers Band but also the spirit of live music itself and the community and camaraderie that it spawns. This night was not about one person, one band, or one time. Instead, it was about the timeless dynamic and ineffable language that melody and lyric bring and how these components connect family, friend, and stranger without division, reminding that we are more alike than not, and we are genuinely in this life together.
The Allman Family Revival’s third and final stop of the year is at New York’s famed Beacon Theatre on December 28th, but one can bet that with the reception the band got from the Mile-High City, this event will be back next year. Even if you can’t make The Revival, rest assured that The Allman Betts Band shows no signs of slowing down, and after the success of their 2019 world tour, one can expect more tour dates and original music in their immediate future.