Photo by Chris Marden

The city of Macon was hopping on Thursday, May 17, with people flocking to the city that launched the Allman Brothers Band in 1969 from near and far to see Dickey Betts’ first official performance in almost four years. The streets filled with fans in tie dyed mushroom shirts, streaming in and out of town landmarks connected to the band: the Big House Museum, the Rose Hill Cemetery, H&H Soul Food, Kirk West’s photo gallery. It was a reunion of friends, a gathering of the tribe.

The Allman Brothers Band fan base is still mourning last year’s deaths of Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman and the finality they gave to the Allman Brother’s conclusion. The idea of the music coming back from an original member was too much to resist, especially from Betts, the de facto bandleader who parted with the group acrimoniously in 2000 and declared himself permanently retired just last fall. People filed into the sold out and quite grand Macon Auditorium filled with anticipation. I walked in with Jessica and Blue Sky. Seriously. Betts’ daughter Jessica and ex-wife Sandy Blue Sky Wabegijig were in town to support him and hear their namesake songs. It was that kind of night.

The show was opened by the Devon Allman Project, fronted by Gregg’s son and joined for some tunes by Dickey’s son and bandmate Duane Betts. The performance was part of a lengthy international tour by the two offspring, proving that this musical bloodline is in excellent hands. Allman thanked the fans for supporting his family so thoroughly over the last year, a heartfelt sentiment that also deepened the feeling of community in the room. Betts’ original country rock tune “Taking Time” was one of the evening’s highlights.

Dickey Betts took the stage to thunderous applause. He was in a checked Western shirt, cowboy hat pulled low over his eyes, full white beard covering his face, black Gibson SG across his chest. Betts is a first level guitar icon and composer. While he was not necessarily in his peak form on this night, few in the theater cared. This is what the shared live music experience offers, where you can sense your neighbors’ thoughts, and get swept away by emotion.

When Jaimoe took the stage for “Whipping Post,” the sight of him and Betts playing together after 19 years was more profound than the song itself. More than a few eyes grew moist at the sight of the last two surviving original Allman Brothers Band members playing together for the first time in so long. Also joining for a few songs was legendary singer Bonnie Bramlett, briefly an Allman Brothers member, along with her daughter Bekka. Saxophonist Kris Jensen lit up “Whipping Post” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

People filing out after the show seemed uniformly thrilled they had been there. It was the first performance. The road continues in July and we’ll see what comes next; bringing back the guests would be a smart move. There is work to be done and many fans who want to see their man one more time, no matter what.

Two aftershows kept the music of the Allman Brothers Band blaring through the streets of Macon until the wee wee hours. Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band gave a stellar performance at a packed Capitol Theater. The first hour didn’t include more than a few songs, with “Born Under A Bad Sign, “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” including excursions into the Allman Brothers classic “Mountain Jam,” John Coltrane’s “Africa/ Brass” and many other teases and references. It was a masterful performance that took us on a journey and never flagged.

Lamar Williams Jr joined the band for two songs, as did guitar master and former ABB member Jack Pearson. Opener Heather Gillis and Gregg Allman keyboardist Peter Levin appeared on one each. With and without guests, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band made clear that they are carrying on the Allman Brothers repertoire and spirit with flare, creativity and musical depth. Guitarist Junior Mack and Pearson lit it up on Mack’s JJB original “Dilemma” and the show-closing “Blue Sky,” while on other songs Jensen, trumpeter Reggie Pittman or keyboardist Brian Charette supplied the harmony lines and complementary solos to Mack’s assertive lead guitar. Jaimoe kept it all moving from behind his kit, his playing inventive, swinging and playful. The band pays constant homage to the past without residing there.

Around the corner, at Grant’s Lounge, which has seen late night jam sessions since the Allman Brothers were first formed, Berry Oakley Jr., son of the band’s founding bassist, held court with Johnny Neel, ABB keyboardist 1989-91. Duane Betts and much of the Dickey band joined the festivities, along with Pearson. They played all night and fans stuck around. No one was quite ready for the night to end, even as the roosters began to crow.