Photo credit: Kaelan Barowsky
The Devon Allman Project with Duane Betts brought their world tour to the 29th edition of the Simi Valley Cajun and Blues Music Festival in Simi Valley, Calif., one day before the first anniversary of the passing of Allman’s father, Gregg Allman. Allman and his touring partner Betts know well that each appearance is going to be a reunion of sorts with many of the fans Gregg touched throughout his 50-year career. Especially on a stop in Southern California, where Gregg, either solo or with The Allman Brothers Band, was always warmly welcomed.
With a bittersweet sentiment hanging over the Valley fest, Allman took the stage with his Project band on a postcard afternoon, and pointedly stalked end-to-end, tearing into an extended guitar solo on the opening “Mahalo.” For many it felt cathartic, and for most was their first opportunity to hear not only Allman’s new ensemble, but also carry on the familial spirit, now in the original repertoires rendered by this next generation. From an audience of mostly over-40s that grew up with Gregg and the Brothers there was a preface of support, and piqued curiosity, for the performance. Allman and Betts resoundingly, emotionally, and skillfully answered.
Allman gave them everything he had through an abbreviated festival-length set working in colors blue and blistering red on cuts from his three solo albums, including the palliative dose of soul on The Spinner’s hit, “I’ll Be Around.” His proficient Project band went with him, step-for-step, drawing the Simi crowd out of their lawnchairs, and kept them standing as Betts arrived. With his Pistoleers guitarist Johnny Stachela alongside, Betts counted in the familiar harmony notes once turned loose by his father, Dickey Betts, and Devon’s uncle, Duane Allman, on the Brothers’ “Blue Sky.” The crowd greeted the classic, and Betts and Stachela’s stellar solos, with exuberant collective approval.
Betts offered a few songs from his debut, Sketches of American Music, including “Taking Time,” the record’s first single. Allman returned with a nod to Gregg on a gorgeous and affecting rendition of his dad’s “Multi-Colored Lady.” Yet, it was the closing psychedelic swing of the Brothers’ “Dreams,” that inspired Allman, Betts, and Stachela to both turn back the clock to the guitar glory of their forefathers, and reiterate that they, too, have plenty of their own fire in the furnace. And, inspired the festival faithful to rise as one in a farewell standing ovation.
For pictures and autographs, Allman and Betts later stood at the merchandise booth. They heard more stories of their fathers, and gratitude for continuing the musical traditions. The Allman Brothers Band once sang that the road goes on forever. For Allman and Betts these old highways are new again, ringing out with new music and new energy, and a few comforting echoes of the past.