A Tale of Three Cities
Part 1 Following the Allman Betts Band on tour
By Kirk Anderson
“It was the best of times,
It was the worst of times …”
So starts Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” a story of a life deprived in lockdown and then released back to an uncertain life.
Third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic reaching throughout our planet. “…the worst of times.”
Live music is again cautiously coming back and there’s new music. “…the best of times.”
If you missed the articles about the Allman Betts Band’s musical history and previewing the postponed 2020 tour, please take a few minutes to go back and learn about this band as well as the articles of music history that have been assembled by the band to form a new project that looks to be with us for years into the future. May 2020 and September 2021 Washington Blues Society’s Bluesletter and September 2021 Cascade Blues Association’s Blues Notes.
This article, Part 1, and the complementary article in the Washington Blues Society’s next Bluesletter, Part 2, will cover the shows themselves. We’ll also look at the venues and the music communities around the venues that supported the tour. I had promised interviews with the band members but this turned out to be impossible due to the bubble around the band which keeps the tour rolling.
As the tour rolled toward the West Coast, rumblings of the delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic saw different bands canceling or postponing tentative tour plans until 2022. The Allman Betts Band tour turned northward in California amid more tour cancellations and postponements. Would it happen again?
Nope. History did not repeat and as the tour came to the PNW, the tour picked up opening duo The River Kittens out of St. Louis and the current project for the former guitarist for the Black Crowes, the Marc Ford Band.
Well in a demonstration of their desire to work past their fathers’ coattails and earn what came their way on their own, they kept performing. They did not let audiences down until the Neptune Theater had to cancel the Seattle date due to positive COVID-19 tests from a band that had recently played the venue. For the protection of everyone, they had to cancel several weeks of shows, including the Allman Betts Band.
The band didn’t flinch and added a show at the Blues Bender in Las Vegas to their 80-gig tour. This added an extra 1,500 miles to the tour (with no extra travel days) and made me wonder how prepared they would be for the Spokane show.
Century Center – Bend, Oregon
Bend’s Century Center is in the southwestern portion of Bend just a few blocks from the Deschutes River as it runs north through the Cascade Range to the Columbia River. Century Center Bend is more of a pop-up amphitheater that was becoming a regular part of Bend’s music community when the pandemic hit. Scheduling only four concerts in 2021, Century Center’s concerts were rare and unique as a more personal venue than the Les Schwab Amphitheater, where the Dave Matthews Band was playing this same night.
Neither venue was taking any chances with the pandemic. Both required attendees to either show proof of full vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. Balancing state regulations with community rules, Century Center’s staffers were strict at the doors, but also provided a safe-within-reason and intimate feeling inside.
As the River Kittens came out first, there was still light in the sky. A duo playing mandolin and acoustic guitar and trading off vocals, the term Americana came back into focus. Devon Allman had mentioned in several interviews for their second album that he considered the Allman Betts Band’s genre to be Americana.
Second on the bill was the Marc Ford Band. Ford, who played two stints with the Black Crowes, is the winner of an NAACP award for his work with Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama album, “There Will Be Light.” Interestingly enough, the trio also included Berry Duane Oakley (do you remember that Berry Duane Oakley is the bass player for the Allman Betts Band?) on bass. Marc and Berry have a long musical relationship, going back to their stint together in the mid-’90s in Blue Floyd along with Allen Woody (guitar), Matt Abts (drums) and on one tour, Johnny Neel (keyboards).
Speaking of keyboards, John Ginty (déjà vu — do you remember that Ginty is the keyboardist for the Allman Betts Band?) came out for several songs to provide some extra meat to the proceedings.
As the Allman Betts Band came out, it was fully dark outside and the Vari-Lites lit up the stage and the stage-wide screen behind the band lit up with the band logo. The setup at Century Center meant there were a few picnic tables set up around the highest end of the amphitheater, but unless you were sitting atop a short wall, you were going to have to stand and dance. Those who needed to sit found their places and the music started.
Dancing — OMG there was dancing. The fans seemed in touch with the music and hot to let go. For a new band with only two CDs, the crowd seemed very familiar with the songs from “Down to the River” and “Bless Your Heart.” As Devon Allman sang the single, “Down To the River,” his call and response for the titular chorus to the crowd was met with amazing participation.
As most good bands will, the Allman Betts Band added a few covers such as “Shakedown Street” from the Grateful Dead and “Purple Rain” from Prince. Dancing — OMG there was dancing … and singing along. As I’ve seen since my first concert back in early July, people’s initial apprehension about being out in public subsided as the music started and memories of good times past flowed.
The addition of popular songs from two of the band’s influences had them hitting a note with the fans as they built to another plateau and gave the fans what they wanted — a few covers of the Allman Brothers Band. I did not expect the incredibly interesting mix of original material and covers. All of the songs had tight, professional feels but also had some Allman Betts Band originality added to the mix.
Being an amphitheater set in the middle of town meant tight sound ordinances for a Wednesday night. Fortunately, after all of that dancing, the dumpling truck in the back of the amphitheater was still open.
Roseland Theater – Portland
The Roseland Theater building has been in Portland’s Old Town Chinatown area since it started as the Apostolic Faith Church in 1922. All of the labor needed to build this church was donated by the community. After many years of serving the community, the church eventually closed and in the early 1980s, it became a music venue for the first time. The old Starry Night fulfilled the need for a medium-sized venue for the early music scene in Portland.
In the early 1970s seminal Pacific Northwest promoter David Leiken had hung out his promoter shingle for good booking acts across Oregon and Washington. David took a few minutes to talk to me about his promoting past and the Roseland Theater as part of the music community now. He said two things that are relevant to the person buying a ticket. “To stay relevant you have to care and stay on top of the minutia,” he said. “Every individual ticket holder is as important as each individual staff member and each individual artist.”
In the 1990s, the building and David Leiken became linked as David’s Double Tee Promotions purchased and renovated both floors of the facility and the eclectic mix of artists took the stages. Artists from small, local bands to huge international acts have graced its stages and fans seem to understand how important this old-school venue is to the music community.
With a later curfew, the Thursday night show started at 8 p.m., again with the River Kittens. Again the clean, stripped-down sound filled the theater with attention-getting lyrics and instrumentation with so much feeling. Hearing their short set inside of a theater instead of outdoors at an amphitheater gave a different dimension to their sound. Listen up, dudes, one of their tunes has direct advice to you.
The Marc Ford Band was again up as the trio ran through a short set of songs punctuated by blistering guitar solos at times and rhythm guitar at others. Playing his Signature model Asher guitar through the show ended up giving a nice change of tone as Johnny Stachela (do you remember that Johnny is one of the three guitar players in the Allman Betts Band?) brought out his Gibson SG to sit in on Marc’s set. As was the case from the night before in Bend, John Ginty came out to sit in on a couple of tunes with the Marc Ford Band.
As the Allman Betts Band started their set, the energy in the theater grew. The 2020 pandemic tour suspension just prior to the PNW run had made the anticipation that much greater.
This night’s set list included three songs from their first CD, “Down to the River,” nine songs from their current CD, “Bless Your Heart” and four covers (one from a Donald Fagan solo effort outside of Steely Dan and three from the Allman Brothers Band). The Allman Betts Band again proved that fans know the original material, and not just because the band has been through town several times per year. This was their first show in Portland, but fans still knew the original tunes and got into seeing the tunes live. The single from their first CD, “Down to the River” turns out to be a song that the fans know and when Devon Allman asks for audience participation in this original tune, the fans are only too happy to join in the chorus. Days later I can still hear the fans singing along.
The second CD’s “Doctor’s Daughter” is a Berry Duane Oakley-penned tune about a dear friend lost. He moved over to the keyboard corner with John Ginty, Devon moved over to bass and Marc Ford came back out to sit in as Berry’s vocals moved front and center.
Something I haven’t seen in decades of concerts, for the encore, the opener, River Kitten’s logo came out on the big screen and Allie and Mattie (they are River Kittens) came out and started playing their tune, “Atlantic City.” How unusual to see the openers come out and start the encore.
As the song progressed, the Allman Betts Band members came back on stage and finished the tune. River Kittens stayed on the stage with the headliner for the final song of the evening, “Should We Ever Part” from “Bless Your Heart.”
The fans seemed happy as the theater emptied and the band and crew hurried to break down the stage as they had to make the 16-hour ride to Las Vegas for the Blues Bender and another 15 1/2 hours back up to Spokane the next night.
Finally, I am always looking for signs of working or not working when a new band starts. Pandemic-era international travel has forced the postponement of the European portion of the 2021 tour until 2022, The Allman Betts Band will finish their current Autumn in America Tour in Honolulu on Halloween. Less than two weeks later, they start on the Allman Family Revival tour. Eighteen dates throughout the U.S. following the theme of prior Allman Family Reunion and Revival one-off gigs since 2017, which is honoring Gregg Allman.
As Rolling Stone Magazine’s Andy Greene reports in his Sept. 14th article, “… Allman Betts Band will be the featured act alongside Robert Randolph, Donavan Frankenreiter, Eric Gales, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Jimmy Hall and Lamar Williams, Jr. They will be joined in select cities by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, G. Love, Samantha Fish, Alex Orbison and Kenny Aronoff.”
Looks like rolling with the punches, big and small, then getting up and moving forward has been and continues to be a signature of the Allman Betts Band. You’re a part of supporting this new band. Let’s sit back and see where they take us.
Part 2 of this Pacific Northwest tour review is going to be reviewing the Allman Betts Band gig at the Martin Woldson Theatre at The Fox in Spokane next month in the Bluesletter of the Washington Blues Society. I met four people in Bend who had driven down from the Walla Walla area who are Cascade Blues Association and Washington Blues Society members. They were also going to Spoken for Saturday night’s show. When they read in both organizations’ magazine about this tour, they decided to take the road trip to support both communities and see one gig in Bend and one in Spokane.