“This thing just grew legs, grew wings, and became its own entity and now it’s a coast-to-coast tour that’s been growing every year.”
There’s a case to be made that if it weren’t for the Allman Brothers Band, rock music from the South wouldn’t sound anything close to what it sounds like today.
Duane Allman is regarded as one of the best guitar players of all-time, while his brother Gregg has been held in similar esteem when it comes to songwriting. The band’s incorporation of blues, jazz, and country with improvisation and instrumentals made them pioneers in the jam band scene and their musical influence is still being felt in a variety of ways.
After Gregg’s passing in 2017, his son Devon wanted to honor his life and legacy with a concert called the Allman Family Revival. Fast forward to now, and it’s evolved into a full-blown tour featuring the likes of Maggie Rose, Ivan and Ian Neville, Orbi Orison, Tony Hall, and others. They’ll be at the Shubert Theatre on Dec. 3, and I spoke with Devon ahead of the show.
This year marks the sixth year of the Allman Family Revival which celebrates the music, life, and legacy of your father Gregg. What initially gave you the idea to start this unique tour that functions in sort of a revue format? It reminds me of the Last Waltz and the Rolling Thunder Revue in the sense that you have a bunch of different musicians getting together on stage.
The inspiration for it was really when my dad passed away, I took the year off because it would have been so hard to concentrate on performing and all of that in light of his passing. I took some time for myself and for my family and after about six months I realized that I was kind of denying myself the healing properties of music.
I called my team, I told them that I wanted to get back out there and I wanted to do a show to celebrate my dad and bring some people together. Originally, it was only going to be a couple musician friends like Luther Dickinson, Samantha Fish, and all of a sudden all of these other people signed on and it became a thing. The only night that the Fillmore in San Francisco had available was on my dad’s birthday and it would have been his 70th birthday, so it all kind of fell into place.
The stars aligned, it became this thing, we gave it a name and the next year the Fillmore wanted to do two nights. Then the next year, New York City wanted to do one at the Beacon Theatre which was an honor and a privilege to do. This thing just grew legs, grew wings, and became its own entity and now it’s a coast-to-coast tour that’s been growing every year. It’s really galvanizing a lot of relationships and friendships within our generation of musicians. It’s funny that you bring up the Last Waltz because when I was curating the very first show I had just fallen back in love with that album, with that movie, and I blueprinted this whole evening after that construct.
I was like, That would be cool—the lights go out, the band hits the stage to play a couple numbers, get people juiced up, and then it’s “Ladies & gentlemen, please welcome to the stage …” and you’re off and running. Every 10 minutes you have a new guest star to captivate the audience while showing them a different color, a different texture, and a different side to keep the show moving and grooving. It’s a multi-color, multi-faceted kind of evening, so that by the end of the night people are like, Woah, man! I just saw 12 concerts in one. That’s what is special about the Revival and that’s what my goal is with every show and every tour, just to make people go, Wow! That was really special.
I can really tell by the way it’s structured from looking at it that it’s definitely a very special event. When it comes to getting the people on stage while curating these performances and handling the structure of the whole night, is it very improvisational? Do you call on anyone who you think would be good for a particular moment or does everyone know when they’re going to be on stage? How does it all come together with so many people involved?
Well, it’s a process. I usually start putting together the setlist about six weeks before the tour and they take three different iterations. I do a broad stroke sketch and then I reach out to each artist to feel out their comfort zones, we work together and we design how they want to do a Gregg Allman song or an Allman Brothers song. Then I start to sketch a flow chart based on everyone’s responses and the final setlist is really everybody’s comfort zone mixed with a good flow of the show, we’ve been really lucky. We also have a video wall component that’s 40 by 20 feet, it’s huge, and there’s corresponding imagery for each artist.
Last year, when Donovon Frankenreiter hit the stage, he’s a professional surfer so we had cool surfing imagery. That kind of production doesn’t lead itself too much to improv, so the improv is really within each song. These artists are totally encouraged to break open the middle of a song and jam it out, or at the end of a song, so it’s a process, man. There’s definitely room for improv within the tunes but the show is pretty much set and ready to roll.
You want to have a good foundation to work off of to have the improvisation rather than have it be a whole mess.
When it comes to putting together the lineup, do people reach out to you? Do you reach out to people, or is it a little bit of both?
The main thing is that it’s gotta be somebody who either was inspired by the Allman Brothers, played with them or opened up for them, so that’s kind of the criteria. I reach out to folks to see if they have any time available, sometimes somebody wants to do the whole tour or sometimes somebody is looking to play three to four of the shows. That keeps it fresh from city to city because we don’t have the exact same lineup in every city and that’s also a really cool thing. We got some really hardcore Revival fans that come to like seven, eight, or nine of these things and they get a different show every night. We also get calls from artists saying that they’d love to play the Revival and sometimes we’ll have a full boat but we’ll ask them to hit us up for next year, so certainly it’s a little bit of both.
It’s cool that you have a different lineup each night, it makes it even more special while adding to the premise of the Revival.
As a musician and as a human being, what do you consider to be the most important thing your father taught you? What do you view as his legacy for you as his son on a personal level?
That’s a really long, deep question. My dad really led by example, he didn’t meddle in my path to discovering music, falling in love with music and later to create music. He really liked to sit back and watch my organic connection to music. What’s important to me is obviously singing with soul and doing his music justice, those were some of the finest musicians in the history of our genre to make recordings and hit the stage. There’s a high caliber of musicianship when it comes to the Revival tour and you gotta have fun too.
I think when you experience this show, you’ll feel some of that magic pixie dust that my dad was capable of, it’s still out there. It’s also a lot of fun to bring his instruments that I own onto the tour and play his music with his instruments, it’s an honor.
What better way to do the music justice than with your dad’s instruments? I think that’s really cool too and again, it makes it even more special. The most recent record you’ve put out is Bless Your Heart back in 2020 with Duane Betts as the Allman Betts Band, so after this tour do you plan on heading back into the studio with Duane and the band to work on a new record or do you have any other projects you’ve been working on?
I think for next year, I got several records of my own in the vault. They’re mixed, they’re mastered, they’re ready to come out and I think you’ll be hearing some new music from me. As far as Allman Betts, I think we’re going to concentrate on some solo albums and some solo moves because we did that band hardcore for three and a half years. Next year I think you’re going to see some more solo stuff, but with the Revival it’s Duane and I playing together for the first time in a year so maybe the year after it’ll be time to do a little something. It’s hard to tell the future, but the band is a living, breathing entity and it’s ours, it’s me and Duane’s and we can pick it up whenever we want.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.