The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor glowed with the brilliant blues-rock of the Allman Betts Band with special guests JD Simo and Jackson Stokes.
The Allman Betts Band rolled into Ann Arbor to support their soulful blues-rock debut album, Down To The River. The iconic names of Allman, Betts and Oakley draw attention. This new record and the subsequent tour gives fans both old and new a chance to experience a brand new chapter in the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.
Getting the night fired up right is Jackson Stokes. Joining Jackson is his band members Paul Brackens (bass), Ryan Benthall (keyboards), and Ben Bicklein (drums). Jackson’s short set stuck mainly to his self-titled debut album. Songs such as “Contents Under Pressure” and “Whiskey” allowed the crowd to experience the soulful grooves and electric playing by Jackson and the band. On top of great originals, Jackson tosses in a rambunctious cover of “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads. The entire band looked like they are having a ball, exchanging smiles and letting the music consume them. The only bummer is that the advertised start time for the show was later in the evening which means many missed this fantastic R&B performance.Wielding his guitar like a firebrand, JD Simo along with bassist Andraleia Buch and drummer Adam Abrashoff came to cast away our demons. JD’s slide guitar soared and it appeared to have a life of its own, propelling him across the stage as the band took us up to a “Higher Plane.” JD tapped into sultry soul on a new song called “One of These Days.” Andraleia’s bass shook the earth as Adam’s drum called us to attention on “Help.” Like a revivalist preacher, JD left the microphone to stand at the edge of the stage and beckoned us with his voice to “help each other through”. The crowd cried out in approval and support.
The funky “Movement” transformed into a mind-melting freestyle jam. JD’s guitar moaned, wailed, and shouted. Adam and Andraleia then put on a clinic with their impressive chops. Several people jumped to their feet as JD Simo launched into a cover of “With a Little Help from My Friends” by the Beatles. However, JD’s version was definitely a shout-out to the great Joe Cocker as JD belted out a bellowing scream after “Do you need anybody….” There is no doubt that JD Simo gained some new fans tonight after this scorching performance.
The house lights fell, plunging the audience into darkness as the sound of “Cold Little Heart” by British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka filled the air. The large projection screen on stage came glowing to life as the Allman Betts Band walked onto the stage. The opening new song, “Airboats & Cocaine,” riveted the audience while images of brilliant blue Floridian skies, airboats in the Everglades and bloody money rippled across the screen.
Duane Betts voice had a perfect country air during “Shinin” from the Down To The River album. Joining Duane is Devon Allman (vocals/guitar), Berry Duane Oakley (bass/vocals), Johnny Stachela (guitar), John Ginty (keyboards), R. Scott Bryan (percussion), and John Lum (drums). They shared knowing smiles with each other and the audience.
Images of a narrow lane shaded with blissful pink flowers of magnolia trees framed the band during another new song called “Magnolia Road.” Duane and Devon traded off vocal duties on this southern rambler. Duane’s guitar solo had a touch of the Grateful Dead joy while Johnny Stachela’s slide guitar evoked down-home charm.
The gentle thoughtfulness of “Autumn Breeze” called to mind the music of the Allman Betts Band’s forefathers. Duane and Johnny harmonized their guitars. Johnny’s slide playing was phenomenal and a wonder to behold. Duane’s jazzy blues lead swung like the breeze. Devon and Berry stood together and raised their guitars into the astral star fields and Day-Glo swirls which meandered on the screen behind them.
Smiles and cheers erupted when the Allman Betts Band paid tribute to their roots with a cover of “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” Devon’s muscular vocals would make his father proud. The Allman Betts Band threw in more Allman Brothers songs including “Blue Sky” and “Dreams.” You could hear the love and respect in each song. The band sounded tight with each player in perfect step with each other.
The Allman Betts Band got funky with a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.” Berry stepped to the mic and his clear cool vocals evoked the hippy soul of Captain Trips. Everyone on stage was bouncing and grooving. Johnny and Duane traded off some seriously impressive lysergic licks. However, John Ginty took the cake with his funky fried organ. He could barely contain himself as his fingers danced across the keys.
Devon set up the next song by telling us that today is the “Good Old Days.” This inspiring song affirmed that every day is special and should be cherished. Images of the Allman Brothers in their prime flowed by like the currents of time drawing cheers from the audience. The Allman Betts Band closed out their set with “Down To The River.” The calming wash of this song had the audience swaying to this redemptive song. The band faded the song down to a whisper. Devon Allman raised a hand to his ear to encourage the audience to join in. The crowd responded with strong voices to sing “Down to the river…Down to the river.”
The Allman Betts band left the stage as the fans rose in applause and appreciative calls for more. The band emerged and Devon indicated that due to venue rules they can’t play long, but assured us all that next time they will jam well into the night. As a final salute, the Allman Betts Band played “Midnight Rider.” Voices sung along with the chorus “Not gon’ let ’em catch the midnight rider” and you couldn’t help but smile. The Allman Betts Band along with special guests JD Simo and Jackson Stokes lit up this long winter’s night with the fire of music played with passion and grace.