Founding Allman Brother Dickey Betts — almost 70 — brought his southern rock to the free Alive at Five concert series for a hot and crowded Thursday night performance.
Betts no longer travels with the larger Allman Brothers gang, ousted by the other members for a slew of rumored reasons. With or without them, though, his guitar sound and style — a smooth, fluent, circular motion — maintains the core of the Allmans’ signature sound ever since he emerged from the shadow of bandleader Duane Allman, who died 41 years ago.
Betts played a lot of old Allmans tunes Thursday night, to the delight of the packed, sweaty crowd. The back end of the show was loaded with “his” Allman tunes — a great “Jessica,” which was Betts’ debut as lead guitarist after Duane Allman’s death — with some “Mountain Jam” and an encore of “Ramblin’ Man.”
A long “Elizabeth Reed,” his classic instrumental and the first of many over the years, was also a highlight, brought down by drum solos but then saved with another “Mountain Jam” verse and an exciting finale. While dual-drum solos are a staple of any Allmans concert, they were not needed here, other than to give Betts a rest. And the drummers soloed separately, not even together, which at least made the famous Allman drum solos special with their jazz feel and overlapping fills.
The third song of the show, “Bluesky,” was the best. Betts vocals were not strong, but they were good enough, and he lit into his solo for the first time in the show, making it immediately worthwhile for anyone who traveled from far or near to see him.
The standard tunes and solos were rearranged a bit to keep things interesting and fresh for Betts, his band and the audience. His son Duane is one of two guitarists who support him, but Betts held the spotlight through most of the show.
Despite his falling out with the Allmans, Betts does not shy away from that band’s early tunes, including “Statesboro Blues,” a great “One Way Out,” and “You Don’t Love Me,” from the Allman’s breakout live album at the Fillmore East, which makes any list for best live album of all time. Betts snuck in a few obscure guitar phrases from that album, just to hit a note for his more loyal fans.
While “You Don’t Love Me” was not great, it was good to hear him keep the sound and the song alive.
Betts has leaned heavy on country tunes over the years, but the crowd got little of that Thursday. They also, disappointingly, heard no slide playing from him, though there was his oddly jazzy rhythm playing during keyboard solos or when his son took a turn at lead guitar. Betts was always part of the rhythm jazz force in the early Allmans sound.
Some members of the Allmans have bad-mouthed Betts publicly in recent years and are winning the PR game, particularly given the fact that Gregg Allman is enjoying a media surge with his recent autobiography. But Thursday night, and any night Betts is on stage, he gets the last word, at least for the moment.