April 7, 2021
Devon Allman was on the road a year or so ago with the Allman Betts Band when everything changed.
From the vantage point of a tour bus, the COVID-19 must have seemed especially apocalyptic: gigs in distant cities winking out one by one.
“I woke up to my tour manager shaking me awake, saying, ‘Hey, you were right. Everything’s canceled,’” Allman said in a phone interview with Whatzup.
Having no other option, Allman went home to St. Louis.
He stayed busy during the lockdown and the long suspension of live music. He recorded an instrumental album, signed a new artist to his label, Create Records, and traveled to places where travelers were welcomed.
Eventually, he and Duane Betts got on the drive-in theater circuit that materialized after more traditional music venues were shut down.
The Allman Betts Band will perform at the 13-24 Drive-In in Wabash on April 22.
Drive-ins to the Rescue
The 13-24 Drive-In is offering an ambitious slate of live music this spring: Chris Janson on April 24, Casting Crowns on May 7, Here Come the Mummies on May 20, Travis Tritt on May 21, and FireHouse with Kip Winger on May 22.
Last year, the 13-24 Drive-In and other drive-in theaters in Indiana and Ohio were beacons during a dark time. They offered live-by-satellite concerts and live-in-the-flesh concerts to people whose entertainment options were severely limited.
These concerts provided a valuable community service and brought regional attention to Wabash.
What they weren’t for the drive-in was lucrative.
“Financially, it was pretty much a wash for us,” said Tod Minnich, president and CEO of the Honeywell Foundation.
The Honeywell Foundation manages the theater for its owner, Inguard Insurance of Wabash.
Overcoming barriers to providing entertainment is part of the Honeywell Foundation’s mission, Minnich said, so the concerts were beneficial and satisfying on that level.
Allman said drive-in shows really aren’t all that different from other sorts of outdoor shows.
“It’s really the same dynamic,” he said. “Here’s the band. Here’s the people. Let’s have fun.”
The biggest difference may be that people honk their horns instead of clapping their hands, Allman said.
Allman in the Family
Devon Allman is the son of the late Gregg Allman and Duane Betts is the son of the still-kicking Dickey Betts.
The elder Allman and elder Betts were bandmates in the Allman Brothers Band.
Devon Allman didn’t start getting to know his dad until his late teens. He met Duane Betts on the Allman Brothers tour bus.
Both sons enjoyed long and robust music careers before they started discussing the possibility of joining forces.
Allman said he never felt any pressure to make music that sounds like the music his dad made.
“You’re always gonna have people… it’s like the Star Wars movies, perfect example,” he said. “You’ll always have those diehards who say, ‘Nothing’s better than the original three Star Wars movies.’ And then you’re gonna have another batch of people who say, ‘I’m just glad to have more Star Wars, whatever it is.’
“We know where we come from,” Allman said. “I don’t think we carry pressure with that. I have ten records under my belt. I have earned a place where I can do what I want to do. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.”
Discovering “new sounds and new melodies” is one of the primary joys of music-making for Allman.
“And, hey, if one of those new melodies and sounds reminds you of my dad, man, that’s great,” he said. “And if it reminds you of the Rolling Stones, that’s great, too.”
No Sophomore Slump
Last summer, the band decided to go ahead with the release of its second album, Bless Your Heart, even though the pandemic had forced the postponement of so much new entertainment.
Bless Your Heart earned universally positive reviews.
“When you hear the first album, you’re hearing the birth of the band,” Allman said. “I think the first album is a postcard that says, ‘Hey. Here we are. We’re figuring this out.’”
Allman describes the second album as “a long love letter.”
“It’s everyone having a love affair with being in this band,” he said. “It’s a more detailed thing. It goes deeper down the rabbit hole.”
Looking ahead, Allman said he doesn’t know when things will go back to normal and what that will look like. In the meantime, he just plans to do what he’s always done.
“You want to keep the audience engaged,” he said. “If they already love you, don’t give them a reason not to. Give them reasons to fall more deeply in love with you.
“But you also have to write songs for yourself,” Allman said. “They have to have merit. They have to have meaning. They have to be real. I think if you just keep your head down and play your next batch of songs with all the sincerity that you can, it’ll lead you in the right direction.”
For Minnich, who not only oversees the drive-in but also the Honeywell Center and the Eagles Theatre, a moment of truth is coming when all the creativity in the world won’t be enough to forestall disaster.
“We need business back in the fall,” he said. “We need those indoor shows. We need those first-run films. We need to be at 100 percent capacity.”
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