Words by Caleb Calhoun
Photos by Libby Gamble
It’s Wednesday night and Duane Betts is killing it. Tonight the Devon Allman Project/Duane Betts tour is rolling through Asheville, The Salvage Station to be specific, and Betts opening set is about as on point as it is possible to be.
I’m working with a new photographer this evening, Libby Gamble, and she is all over the place getting her job done, still, when he heads into Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones, she can’t help to set her camera down and dance. But we are pros, we know when to dance and when to work, we know when to “drop our reds, drop our greens and our blues.”
After a smoking Hot ‘Lanta he closes the set with Taking Time before retiring to the back. I’ve been dancing for an hour now and D.A.P has yet to take the stage. I was tired coming in but Betts has me limbered up, ready for the rest of the show.
Once they have everything just exactly right D.A.P takes the stage, lacking only Devon Allman himself. They begin the song, heating up quickly, and maybe thirty-two bars in Allman joins them. He is a rocker in every sense of the word, black leather vest, black t-shirt, dagger pendant dangling from his neck.
There is a sense of Allman Brothers meets Bon Jovi, and it is a hell of a lot of fun right from the start. Allman himself has about twelve guitars stashed stage left, each of them somehow older, more beautiful, and more classic than the last. The one that catches my eye the most is what must be, at the latest, a mid-sixties, natural wood finish, Fender Telecaster. The fret board is worn away, the body is scratched up, and it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
He is playing one of his own songs and switching from flat to finger picking throughout. Then, without warning they head into a solid 80’s cover, I’ll Be Around that gets this crowd moving for maybe the first and last time of the evening. Not that they aren’t interested and invested, but truth be told, most of the people here look like this is likely the only show they will be to all year.
By the time Allman brings Betts out for a beautiful Friend of the Devil there isn’t much space to dance anymore. Every spin, every move means you are bumping into someone, and not someone who is dancing. No, tonight is not a night for etiquette, and so pretty much the entirety of the five or six front rows are people standing statue still, holding their phones over their head, videoing away like they must have way more memory on their phone than I do.
After getting growled at multiple times by people that are too busy filming to watch the show or shake their hips, I head to the back of the crowd to find some room to boogie. This show is way too good to stand by people that think they are at the fucking symphony.
After playing another Devon Allman original in Live from the Heart they take the crowd on one hell of a ride with a beautiful, tear-jerking, hug-inducing version of Lean on Me. They finish out the set before taking a short break before the encore.
I already have a picture of the set list to follow along and this is what I have been looking forward to all night – an encore that has a Purple Rain>Blue Sky in it, but when they finally come back out they take an audible.
“You have to read the audience,” Allman tells me after the set. “We were all set to do Purple Rain but decided to go to Sweet Melissa instead.”
And he is right, this isn’t a crowd that wanted to get down to Prince, this is a crowd that really wants video of Melissa that they can show their friends at the office tomorrow am. They close up the encore, the fans having gotten exactly what they wanted, and most of those fans head to the merch table. Allman/Betts merch game is on point, and I’m a little on the broke side or I would be leaving with one of their shirts myself.
Talking to guitarist Jackson Stokes after the show I ask him what it’s like to be touring with Devon Allman and Duane Betts. To be working with legends and playing legendary songs. To be traveling all over the world with a musical aristocracy.
“It’s hard to put into words,” he tells me. “Being younger it’s an education every night but even more so it is humbling to be part of a much bigger legacy than yourself, or even Allman and Betts. It’s this whole movement, and it’s a wonderful responsibility.”