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It's a Family Affair

Deconstructing the Allman Brothers Band

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In their role as the longest-running American rock act still actively performing -- some 36 years and counting -- the Allman Brothers Band has indelibly placed its stamp on rock & roll. And this imprint resembles either a peach or a magic mushroom, depending on your proclivities.

If you're anywhere between the ages of 20 and 60, this grand declaration about the Brothers' stature probably comes as no surprise. To go a week -- hell, a day -- without hearing "Ramblin' Man" while scanning your radio dial is akin to finding a NASCAR fan who doesn't know the words to "Sweet Home Alabama."

But the Allman Brothers' legacy goes well beyond the simple parameters of The Song. The legacy extends beyond newbie-blues singers approximating the Gregg Allman hellhound howl. It's deeper than the rite of passage young blues-guitar wannabes must undergo -- that is, aping Duane Allman's slide work. The legacy is infinitely more profound than the band's serious impact on the psilocybin black market.

One of the Allmans' key gifts to rock culture is their Southern-bred family vibe, which embraces all who are open to their vision. Also: along with the Grateful Dead, the ABB is the template for the early 90s jam band renaissance. Many of the Allmans' Southern rock contemporaries (Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Outlaws) extended various album tracks to epic proportions live, but with the exception of the former's "Freebird" and latter's "Green Grass and High Tides," few dared to do it on record. Fearlessly, the Allmans' displayed their famed "Mountain Jam" on an entire vinyl side of Eat a Peach. Live, the Allmans often hit the 10-minute mark several times in a three-hour show. Mind you, jazz bands had done this for decades, blues bands too, but early Allmans jams were a relatively new direction in the rock & roll world.

Speaking of the jazz and blues precedent, you have the Brothers to thank for bands like Phish, Galactic, Garaj Mahal, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Lake Trout, Maktub and myriad others. Original guitarists Duane Allman and Dickey Betts cut their teeth on the modal jazz of John Coltrane, as well as reams of 60s soul, and it shows in their playing. Replacement guitarists Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring and Derek Trucks have all picked up this torch. Lots of bands mine black music but the Allmans' honest cultural exchange has helped spawn Jam Nation's admirably inclusive vibe.

The Allmans pioneered the scene's multicultural makeup, too. In a time when some white Southern bands dared not have a black bus driver, the Allmans featured much-beloved black drummer, Jaimoe. Ex-guitarist Betts has long had a huge interest in Native American culture; accordingly, he's engaged in various related activist and educational pursuits over the years. As the Brothers progressed and evolved through the decades, black artists such as Oteil Burbridge and Lamar Williams have manned key positions in the Allmans, as has Nuyorican percussionist Marc Quiñones.

Whether you choose to lump them with jam bands or Southern rockers, the Allman Brothers have always seen "family" in the extended sense of the word. Whereas Skynyrd spoke of black folk in song (see "The Ballad of Curtis Loew"), the Allmans surrounded themselves with people of all shades. Unlike the Grateful Dead, the Allmans never delved into self-parody and the black hole of celebrity -- they're still the easiest "legendary" act in the world to get an interview with. And unlike rising Southern/jam faves the Drive-By Truckers, the Allmans' worldview isn't parsed through the reconstructionist smoked glass of ironic detachment (although one suspects the Truckers' hearts are in the right place).

There's one phrase you'll hear Gregg Allman use most any time he addresses his audience: "Brothers and sisters." With the Allmans, a concert isn't just an excuse to jam endlessly in the open air. It's a family reunion, and all are invited.

The Allman Brothers Band will play at the Verizon Amphitheatre on Sunday, Oct. 2. Moe opens. Showtime is 6:30pm. Tickets are $23.50 - $48.50, available at www.cellardoor.com or 704-522-6500.

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