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Sarasota native Duane Betts shares musical memories ahead of Allman Family Revival

Man wearing brown cowboy hat and yellow fringe jacket
Kaelan Barowsky
Sarasota native Duane Betts returns home for the Allman Family Revival Tour, Friday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

A tribute to southern rock patriarch Gregg Allman, the concert began as a celebration of what would have been the musician's 70th birthday in December 2017.

Sarasota native Duane Betts, the son of Allman Brothers founding member Dickey Betts, was just 16 when he first performed on stage with the classic American rock band.

"I was really nervous about that and I purposely forgot my guitar in the hotel room thinking that that would make a difference, you know, that I could get out of it because I just wanted to put it off another day,” he recalled. "And my dad, he says, you're going to sit in, right? Tonight's the night. And I go, oh man, I forgot my guitar. He just looked at me and says, oh, that's alright. We have plenty of guitars, you can just play one of ours."

The younger Betts admits it should probably have occurred to him that the Allman Brothers Band might have had a few extra guitars on hand.

"Why didn't I think of that?” he said with a laugh. “Why did I think I was going to get out of it?”

As it turns out, there was no need to worry. When it came time for his solo, Betts did just fine.

Later that summer, he played with the band during its appearance at the Woodstock ’94 music festival.

Young boy and father playing guitars
Courtesy of the artist
A young Duane Betts playing guitar with father Dickey Betts at home in Sarasota.

The Allman Brothers Band stopped touring in 2014, but Betts has found other musical ventures. One of those — The Allman Family Revival — will bring him back to the area on Friday when the show comes to the Van Wezel Preforming Arts Center in Sarasota. The revival is a tribute to southern rock patriarch Gregg Allman and began as a celebration of what would have been the musician's 70th birthday in December 2017.

Betts' ancestors came to Manatee County around the time of the Civil War. Duane Betts was raised in Sarasota until he was 12. When his parents divorced, he split time between his mom's house in California, and in Florida where his father still lives.

"I just have great memories of going out to Siesta Key, and going to the beach, and out on the boat,” he said. "Also, the other side of it, going out hunting in Myakka. The real like, down home Florida stuff was all from my dad.”

Father and son have always had a close relationship, and Betts says he learned a lot about playing music from his father.

"He’s such a masterful musician and he definitely has given me tips along the way,” he said.

“One of the things he said was, go out and play to nature and try not to offend it. You know, it’s not like I go outside and play out in the woods, next to a stream every day. I mean, I play inside, but the concept of trying to learn how to make a beautiful melody and make it sound to where it makes someone feel good and makes them feel like they're in a safe place and they can trust you."

In 2005, Dickey Betts asked his son to join his band Great Southern, which was formed after the elder Betts parted ways with The Allman Brothers Band.

These days, Duane plays in The Allman Betts Band with Greg Allman's son Devon, and current Sarasota County resident Berry Oakley Jr, whose dad was the founding bass player for the Allman Brothers.

The three first met as kids when on tour with their famous fathers.

Two men sitting outside on lawn chairs wave at camera
Duane and Dickey Betts relax at the Betts family home in Sarasota, May 2021.

The Allman Betts Band is rock music steeped in Americana. Its a mix of southern rock, blues, and a lot of soul. The band released their debut album Down to the River in 2018.

In concert, the band plays mostly original music but they do cover a couple of Allman Brothers classics too.

"We love that music,” he said. “But we certainly don't go out and play Allman Brothers songs half the night. It’s really a balance and we don’t try to shy away from it. That's an amazing legacy to be part of."

Even so, legacy can be a tricky thing to navigate.

But with last year's release of their second album, the double CD, Bless Your Heart, the Allman Betts Band has signaled its not here to fill anyone's shoes, but to leave footprints of their own.

The group serves as the house band for the Allman Family Revival tour which is based on the format of “The Last Waltz” concert, a three-hour show featuring up to a dozen marquee names in music.

As a reporter, my goal is to tell a story that moves you in some way. To me, the best way to do that begins with listening. Talking to people about their lives and the issues they care about is my favorite part of the job.
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