Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel
The Cutting Room – NYC – July 29/30, 2023
Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf
Duane Betts has spent a lifetime steeped in music. As the son of Dickey Betts, co-founder of the famed Allman Brothers Band, Duane (named after the legendary Duane Allman) is a product of both nature and nurture. Not only is music a part of his blood, it’s been a lifelong, integral force in his environment. From Betts’ teenage years he was skilled enough on guitar to perform onstage with The Allman Brothers Band, before joining rock bands Backbone69 and Whitestarr. Following these stints, Betts spent almost a decade playing guitar in father Dickey Betts’ band, Great Southern, as well as performing as touring guitarist for the group Dawes.
In spring 2018, Betts released his debut EP, Sketches of American Music, and toured with the Devon Allman Project. At year’s end, to the thrill of all diehard fans of The Allman Brothers Band, Devon Allman and Duane Betts announced the formation of The Allman Betts Band, including bassist Berry Duane Oakley, son of the late Allman Brothers Band founding bassist Berry Oakley. The Allman Betts Band released two albums and garnered rave reviews, before announcing their hiatus in early 2022…a heartbreak for their devoted fans.
The break has given these musicians an opportunity to spread their musical wings and pursue their individual visions. This is just what Betts has done with the formation of Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel and recording their debut album, Wild & Precious Life. Betts formed the band, with guitarist Johnny Stachela, keyboardist John Ginty, bassist Berry Duane Oakley (all from The Allman Betts Band) and drummer Tyler Greenwell. Betts’ goal with the album was to capture the feeling of “old school Florida,” his home state, and to showcase rich, heartfelt Southern Rock, incorporating the flavors of blues, folk and country, along with some incredible guitar jams. Betts did indeed capture that sound and feel. Allman Betts fans will feel an instant connection upon hearing the familiar sound of Betts’ voice, combined with the story-driven spirit of his music.
The current leg of Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel’s tour has been making its way through the North East, with Betts on guitar and vocals, Johnny Stachela on guitar, John Ginny on keyboards, and touring members Pedro Arevalo on bass, and Vince Fossett Jr. on drums. On July 29th the band arrived in NYC to perform at The Cutting Room, a funky, yet sophisticated music club that showcases performers new on the scene and those with long musical histories. On this evening, Betts and his band had a very special time slot, a time that only exists when one iconic band, with thousands of fans, arrives in town to perform. This band would be the beloved jam-band Phish, and the time slot would be an After Phish Party.
For those like myself who are not Phishheads and don’t know what an After Phish Party is (I’ve since become acquainted), after jamming at a Phish concert many Phishheads are not ready to end their music-filled night. What better way to keep the night going than with more live music. Of course it has to be the right music, the right feel, the right jam. Duane Betts and his Southern rock jam-band music, with extended, impassioned guitar solos, was just the right vibe after a night of Phish’s progressive, psychedelic, funk rock jams.
With only a few blocks to travel from Madison Square Garden to The Cutting Room, fans seemed to slowly make their way to what was slated to be a 11:55PM performance. As the clock struck midnight the crowd in the club remained sparse. Fifteen minutes passed, then thirty and fans still entered the club in drips and drabs. As the band was yet to appear onstage I wondered if they were awaiting a crowd before beginning the show. Finally at 12:40AM, with the tables surrounding the dance floor slowly beginning to fill, the band arrived with a burst of energy that belied that it was almost 1:00AM. Many of the audience members (a wide range of ages and backgrounds) had not come from the Phish concert, but came to The Cutting Room as fans of Duane Betts, and his musical lineage.
The evening opened with “Saints to Sinners,” the third single released from Wild & Precious Life, highlighting Duane Betts’ signature sound and musical prowess, followed by “Evergreen,” a passionate number with extended guitar jams, showcasing Stachela’s phenomenal slide guitar skills (also on display throughout performance.) It was as if Duane Betts was the pied piper. No sooner had the music begun to play, than the crowd in The Cutting Room started to grow. “Mountain Jam,” an Allman Brothers’ instrumental and “Blue Sky,” the Dickey Betts penned and sung Allman Brothers favorite, had fans slowly rising from their seats. The dance floor that initially remained vacant soon became filled with enthused audience members, lured by the intoxicating flow of the music.
The almost two hour set, “Yes, the band played until 2:30AM,” included the album’s first single, the upbeat, smile-inducing “Waiting on a Song,” the melancholy, county-infused “Colors Fade,” the powerful “Cold Dark World,” and the captivating, guitar-laden “Stare at the Sun.” Additional Allman Brothers numbers included “Hoochie Choochie Man,” with passionate blues vocals performed by bassist Pedro Arevalo, and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” highlighting John Ginty during an awe-inspiring keyboard piece that had this maestro’s fingers and arms flying up and down the keyboards with breathtaking speed and dexterity. At the end of the number the band members cleared the stage, except Vince Fossett, Jr. who remained behind the drums for a impassioned, rhythmic display of drumsticks flying at lightning speed. The show came to a spirited end with “Taking Time,” from Sketches of American Music, an energetic, upbeat number that had the crowd rocking on their feet, until the final beat.
Duane Betts had a goal to spread his wings and create an album that presents who he is, where he’s from and what he believes. He did just that with Wild & Precious Life, which incorporates the instrumental savvy and skillfulness of a jam band, with a dynamic, heartfelt blues, folk, Southern rock sound. Yes, it is a wild and precious life. How lucky we are to have great such music to guide our travels.