Rock, Ribs, & Ridges Festival – Devon Allman Project & 38 Special-Augusta, NJ

Rock, Ribs, & Ridges Festival – Devon Allman Project & 38 Special

Augusta, NJ – 6/24/23

Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf

Thunderstorms riddled the NY/NJ area in the week leading up to 2023’s annual Rock, Ribs, and Ridges Festival. The festival, now in it’s 13th year,  offers three days of great Southern Rock, bringing thousands of fans to the Sussex County Fairgrounds. As I’d arranged to attend the festival on Saturday for the Devon Allman Project and 38 Special, I anxiously followed the weather on Friday night and Saturday morning. All reports indicated there was a 60% chance of thunderstorms by later Saturday afternoon and into the evening. However, that also meant there was a 40% chance of no storms. So, with those odds I hoped for the best and made my way to the festival to see the last two bands of the Saturday line-up.

The storms had not yet arrived, leaving the air hot and humid. However, neither the uncomfortable heat nor the threat of storms deterred these Southern Rock lovers from making their pilgrimage to this annual event.  A multitude of enthused fans wandered about the fairgrounds, purchasing food and beverages, eating and socializing beneath tents, lounging in chairs and on blankets, and seating themselves stage front, in anticipation of the upcoming musical performance. I arrived at the end of the performance by The Weight Band and from afar could hear the band performing “The Weight,” as audience members energetically joined in the singing of this classic number. 

With the departure of The Weight Band, the stage was reset for the Devon Allman Project. Luck continued to hold out and the rain remained at abeyance. While the crowd briefly dissipated after The Weight Band’s performance, within a short time eager Devon Allman fans packed the seats, the lawn area and under the adjacent tent. Allman, who’s played in both bands and as a solo artist for more than 20 years, has an audience that’s continued to grow throughout his musical journey. In 2018, when The Allman Betts Band was formed, many intrigued, devoted fans of The Allman Brothers ventured out to witness this next generation carrying on the Southern Rock legacy. In the years since, what’s become evident is that while some fans may have ventured out to see and hear music of “the sons,” Allman’s devoted fanbase has continued to grow, whether performing as part of The Allman Betts Band, Devon Allman Project or Allman Family Revival. 

As the members of Devon Allman Project made their way onstage the crowd cheered with immense enthusiasm, as the band opened the set with “Wash in G Minor,” transitioning into “Fired Up!” a Royal Southern Brotherhood cover.  The audience was surely “fired up” and throughout the hour and a half set there wasn’t a moment when the expansive crowd wasn’t at a peak level of energy and excitement, as they sang, danced, applauded and periodically called out, “We love you Devon.”  “It’s great to be here in NJ!” Allman shouted to the crowd. “We have to be on a plane tonight for Colorado but when I saw the chance to play here in NJ I said we had to come!” The thrilled audience erupted in even greater cheers. 

All who’ve witnessed Allman onstage (with his spirited facial expressions and intense guitar riffs) can attest that he consistently exudes a passion for playing music and a thrill for performing. This passion was equally embodied by guitarist Jackson Stokes (the first artist Allman signed to his label Create Records), who played alongside Allman and frequently jammed with him. The broad smile across Stokes’ face was a clear indicator of the joy he has while performing with Allman and the band. The additional Devon Allman Project members are musicians who’ve been part of Allman’s bands for a number of years, including drummer John Lum, keyboard player, John Ginty, bass player, Justin Corgan,  and David Gomez, percussionist and saxophonist, who made his way front-and-center stage to showcase his incredible saxophone skills, when not displaying his rhythmic expertise on the congas.

The set included a range of numbers, including Allman’s powerful, bluesy “Can’t Lose ‘em All,” and a soulful cover of The Spinners “I’ll Be Around,” both from Allman’s 2014 album Ragged & Dirty, as well as “One Way Out” and Checkin’ Up on My Baby,” covers of music by Sonny Boy Williamson, and favorites from The Allman Betts Band, “Down to the River” and “Southern Rain.”  Of course a performance by Devon Allman Project would not be the same without Allman paying homage to his musical roots with a couple of classics from The Allman Brothers Band. The ethereal “Dreams,” had audience members feeling the melancholy sound and swaying in their seats, and the band’s last number, the iconic, beloved “Midnight Rider,” had fans on their feet and cheering from the well-known, ear-grabbing first few notes. As the band congregated at center-stage to take their bows the love and respect for Devon Allman and the band emanated from the overjoyed fans. 

It was now 7:00 and Mother Nature had cooperated all day; there’d been no rain. However, as the stage was being reset for the final performance by 80s Southern Rock band 38 Special, half the sky turned a shade of menacing gray, the half moving towards the fairgrounds. With the band not scheduled to go on until 7:30 it remained unclear if they’d make it onstage before the storm’s arrival. At the strike of half-past seven, the band burst onto the stage bathed in vibrant red and pink lights. The impending storm be-damned, the musicians were spirited, energetic and ready to perform, opening the set with “Rockin’ Into the Night” the title song from their 1979 album. The band’s lead guitar player, Jerry Riggs, wasted no time grabbing the crowd’s attention with his dynamic guitar performance, blonde rockstar hair and passionate facial expressions. Lead singer, guitarist and founding band member, Don Barnes (since 2021 the only original band member), showcased strong rock vocals, that belied the passage of more than forty years since the release of their early 80s chart-topping hits. 

From the beginning of the performance the enthusiastic crowd was on their feet, moving along with the vibrant electricity pouring from the stage. “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys,” the spirited, rhythmic title number from the band’s 1981 album, followed, as a slight drizzle began to make it’s way over the fairgrounds. As Barnes passionately sang “Back Where You Belong,” from 1984’s Tour De Force, and Riggs played a powerful guitar solo, the rain finally began to fall. Band members, shielded by the covered stage continued to perform while some fans dove beneath tents and other particularly devoted fans (who’d come prepared with ponchos and umbrellas) remained steadfast in front of the stage. As the rain continued (briefly becoming heavy), so did the band continue performing, with drummer, Gary Moffatt, bass player and backing vocalist, Barry Dunaway, and keyboard player and backing vocalist, Bobby Capps, who delighted the crowd when he sang beautiful lead vocals on the “Second Chance,” from 1988’s Rock & Roll Strategy. 

During the hour and a half performance there was never a moment when the storm put a damper on the musicians or the fans. Rather, it appeared for some fans that standing in the rain, listening to beloved music from their youth brought them back to years gone by, as being in a field, in the rain, listening to one’s favorite music is something to do in your teens and twenties (or to make you feel that again.) As the storm blew over and the rain ended, the band continued to play and the fans continued to dance and sing. Additional songs from the evening included  “Back to Paradise,” “Like No Other Night,” “Hearts on Fire,” “Somebody Like You” and “Teacher/Teacher.” Of course no 38 Special concert would be complete without hits, “Caught Up in You” from 1982’s album Special Forces and “Hold on Loosely,” from 1981’s Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, the latter of which helped end the evening in a flurry of energy and excitement.

While thunderstorms riddled much of NJ throughout the week leading up to Rock, Ribs, & Ridges, and threatened to wash out the Saturday performances, in the end the music prevailed. Although rain arrived during the final show of the evening, that did nothing to stop the band members or the diehard fans, who came for some good ole Southern Rock, and surely got what they came for!