Southbound to The Big House: The Allman Brothers Band

An impromptu celebration of The Allman Brothers Band’s 50th anniversary in Macon

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit some of my family in Macon, Georgia. My great aunt turned 90, and I got to see my grandma who is spry as ever at 91. Both sides of my family have a storied history in Georgia (ca. 1700s). So I have quite a few opportunities like these to visit. Side note- I’m glad I didn’t grow up in Georgia because I’m pretty sure that I’m related to a large portion of the state which would have made dating a nightmare.

On my way into Macon from Atlanta, I saw a billboard for The Allman Brothers Museum at The Big House. The Allman Brothers, per my mother’s oral history, are both a rich staple of Macon and, at one time, a “black eye on Macon”.

allman

My mom grew up around the area, and she was able to go watch them practice at the time. She also mentioned that they played in a festival somewhere down there that was akin to Woodstock. However, Mom also mentioned that a lot of people didn’t care for The Allman Brothers at the time because “they were hippies.” At one point, my mom turned to her own mom (my Grandmama), who was listening in on the conversation, and said “Ya’ll wouldn’t have cared for them.”

Maybe Grandmama wouldn’t have cared for them, but many people definitely care for The Allman Brothers Band. Rolling Stone ranked them 52nd on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004.

Luckily, my mom grew up right down the road from the Allman HQ, and she passed on her love of them to my siblings and I. And even luckier, many of my school friends had a great appreciation for the Allmans. So, the Allmans are very much a family affair for me.

I decided to take a little pilgrimage to pay tribute to the storied Southern Rock/Jam Band Gods during my day in Macon.

First, I will share some history that will be a vast oversimplification as The Allman Brother Band has been around for 50 years now. If you would like to know more about the history, I suggest checking out the history from the Big House site. For the sake of brevity, I will be only talking about the original line-up.

The Allman Brothers Band came into existence in 1969. The original line up was one full of phenoms: Duane (slide and lead guitar) and Gregg Allman (vocals and keyboard, songwriting) , Dickey Betts (lead guitar and vocals, songwriting), Berry Oakley (bass) , Butch Trucks (drums), and Jaimoe Johnson (drums). In 1971, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash, and a little more than a year later Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle crash. A series of line-up changes occurred in the following years.

duane and berry
Berry and Duane

Before I visited The Allman Brothers Museum, I took a stop to visit some of the bros. at their final resting spot.


Rose Hill Cemetery

As of this post, two-thirds of the original band line-up are dead:

    • Duane Allman, motorcycle accident in 1971
    • Berry Oakley, motorcycle accident in 1972
    • Butch Trucks, mental health and life issues in 2017
    • Gregg Allman, liver cancer in 2017.
duane
Duane Allman’s motorcycle

They’ve all returned to the same burial spot in Rose Hill Cemetery despite the vast amount of time between  some of their deaths. I think it’s extremely special that these four brothers (bio brothers and otherwise) are buried in the plot.

I’ve posted a slideshow from the cemetery below and shared some notes on how to find the graves as it is a bit tricky.

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I found The Allman Brothers Band plot to be really peaceful. There were many sweet gifts like incense and little trinkets left along the graves and the fence around the plot. Duane and Berry both had small angel statues with the names of their daughters inscribed on the pedestals.

I didn’t bring much with, but I left the littlest sumpin’ at the plot.

I didn't have much on me, but I left a little gift for the guys.


The Big House

After my graveyard visit, I headed to the Big House, which is where The Allman Brothers Band Museum is located.

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The original line-up and some of their family members lived in the house from 1970-73.

I decided not to take pictures of the interior because 1) I wanted to be respectful of the museum and 2) you really do need to experience the house for yourself. I will share that he interior is stunning: hardwood floors, stained glass with peaches in the design, and other really purposeful features. The guy working the register at the museum told me that one occasion when Gregg Allman visited he said “This is a lot nicer than when we lived here,” or something along those lines.

I’ve posted some photos of the exterior and some details below. On the photo of The Big House exterior, you’ll see some folks standing outside. These were some Boomer-aged groupies who were super friendly. The lady standing next to the bush was clipping off a small branch to keep as a keepsake.

Throughout the day, I felt a general sense of kinship even when I wasn’t around other people. There were little signs of love all around and, although I am not superstitious or very spiritual, there was a general good energy at every Allman spot I visited that day. I think about how those four guys are buried next to each other, with two of them returning to be buried after 50 years. Those kinds of bonds are the kind you hope to have at the end of it all.

Despite quite a few tragedies in the history of the band, they’ve carried on and created a legacy that’s transcended generations and gives a 91 year old, a 61 year old, and a 31 year old something to talk about over morning coffee as a family.

The Allman Brothers Band recently announced a 50th anniversary box set and a 50th anniversary tribute show. Check ’em out.

Author: Keelin Billue

Chicago-based writer by way of Alabama, New Orleans, and Nashville. Writes primarily about music, sports (sort of), and the topics that piss people off at work and family holidays.

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