Betts raises the bar |

Betts raises the bar

Stewart Oksenhorn
Dickie Betts performed Saturday night at Belly Up with his band, Great Southern. (Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times Weekly)

Fans of the Allman Brothers Band got a hefty taste of what’s to come at next month’s Labor Day Festival, courtesy of Dickie Betts. Betts, a founding singer-guitarist with the band, got the boot from his “Bros” several years ago. But in his Saturday night concert at Belly Up, he seemed to be auditioning for his old spot back.

While Betts has a supply of songs from outside the Allmans repertoire – tunes he has written for his long-running side project, Great Southern, and old blues chestnuts – the show was jam-packed with Allmans classics. Before touching his guitar, Betts told the crowd that he was going to play songs he had written – a gentle reminder that a healthy chunk of those familiar Southern boogie-rock gems were his creations. The band – with Betts’ son Duane playing a prominent role on lead and rhythm guitar – then launched into “Les Brers in A Minor.” If that number didn’t cement Betts’ reputation as perhaps the greatest composer of rock instrumentals, then two others played that night – the familiar, bopping “Jessica,” and the monumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which got a 20-minute workout – did.

In appearance, Betts was frail. He was visibly sucking wind from the first minute. Which explains why the show was relatively short, and possibly why the band focused on instrumental jams, rather than singing. But the alleged sloppiness that got Betts the boot from the Bros was never in evidence. This show did nothing to dishonor Betts’ legacy, but helped to resurrect it.Consider the bar set high for Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival, dominated by the Allman Brothers and its offshoots. The Allmans themselves play Sept. 2. Gov’t Mule, led by Allmans singer-guitarist Warren Haynes, headlines the following day; his fellow Allmans guitarist Derek Trucks appears with his wife, singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, in the opening act, Soul Stew Revival. That night, Haynes completes his weekend tripleheader by playing a solo acoustic show at Belly Up.

Belly Up’s run of globe-trotting shows got off to a blistering start July 30 with Femi Kuti. The son of the late Nigerian star Fela Kuti, the pioneer of the jazz-funk-Yoruban blend known as Afropop, the younger Kuti hit the stage as part of a 14-member ensemble that included dancers and a five-piece brass section. Playing a grooving, but also socially conscious brand of dance music, Kuti – a singer and keyboardist, but most outstanding on saxophone – entered an ecstatic, trancelike state as he performed.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is