From Macon, Georgia – Where It All Began: The History of GABBA and GABBAfest
From Macon, Georgia – Where It All Began:
The History of The Georgia Allman Brother Band Association (GABBA)
and The Allman Brothers & Sister Reunion/Revival
by Martha Jones Long (Lil’ Martha)
(Reprinted from Jambands.com Online Magazine)
Last year I joined the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association (GABBA) and attended my first Allman Brothers and Sisters Reunion/Revival. This was almost a religious experience for me. There is a feeling of family that the music brings us, and which this association fosters. I was so moved by the wonderful people I met there who have since become dear friends; the opportunity to listen to some of the best live music performed by artists influenced by the ABB; and the opportunity to see Macon from another perspective. All these things so enhanced my life that I wrote about it on the official GABBA Web Site, www.gabba.org. It is indeed an honor to tell you about this extension of what is considered to be the “best damn band in the land!” It was also a pleasure to interview GABBA President Kirk Anderson and receive further information from GABBA Secretary Surelle Pinkston and Board Member Tom Holloway.
GABBA was formed in 1992 by a small group of forward thinkers, all fans of the Allman Brothers Band (ABB), whose lives had been touched by the music that started in Macon, Georgia in 1969, thirty years ago by the late Duane Allman. They had individually come to Macon to pay their respects for the departed brothers-Duane Allman and Berry Oakley-and had sought out other areas that influenced the ABB in the early days. These places, in addition to Rose Hill, the final resting place of those two brothers, the H&H Restaurant and Mama Louise, Beall’s Restaurant, The Big House, Idlewild South, and many others. They thought, “If we came to Macon to pay our respects, there must be other fans that feel as we do.” The more they talked among themselves and to others, the more enthused they became. It was like a snowball, gaining grass roots strength as it rolled down that Georgia red clay road that goes on forever.
On October 29, 1987, Tom Holloway began making an annual trek from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Macon, Georgia to spend the day at Rose Hill Cemetery. This was his way of paying respect to Duane and Berry who were laid to rest side-by-side there. Many others made this same trip, some locals, some like Tom from out-of-state, and some from other countries and continents. Allman fans coming together on this sacred ground in the name of Brotherhood.
In October 1991 Holloway organized a beautiful tribute in Macon to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Duane’s passing. This mini-convention was called “MACON MEMORIAL OCTOBER ALLBRO FEST:” Two days of fans gathering for music, memorabilia, exhibits, tours, tributes, fun, brotherhood, and a candlelight vigil at Rose Hill Cemetery. It was very successful and was attended by well over 200 people. One person intent on thanking Holloway for what he had done was Surelle Pinkston. She went to Rose Hill that night and introduced herself to him. She started thinking; “Someone in Macon should be doing this.”
Holloway kept noticing a man watching him during the evening. Finally the man approached him and introduced himself. He was Marty Willett. Willett was performing his own “random acts of kindness” and trying to remain anonymous while doing so, much to no avail. He volunteered to be a caretaker at Rose Hill, clandestinely cleaning, clearing, weeding and planting, improving and maintaining Duane’s and Berry’s memorials. Willett, like most of us, loved the ABB, its music and the effect they had on his life and the lives of others. He also thanked Holloway and expressed the desire and determination to continue his efforts every year with the help of Macon fans and the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Willet’s employer. Holloway was excited about the idea and the professional interest.
Surelle had been doing research on the Allman Brothers’ early days in Macon. Editorials in the local newspaper written by Alice Babb got her attention. Surelle made it a point to meet Alice. She and Alice arranged to meet Marty at Rose Hill. While he was planting flowers, they talked. He found in Surelle his first true sister in the dream for what GABBA would become. Surelle and Alice shared their memories, devotion, dedication, and their dreams as well.
GABBA was Willet’s brainchild. As he was conceptualizing how GABBA would work, his first thoughts were that an attorney should be involved. He enlisted the services of an attorney who was also an ABB fan, Tom Haywood. Haywood had been the only “suit” attending Holloway’s candlelight vigil in 1991. He began immediately to take the steps necessary to form a registered, non-profit association that would be called GABBA-the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association-a foundation of fans who feel like family. Willett’s next step was to identify a banker who would be Treasurer of GABBA. He tapped his friend Windy Blanks, also a long-time fan of the ABB, who was serving as vice-president of a bank in Macon.
Willett was like any parent eagerly awaiting the stages of development and fighting the urge to skip the crawl-before-you-walk stage. With an attorney and a treasurer in place, Willett serving as President began recruiting the individuals who would become founding members. He recruited Alice as Vice President and Surelle as Secretary. He realized this Board would not be complete without the directors of Rose Hill, the archivist at Washington Library, concert promoters, and concert goers, ABB collectors and musical historians, fan club leaders and fan club members, long-time fans and brand new fans. These 21 individuals formed a Board of Directors and were incorporated as a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving early influences on the ABB in Georgia. They made a commitment to identify and preserve ABB-related sites in Macon and Georgia. They became trailblazers much as the ABB themselves had set the standard for dual guitar wizardry and harmony. Their main goal was to accomplish all this while respecting the privacy of the individual members of the ABB. The 1992 Founding Mission Statement echoed these feelings.
MJL: Kirk, for those individuals unfamiliar with GABBA, what’s the difference between it and the ABB Fan Club?
KA: The ABB fan club is sanctioned by the Allman Brothers Band. First there is the Allman Brothers Band…PERIOD! Then there is the ABB Fan Club/Hittin’ the Note. They provide services to the fans beyond the concerts and albums/ CD’s. HTN provides inside coverage on the band and their influences as well as those ABB has influenced. They have the green light to provide official ABB merchandise, cool stuff you’ve seen on past tours and other things you new knew existed. Believe me, if they didn’t do it, no one else could! Then there’s GABBA. We’re third in this scenario as GABBA is not a part of the ABB or the fan club. Each is a separate entity. GABBA fills the needs of the fan that still wants to experience the ABB beyond what the band and the fan club can provide. We’re non-profit, so all of the funds we raise go directly back into projects to identify and preserve the legacy of the ABB in Macon and Georgia. We raise money for these projects via supporting memberships, donations and fund raisers including our annual fan gathering in Macon called the GABBAfest. We all do this from our hearts. GABBA has proven that fans can make a difference to the band they love and to the community.
MJL: In 1994 GABBA became a member of the “Adopt-a-Spot” program. What brought that decision about? Why does it mean so much to the fans?
KA: Rose Hill Cemetery is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It was a gathering point for the community on Sundays in the early 1900s. They even had bands playing in a gazebo. It’s always been a proud part of the Macon community. The early ABB lived up College Street from Rose Hill. These were cramped quarters so to get some personal space, they would walk down to Rose Hill. They credited this very contemplative place for inspiring several of their early songs. Since ABB fans had already been coming to Macon to visit the grave sites of Duane and Berry since the early ’70s, GABBA was looking for a way to get the word out that, for the most part, ABB fans visiting Rose Hill come to pay their respects and reflect on their own lives. The respect that most ABB fans have were sometimes lost in the shuffle as a few non-fans vandalized parts of the cemetery. Our decision to “adopt” Rose Hill gave us the chance to give something back to the community that influenced the early ABB’s music. The “Adopt-A-Spot” program also gave GABBA the chance to join in an existing community effort. The ABB were a part of the Macon community, whether accepted or not. GABBA is part of the community, so we not only adopted the ABB-related sites, but all 80 acres in a show of unity and support of the community and the Band. The Middle Georgia Historical Society has a twice a year “Rose Hill Ramble” where they take guests through a tour of Rose Hill. Over the course of the “Ramble’s” life they have covered some of the ABB-related sites, but they give a thorough tour of all 80 acres of this piece of Macon’s history. From unmarked graves covered by brick, to ethnic and religious sections of Rose Hill, the “Ramble” gives visitors an unmistakable look at the history of Macon. The City of Macon also acknowledges Rose Hill Cemetery as a place of note. A walk through Rose Hill in the early ’90s showed that the toll of time seemed to forget Rose Hill. Although the City is charged with Rose Hill’s upkeep, traffic in an 80-acre cemetery can be brisk and trash accumulates between City cleanings. The fans, on their own, started to help pick up stray debris and deposit them in trash receptacles. These individual acts of respect turned into a group effort to cover all 80 acres. Not only did this effort give service to sites related to the ABB, but also the whole cemetery and ultimately, the whole community.
MJL: Kirk, would you tell us about the angel statues and how they were replaced?
KA: As I told you earlier, when Duane and Berry died, they were laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery. There was a small angel statue placed at the foot of each of their graves; one representing Duane’s daughter Galadrielle and one representing Berry’s daughter Brittany. These statues were stolen and may have been resold in another state. No one knows for sure where they went, but they have never surfaced in ABB memorabilia trading circles that I know of. Through the support of loyal fans that attended the First Annual Allman Brothers and Sisters Family Reunion and International Collectors Revival in 1992, funds were raised for their replacement. Fearing that history might repeat itself, monuments engraved with figures of the original angels, drawn by artist Bunny Pierce, were ordered. Restoration continued at Rose Hill. Brickwork on the steps and wall surrounding the plot was improved. River rock was placed on the well-worn, much hallowed ground around Duane and Berry. Cherry and Dogwood trees and flowers were planted. Two hundred fifty people attended the dedication ceremony held April 4, 1993. Marty gave the eulogy and Father Patrick Shinnick offered blessings. Then the monuments were placed at the foot of Duane’s and Berry’s graves. Afterwards there was a ‘Rock and Roll Ramble’ through Rose Hill.
MJL: As a member of GABBA, I know that GABBA goes far beyond Rose Hill. Can you elaborate?
KA: Yes, it does. As GABBA reached three years old, everyone seemed surprised to see it still standing. Hey, no commercial effort to drive it and a loose bunch of ABB fans letting it all hang out for the love of their band. At three, it seemed like the founding Board Members of GABBA plotted a course and chartered out into other projects to fulfill it’s Founding Mission Statement “to further the legacy of the ABB.” GABBA set out to identify and preserve sites of ABB pertinence around town. At each GABBAfest, “What-if?” sessions took over conversations and soon those who knew about the history of the ABB in Macon and Georgia were sharing it with other fans. Soon GABBA realized that if it didn’t do something to preserve ABB-related items and identified sites, that they might disappear forever, and another part of ABB’s past might be lost.
MJL: I work in the non-profit sector so I’m familiar with mission statements, goals, strengths and challenges. What are the major strengths of GABBA? And what are some of the challenges it faces and how can they be overcome?
KA: First is Dedication. For eight years, GABBA has dedicated itself to giving something back to the music. Many fan organizations start off with good intentions and lip service. GABBA Members and Board Members all have their own careers and lives, but each carves out time, effort and resources to help preserve the legacy of the ABB in Macon before it is lost. This dedication has manifested itself in tangible projects that benefit other fans, the band and the community. We made it past the first two-to-three years of uncertainty. Now the fans and the community know we are dedicated to remain a part of the landscape. Second is Sincerity. Where else do you find fans who give up tens of hours to help the community and provide a gathering place for other fans? Money is not a driving force for this dedication either because GABBA is non-profit. Our hearts, ears and devotion to a band are what drive us. Third is helping ABB- and music-fans in general to find areas of interest around Macon and Georgia. Fourth are helping the community by planning, implementing and supporting community projects. And fifth is providing a rich environment for fans of the ABB to be themselves.
Now for the challenges. The number one, immediate challenge is to provide an Allman Brothers and Sisters Reunion/Revival and Collectors Show for 1999 that embodies the 30th anniversary of the release of Gregg and Duane’s first record ‘Allman Joys’ and the 10th anniversary of the ‘Dreams’ Box Set. By the way Martha, Gregg’s son Devon Allman came up with the term “GABBAfest” and it stuck. Number two is to establish an endowment. Interest from the endowed funds would be distributed in the form of a scholarship to a worthy student in the community who has a passion for music and is attending college in Georgia. Number three is to discover those not-so-apparent artifacts. We’ve found the easy parts to the ABB legacy and have helped preserve them. Now we have to dig deeper. Number four: Establish relationships with other community groups who have ties to Rose Hill Cemetery. Number five: Incorporate a plan to provide unsigned, hard working bands with a forum to reach a larger audience. And Number six: Remaining true to our beginning as the ABB remained true to its music.
MJL: Kirk, you’ve mentioned the GABBA’s strengths and challenges. How can we keep it a viable Association?
KA: Good question! Group participation is key. Our Board of Directors is a wonderful group of fans willing to give to make this happen. Of course we’re all volunteers so one would think we have a lot of turn over. Not really. The Board Members, the Supporting Members, and the fans have a chance to suggest projects for GABBA to work on. Like a paleontologist who finds one bone and then the whole dinosaur; when we identify one project to do, that project usually leads us down the road and we cross paths with many other projects. Each time an ABB fan gets turned on to us, we have the chance to find out about another part of the ABB legacy that needs to be preserved. There are a lot of ABB fans!
MJL: To what do you credit GABBA’s and GABBAfest’s ability to attract and retain a strong national and international following?
KA: GABBA has had a lot of friends over the past years who were so touched by what GABBA does that they spread the word that there were other people out there that felt like we did. Friends who many had seen at every ABB concert but never met, until the GABBAfest that is. There are three main reasons for GABBA’s developing a strong national/international following. First and foremost is the way the music of the ABB reaches deep within one’s heart, mind and soul and talks to each fan. There is no doubt about that. Second is Hittin’ The Note. HTN has always had an international readership, and three of the many international guests to the GABBAfest said they would never have known about the event were it not for HTN. In their effort to cover stories of interest to fans of the ABB through their magazine, it was natural to cover a small band of ABB fans getting together once a year to enjoy life-long and newfound friends. Everyone having the topic of the ABB to break the ice and talk to someone they had never met. Fans expressing themselves without the taint of commercialism. This was before the bulletin boards and chat rooms of the Internet. Third was the Internet. As bands were just learning about the Internet, Butch Trucks was told about an ABB Bulletin Board on the Prodigy Service that a doctor friend of his had seen online. When Butch saw the posts to the bulletin board, I think he was touched by the honesty of the feelings coming from fans. From there, the World Wide Web came into being for the non-academic or governmental employee. I think a lot of people try a search on the Internet for the first time using a topic related to their hobbies or interests. The Internet was “used” by GABBA. The fans used the Internet to be their own little GABBAs without knowing it. Fans getting together to talk about the ABB, but this time, geography didn’t limit them. Word spread about what GABBA stands for. Since it was founded in Macon, GA, USA, a place many fans had read about but never thought of visiting because they didn’t know where to go. GABBA paved the way for them to fulfill their dream. My personal experience in meeting Kazumi at last year’s GABBAfest makes me realize that the short drive to Macon (100 miles roundtrip) is nothing. She read in HTN about the GABBAfest in the Summer issue. She took her only week of vacation, foregoing her usual trip home to see her parents, to fly from Japan with Macon, Georgia and the GABBAfest as her destinations. She knew no one in Macon or America! She barely knew where Macon was, but she made it to the Atlanta airport and then on the shuttle to Macon. She spoke very little English, but her love of the ABB and faith in the Brother(and Sister)hood would get her through.
MJL: I also met Kazumi and spent time with her at the Macon Music City Grill. She was having the time of her life, attired in a new “Big House” T-shirt. Music has a language all its own! Kirk, you’ve mentioned the Internet as a contributing factor to the success of GABBA. The official web site, GABBAnet, was how I found out about GABBAfest. What about it?
KA: The official web site, www.gabba.org, was launched in 1997 and has been well received by GABBA members and others as well. It has allowed GABBA members a forum to share their feelings about the ABB, GABBA events they’ve attended, and get questions answered. It includes information about Rose Hill Cemetery, links to other sites, and Macon information. Now is the perfect time to point and click to get the latest information about 1999’s GABBAfest.
MJL: GABBAfest is definitely a good time for everyone. Let’s entice our readers to attend. What’s GABBAfest all about?
KA: The GABBAfest is a weekend where fans of the ABB and their music get a chance to learn more about the influences on the ABB. It is also our way to help introduce fans to the community of Macon, Georgia. We mix music, displays, memorabilia, sites and sounds of Macon that effected the band and its music. Most of all it’s a party meant to give fans of the ABB a place to come and see many familiar faces from past ABB concerts. It’s a way to show everyone that it is okay to be an ABB fan, and that we can give something back to the music, the band and the community.
In its effort to preserve the legacy of the Allman Brothers Band, some of GABBA’s major accomplishments since its inception are:
Seven successful GABBAfest Reunions and Revivals, with the creation of eight commemorative t-shirts. In addition to fans from throughout North America, GABBAfest has attracted fans from Europe, Asia and Australia
Return of the angels to Rose Hill Cemetery with dedication ceremony.
Adoption of all 80 acres of Rose Hill Cemetery through the “Adopt A Spot” program, with entry signage.
Preservation of Capricorn collection at Phoenix Studios.
Preservation of Duane Allman’s “Mushroom” pendant at the Big House.
Donation of 58 records to Washington Memorial Library.
Donation of 30 records recorded at Capricorn Studios to Phoenix Studios in Macon.
Donation of 15 records to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon.
Donation of “Hittin’ The Note” to Washington Memorial Library.
Dedication of framed first album front at Beall’s.
Dedication of framed first album back at Rose Hill Cemetery.
Creation of “In The Footsteps” map of Macon.
Design and launching of GABBAnet, our own official webs site in 1997.
Contribution to the Southern Poets’ and Musicians’ Garden at Piedmont Park in Atlanta.
Initiating interest in the ABB’s being inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Just in case you’re thinking that you have to live in Georgia to be a GABBA member, you don’t! Membership is open to anyone anywhere. See you in Macon, “back where it all began!”