Had Kirsten and Kirk West decided to move to New Mexico instead of coming to Macon in 1993, the history of the Allman Brothers Band would be languishing in a long forgotten storage bin — maybe.
Kirk’s story is so intimately tied to the brothers, he would never leave behind the enormous body of material related to the band’s rise and fall and rise again. Members of the original band and their families rented a house on Vineville Avenue in the early 1970s and composed some of the band’s record-breaking songs at the kitchen table or in the sunroom, cum studio.
Although the band members and their families lived there a mere three years, the name, “The Big House,” was etched into the consciousness of Allman Brothers fans worldwide. While living there, Gregg Allman penned “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” and “Midnight Rider;” fellow tenant Dickey Betts wrote “Ramblin’ Man” and “Blue Sky,” living among friends that also were part of the band. Neighbors in the Vineville area can recall seeing Brittany, the ndaughter of Linda and Berry Oakley, and Galadrielle, Duane Allman’s daughter, playing in the yard of their dads’ “office.”
Genesis of the Big House museum
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The Wests purchased the house and hauled away trash from years of renters’ abuse and from absentee owners’ neglect. Their original plan, converting the house to a B&B, did not pan out due to city ordinances, which could not be accommodated at that time. However, they stayed, invited the reunited band and other musicians to visit, and to use the house as their home away from home.
The Wests stabilized and restored much of the house, designating two parlors as a private museum for ABB memorabilia, which they graciously shared with anyone interested in seeing it.
In 2004, Kirk planned to sell the house when a friend posited the idea of a charitable foundation to raise money for an Allman Brothers Band Museum in the house. With the solid backing of a board of directors, members of which were from all over the United States, the dream had a chance of coming true. Kirsten wore many hats, working tirelessly as grant writer and fundraiser before the Wests purchased a home in another historic district of Macon and moved in 2007, to make way for the transformation — all funded by private donations.
In November 2009, the museum held its grand opening and is understandably one of the most popular tourist destinations in Macon — the Wests welcomed more than 25,000 visitors before it was open to the public! The grounds, the concert area and the house, to the management’s credit, are in the same pristine condition as the day the Big House opened. The attendance at the outdoor concerts is a testament to the enthusiastic public support of the museum.
Stoking the coffers for the Big House
On April 23, the annual Big House benefit dinner was held at Idle Hour Country Club, which rarely sees, in its midst, large numbers of musicians and their fans, sporting rock ‘n’ roll “dressy” attire.
A silent auction included souvenirs of the ABB, instruments once owned by other famous musicians, concert posters for numerous bands and opportunities to travel. In line, looking over the auction items were Cindy and Jim Boff, from Cumming, who saw the benefit advertised on Georgia Public Broadcasting, one of the sponsors for the event, and said they could not miss anything related to the ABB.
The Ries Brothers provided dinner music while the lines wound through the buffet, a menu of memorable Southern cooking. A live auction started off on the upbeat when Bob Johnson’s photograph of the Butch Trucks band sold for more than $1,000, prompting Trucks to autograph the image for the lucky owner.
Local musician Baxter James and his wife, Christi, were catching up with members of Trucks’ band and visiting with Betsy and Wes Griffith, also sponsors for the evening, on the veranda, waiting for Trucks to take the stage with his Freight Train Band. For the guests who were not part of the music scene, it was an evening of stargazing and of subtle finger pointing each time another musician was recognized.
Kim Payne, original roadie with the ABB, stopped to chat with John Griffin, trustee for the Big House, and with Scott Kelly, longtime member of the board of directors. For diehard lovers of rock ‘n’ roll, those who never want the music to stop, the Otis from Kentucky band played for the after-party downstairs, until 1 a.m. Richard Brent, director of collections, and Rob Schneck, executive director of the Big House, deserve kudos for the playlist of outstanding entertainment and for another productive fundraiser.