Since its grand opening in 2009, the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House, known affectionately as the Big House, on Vineville Avenue, has opened the gates to its backyard performance venue for a free summer concert to thank friends who have enthusiastically supported the restoration of the ABB’s home.
On July 26, the concert kicked off at 2 p.m., featuring Michael Buffalo Smith and friends on the stage while patrons took advantage of the food and libations available at bargain prices. The museum and gift shop also were open for free tours or to pick up ABB memorabilia, T-shirts and publications related to the band and to other Southern rock legends.
If you haven’t visited the Big House, you are missing out on one of the best archived and organized collections of historical memorabilia in the South. After almost seven years, the house and surrounding gardens are as well maintained as a privately owned estate.
The ambassador of Southern rock
There are few people who can honestly say they have put their bachelor degrees to good use, in their endeavors, after leaving the cosseted environment of a college campus. Smith, a Spartanburg, South Carolina, native, graduated from the University of South Carolina where he majored in theater arts and minored in journalism.
Eight of his books have been published, two by Mercer University Press; as a freelance writer, his articles have been featured in major magazines and newspapers; he is the founder, publisher, editor and writer of 75 percent of the online magazine GRITZ and of Kudzoo, a quarterly magazine about Southern music and Southern living. He has written a screenplay, has interviewed stars of stage and screen and has a children’s book in the works.
Ironically, he is best known as a musician and as the “ambassador of Southern rock,” for chronicling the moments when history was made by Southern musicians.
As a child, Smith thought he wanted to be a drummer — a little boy’s fantasy that lasted only a few months, according to his grateful parents. He finally bought a guitar and a cheap amp and started teaching himself how to play, an interest he pursued through high school and college through watching videos and television and copying what he saw and heard.
He improved his skills working with Steve Harvey, of the Silver Travis Band, and from Stuart Swanlund, of Marshall Tucker Band fame. The encouragement from friends and from some of the best known guitarists paid off when Smith formed his first band, The Buffalo Hut Coalition, while still in college.
There would be other successful bands in his future, affirming his talent as a self-taught guitarist, before his playing career was sidelined by illness for several years. However, in 2013 he let it be known that he was healthy enough to play again and that he was working on a new album. He also has played with luminaries in Southern rock like Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters, Bonnie Bramblett’s band, the Marshall Tucker Band and Mollie Hatchet.
On that hot Sunday afternoon at the Big House, Smith brought members of the Silver Travis Band, from his home town; guitarist Donnie Winters; country rocker Billy Eli; “Georgia songbird” E.G. Kight; blues guitarists Russell Gulley and Sonny Moorman; Dennis Walley, who once played with Frank Zappa; David Cantonwine, former member of the band; Eric Quincy Tate; and Macon’s own Paul Hornsby. For four hours, the group played ABB favorites and some of their own chart-topping tracks for the appreciative audience relaxing in lawn chairs under the old oak trees.
Volunteers are the backbone of the Big House
Volunteers who work for the Big House are invested in its success and claim ownership in its mission to inform and to entertain ABB fans and to educate a younger generation in Southern music’s history.
Lisa Moore and Windy Blanks, a retired banker, were pleased with the numbers of local and out-of-town guests who braved the heat for the concert, where Robert Schneck, executive director of the museum, volunteered as bartender. Macon poet John Griffin was joined Jonny Hibbert, an Atlanta attorney who plays a little rock ‘n’ roll on the side to benefit the museum, where Griffin has been on the board since the Big House was a vision nurtured by Kirk West, former road manager for the ABB, and his wife, Kirsten West.
Willie Perkins, also a former road manager for the band and author of “The Allman Brothers Band Classic Memorabilia,” West, author of “Les Brers: A Photographic Journey with the Brothers,” and Smith volunteered to sign their books, available in the gift shop.
For more information about the museum, visit thebighousemuseum.com.