By Leighton Akins
This month, the world-famous GABBAfest will return to Macon for a celebration like no other. During the fourth weekend of September each year, Allman Brothers Band fans from across the world gather at multiple venues throughout our city to celebrate the life, music, and legacy of the popular southern rock band that has called Macon home since January 1970.
During a recent trip to the Big House Museum, I had the opportunity to speak with Laraine Potter, the President of GABBA (Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association). Her enthusiasm for this year’s festival is contagious, and I quickly began to share in the excitement.
GABBAfest 2017 was the first festival since the heart-rending deaths of Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks. Laraine stated that although many expected last year’s festival to be a solemn remembrance of those who had passed, it instead became a joyous celebration of their lives and legacy. Laraine also recalled the priceless reactions of festival-goers as they walked through the front door of the Big House Museum last year to be greeted with an impressive cardboard cutout of a hippie van. She expects the overwhelming sentiment of this year’s festival will be much the same and looks forward to the festivities.
I also asked Laraine about the history of GABBA and GABBAfest. GABBA was formed as a non-profit organization in 1992 with the goal of preserving and promoting the Allman Brothers Band musical heritage throughout Georgia. Laraine explained that before GABBA formed in 1992, most people would have never known the Allman Brothers Band had ever been to Macon, much less called our city their chosen home. She went on to explain the origins of the festival, which started in Macon before GABBA’s formation as a revival and reunion of Allman Brothers fans and collectors; however, when GABBA formed in ‘92, they began spearheading organization of the festival. They continue to do so today. In the twenty-six years since GABBA’s formation, there have only been three years during which the festival was not held.
I was eager to hear about GABBA’s contributions to the community over the past twenty-six years. GABBA’s contributions include their adoption of Rose Hill Cemetery (Macon’s historic cemetery where Gregg Allman, Duane Allman, and Berry Oakley are buried) as part of Macon-Bibb County’s “Adopt a Spot” beautification program. The organization makes an annual contribution to the Historic Rose Hill Cemetery Foundation.
GABBA’s community enrichment activities also include contributing to the Big House Museum, donating items to the Middle Georgia Archives collection at Washington Memorial Library in Macon, and dedication of the Duane Allman Boulevard and Berry Oakley, Jr., bridge signs in Macon. Laraine went on to say that at the end of each year’s festival, GABBA board members choose multiple organizations as festival beneficiaries. Past beneficiaries have included Macon’s Methodist Children’s Home, the Otis Redding Youth Music Camp, the Big House Foundation for the Allman Brothers Band Museum, as well as various other music and youth organizations throughout Macon.
Although this year’s Saturday night concert at Macon’s Historic Douglass Theatre is already sold-out, there are many other events, both paid and free, to choose from. On Saturday, September 22nd, the GABBA Members Jam will be hosted by Dirty Uncle Bob at the Big House from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. The GABBA Hangover concert will take place at the Big House on Sunday from 1:00pm to 5:00pm and will feature Kunio Kishida, Sanctified Revival, and the Jesse Williams Band. Both the GABBA Members Jam and the GABBA Hangover are free and open to the public. Visit GABBA’s webpage at gabbafest.org for a list of other concerts and events as well as to purchase tickets.
Whether you are an Allman Brothers band enthusiast who has been loyally following the band since 1969 or if the only song you’ve heard by the Allman Brothers is Jessica on Guitar Hero II, the Big House Museum is a treat to all who enter through the mushroom-adorned front gates.
Located at 2301 Vineville Avenue, the museum is open from 11:00am to 6:00pm every Thursday through Saturday and from 11:00am to 4:00pm on Sundays. Admission to the museum is $15 for adults with discounts available to military, students, seniors, and children.
Though much has changed during the forty-eight years since the Allman Brothers Band first began renting the property on Vineville Avenue, it’s apparent why they chose this property as their home shortly after moving to Macon. After passing through the front gates, you are greeted with a manicured lawn and garden, beautiful hardwood trees and shrubbery, a small koi pond, a large stage behind the house where music can frequently be heard during special events and parties, and the impressive exterior of the Grand Tudor style house known simply as “the Big House.”
As you walk toward the entrance of the house, it’s difficult not to crack a grin at the sign proudly proclaiming, “HIPPIES MUST USE FRONT DOOR” and upon stepping onto the front porch, you will notice two mushroom-adorned stained-glass windows flanking the front door that all hippies are required to enter through.
The hardwood floors throughout the Big House are immaculate and lead you through a seemingly unending collection of Allman Brothers Band memorabilia, including apparel worn by the band, instruments, and rooms that are arranged very much like they would have been while the house was occupied by the band in the early 1970s.
During my visit, I was allowed a rare sneak-peek at the vast climate-controlled attic of the Big House Museum. Inside the attic, bookcases line the walls and stand resolute between the twin dormers that can be seen from the front of the house, but you will be hard-pressed to find many books on their shelves. Instead, the bookcases lining the walls are teeming with cassettes, CDs, and VHS footage of Allman Brothers Band music and live recordings, many of which have probably not been heard since their original recording. The stand-alone bookcases between the dormers are laden with boxes filled with countless original photos (both professional and those sent in by fans and concert-goers), newspaper articles, and many other items that would captivate all Allman Brothers Band enthusiasts.
Finally, as I made my way back down to the first floor, sweaty and out-of-breath (it really is a big house), I was surprised to find that this may be the only museum in existence where you are not required to exit through the gift shop. However, I highly recommend seeking it out so that you can leave with an Allman Brothers Band t-shirt and whatever other paraphernalia catches your eye, (Side note: the Allman Brothers Band were the first band to have t-shirts).
Though it was difficult to leave such an enamoring place, it comforts me to know that the Big House Museum will continue to be available to the public for many years to come thanks to the efforts of GABBA and the many other contributors that help to keep their doors open.
Special thanks to Laraine and Greg Potter of GABBA as well as Maggie Reimer of the Big House Museum for helping to make this article possible!