Sure, thousands of visitors from places as far away as Germany, Italy, Japan and Australia had knocked on their door during the decade they had lived there, trying to get a glimpse of what was known as The Big House, where members of the Allman Brothers Band lived in the early 1970s.
It was only after Kirk West, the band’s road manager, was meeting with an interested buyer for the property one night when the man suggested that West start a nonprofit foundation and turn The Big House into a museum.
That seed of an idea finally has become a reality, four decades after the band’s founding.
After five years of fundraising and two years of renovations, the museum will open its doors on a limited basis for the rest of the year before a formal grand opening in early 2010.
“At times, I’ve tried to be practical about it, but seeing it come to fruition ...” said Kirsten West, her voice trailing off as she broke into a wide grin. “It’s a tribute to the band, but equally it’s a tribute to the fans who believed that we could do it.”
Kirsten West, the foundation’s managing director, said that to date, The Big House Foundation has taken in about $2.5 million in donations from all over the United States.
In addition, the museum also has received donated materials to refurbish the house and many hours of volunteer labor to renovate it.
“Probably 60 percent (of the renovation) has been donated labor and materials,” said Greg Potter, president of the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association, who also has donated his own time to help get the house in shape. “We had a roofer come in from New York, donated all the materials and put the roof in, and all it cost us was a week
In the early 1970s, when the band was getting its start in Macon, bassist Berry Oakley
“Big Linda” was searching for a more permanent home and happened upon the Tudor-styled house at 2321 Vineville Ave. by way of a newspaper ad.
Though the house was more expensive than the Oakleys would have liked, Big Linda fell in love with the place, and they moved in with Duane Allman and his family.
The house became the band
During a recent visit, E.J. Devokaitis, the museum
“That’s where (former guitarist) Dickey Betts wrote Blue Sky,” he said. “The line in the song, ’Good old Sunday morning, bells are ringing everywhere,’ that was from that church across the street. It’s still there.”
There are dozens of little nuggets like that as a visitor moves through each room of the house.
That living room now serves as home for various posters, gold records and a huge Steve Penley portrait of Duane. The other side of the front of the house the rooms where the band often practiced is home to various photos and awards the band won.
An interior room contains a wide range of memorabilia, including instruments from several band members Oakley’s Hummingbird acoustic guitar, Gregg Allman
In an interior hallway, there
On the second floor, where the bedrooms were located, the bedroom of Candace Oakley Berry’s sister is a display room for more artwork. Big Linda is redecorating what was Duane’s bedroom to show what it looked like when the band lived in the house.
One of the most interesting rooms on that floor is a tiny room that Duane used as a nursery for his daughter, Galadrielle. The room has been soundproofed and will serve a place where fans can listen to Allman Brothers Band music. In addition, the room will eventually be equipped with a video camera so that fans can share their own memories of the band, Kirk West said. Those recollections will be compiled and become part of the museum’s permanent collection.
The top floor, which served as a recreation room for the band, will be used for educational purposes and meetings, Kirsten West said. Some of the band members want to volunteer their time in the future to teach music to young children, she said. The room also can be rented out for corporate meetings.
To the casual observer, it seems like a lot of memorabilia is being packed into the house. Devokaitis said that what’s being displayed, however, represents perhaps 10 percent of the museum
One of the most interesting items is an amplifier owned by Ron Blair, the bassist for the band Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Blair’s sister Jan used to be married to Gregg Allman, who gave Blair an amp that belonged to Duane.
“It’s a piece of equipment that’s been used by two bands that are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Devokaitis said.
The house also contains original stained-glass windows donated by Forsyth artist Celia Henigman, which go with the house’s original stained-glass windows.
On the outside there’s a koi pond, a catering kitchen and a small pavilion that can be used for live music.
Kirk West said the museum will be open weekends for the rest of 2009, including this Saturday and Sunday. Kirsten West said the museum also is available for rent and said two weddings and a rehearsal dinner have already been booked there.
The Wests say they are expecting a good opening crowd, including an invitation-only party for major donors.
Opening weekend also coincides with the Fly South music festival Saturday, which is headlined by Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks and his band.
But for die-hard fans such as Potter, the highlight of the weekend will be the finished museum itself.
“It’s going to be great,” said Potter, who has been a fan of the band since 1971. “The band has helped so many people through their problems. Their music uplifts you. (With the museum), you can see what it means to you. It’s amazing.”