By the time you read this, Devon Allman and Donavon Frankenreiter will be just about halfway through an attempt at breaking a Guinness World Record of playing 50 shows in 50 states in 50 days — the kicker being that the duo will aim to complete the task in 49.
“If everything goes well, we should be sitting on the record by September 22 — we are road dogs and this is for bragging rights,” Allman, the son of the late Gregg Allman, tells Rolling Stone. “But, more importantly, this is a call to arms to inspire people to travel. Go to the next county, go to the Grand Canyon. Leave your known surroundings and go find yourself.”
Situated at the crossroads of Interstate 81/77, show Number 13 found Allman and Frankenreiter at the Millwald Theatre in Wytheville, Virginia. Sitting in the basement of the newly reopened historic theatre, it isn’t lost on the musicians how — even this far into their respective careers — they’re still discovering new things in the depths of America.
“Last night, we played Clarksburg, West Virginia,” Allman says. “And small-town America still exists, this old coal-mining town from back in the day. It was this place we wouldn’t normally get to see, and the show was so much fun. Sometimes those smaller shows are the best.”
Normally, the Southern Appalachian community of Wytheville (pop: 8,241) would be a diesel and/or bathroom stop for a national touring act en route to bigger markets in Lexington, Knoxville, Charlotte, or Richmond.
But with the Allman & Frankenreiter See It All Tour, Wytheville found itself the ideal spot for the absurd tour routing of the record attempt. The same goes for other off-the-beaten path dates — Plymouth, New Hampshire (pop: 6,779); Walhalla, South Carolina (4,095); Bayfield, Wisconsin (588).
“These small towns don’t get a lot of music and they’re starved for it,” Allman says. “No one stops in their town, so when you come here…it’s like the whole town descends on the gig.”
Although Allman had the idea for the world record attempt over a decade ago, it wasn’t until his 50th birthday last year that he realized pursuing the achievement could be the ideal spark to set the pace for this second half of his life. But he didn’t want to go it alone.
“I needed a co-conspirator,” Allman says. “[Donavon] was the first guy that came to mind. He’s crazy enough to do this. So, I called him up and he signed on before I even finished the pitch.”
Initially crossing paths at AmericanaFest in Nashville in 2017, the two immediately clicked. While Allman comes from the Southern rock and blues realm, Frankenreiter, a 50-year-old former pro-surfer and California native, hails from the toes-in-the-sand, joint-in-hand West Coast indie-folk scene.
“I think the biggest surprise to me — across the board — is the chemistry [between us],” Allman says. “Donavon’s got this smoky, surfer vibe and I’ve always had more of a high-octane vibe. You wonder, ‘Will this work live?’ And it really does.”
“He and I are very similar in our work etiquette: we want to work and get stuff done,” Frankenreiter says. “Who knows where this project could go after this tour?”
Before embarking on the See It All Tour, Allman and Frankenreiter hit the studio and put together a six-song EP. It was a “see what happens and let the tapes roll” kind of thing. The project is aptly titled Rollers because, according to Allman, “the songs weren’t rockers, they were rollers.”
Onstage, the sound and spectacle is bright, fiery, and inspired. The undulating tone weaves seamlessly between numerous avenues of rock music — indie, surf, garage, Southern, psychedelic — with other textures of jazz fusion and funk added for good measure.
“Everything is so fresh [onstage],” Frankenreiter says. “We’re all in it for a purpose. Everybody gets why we’re here and it’s been refreshing every night.”
It’s a little after 10 p.m. and the band bids farewell to Wythe County and greater Southwestern Virginia on an otherwise quiet Wednesday night. With tube amps cooling off and guitars being placed back into their cases, Allman and Frankenreiter emerge from a backstage side alley and walk straight toward a few dozen lingering fans.
The local concertgoers are happily surprised by the post-show appearance, with many commenting “thank you for being here” before asking for a selfie or an autograph — a memento of that time “Devon and Donavan rocked the Millwald.”
“This is what keeps us living,” Allman says. “If I can climb up a flight of stairs and sit on a chair and tell a story, then I’ll be doing this for as long as I live.”
Shortly after, a big blue Prevost tour bus rolls up to an Applebee’s on the outskirts of Wytheville. It’s the only late-night spot for grub and the See It All crew needs to hit the road soon — South Carolina is on deck, followed by the rest of the southeast before aiming westward in pursuit of a checkered-flag finish on Sept. 22 at the BeachLife Ranch festival in California.
“I’ve never done a tour like this — it’s grueling and insane, it’s exciting and fun,” Frankenreiter says. “And some of this tour is out of our control. What happens if they ground the plane in Alaska or the tour bus breaks down? Grab the acoustics and we’ll get to the gig — we’ll make it happen.”