For Southern rock enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than MacFest: A Free Celebration of Suncoast Music.
And the superb artists on the lengthy lineup Saturday all live in Manatee or Sarasota.
Guitar great Dan Toler, a former member of the archetypal Southern rock act the Allman Brothers Band, headlines the Saturday showdown in downtown Bradenton.
Toler has also played with Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels and current Allman Brothers Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks.
Many other luminaries are also on the lineup of this event, organized by local musician Michael Mac.
Sarasota resident Dickey Betts -- the singer/songwriter/guitarist responsible for such Allman Brothers Band classics as “Ramblin’ Man,” “Blue Sky,” “Jessica” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” -- re-formed his Great Southern group in 2000.
Four of its members are scheduled to appear at MacFest.
Berry Oakley Jr., son of the Allman Brothers Band’s original bassist, will also be performing.
Many have played at Bradenton venues such as Aces Live and Cork’s Cigar Bar.
Most are friends who will be sitting in during each others’ bands sets and jamming together at the end of the evening.
Whitfield resident Toler played in Great Southern before Betts landed him the Allman Brothers Band gig in 1979. Toler played on three albums, including the group’s comeback “Enlightened Rogues,” which reached No. 9 on the Billboard 200.
Toler cited performing at old John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia as his favorite memory from the period.
The Allman Brothers Band headlined the 1981 show that also included Southern rockers the Marshall Tucker Band, .38 Special, Molly Hatchet and The Outlaws. The crowd numbered somewhere around 100,000.
Toler recalled the cheers being so loud it would drown out the music.
“What a feeling of power that represented,” he said via e-mail, due to doctor’s orders not to speak because of a swollen vocal cord.
The Brothers disbanded in 1982 and Gregg Allman (a former Manatee County resident) formed his namesake solo band with Toler and sibling David Frankie Toler on drums. Together they recorded the 1986 album “I’m No Angel” that produced the hit title track.
“You know, you kind of get a feeling in your gut about a song like that,” Toler said. “It has all the right ingredients: catchy intro, good chord changes, a great melody and vocal, a killer solo and a killer vamp out.”
Toler rejoined Great Southern in 2002 and stayed for several years before leaving to pursue various other projects. During his time back with Betts’ band, he played with keyboardist/vocalist Mike Kach and bassist/vocalist Pedro Arevalo.
Kach and Arevalo will be performing separately and together Saturday.
They will also likely jam with Toler, whose band consists of, among others, guitarist/vocalist Tony Tyler. And there’s “a good possibility of a young lady who really sings her you know what off, Lauren Mitchell, doing a couple tunes,” Toler said.
He declined to comment on whether anyone else might be joining him on stage.
“I can’t let any cats out of the bag, as you never know who might show up,” Toler said. “This area has several fine artists, so just come on down and check out the scene on May 14th and see for yourselves.”
Before Toler takes the stage, attendees will have the opportunity to check out the mighty Mike Kach Group.
As a member of Great Southern since 2003, Kach gets to sing lead vocals on such Allman Brothers Band and Betts-penned classics as “Statesboro Blues,” “One Way Out,” “You Don’t Love Me,” “No One Left to Run with It,” “Nobody Knows” and “Southbound.”
“Dickey enjoys not always having to sing and just being able to play and wail on his guitar,” Kach said.
Great Southern guitarist/Dickey’s son Duane Betts, Great Southern drummer Frankie Lombardi and bassist/festival organizer Michael Mac will be backing Kach on Saturday.
Arevalo and others will also likely join him, too.
Kach will be performing his originals as well as Allman Brothers Band material and classic blues numbers.
“There’s so much talent here for people who are into the kind of music we do, and with this festival I’m sure word will spread,” Kach said. “It’s a nice introduction to those folks who don’t know us.
“Great Southern is a limited deal,” he added. “Dickey is semi-retired. Now he could always change that, but even when we do tour there are a few times to catch Great Southern and, strange as it is, we don’t play Florida often.”
Great Southern’s Arevalo sings “Hoochie Coochie Man” and has the privilege of the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Famer Betts performing his original “My Baby’s Gone.”
Arevalo joined Great Southern around the same time as Kach. About two years ago, Betts presented Arevalo with the ultimate present: a bass used by Allman Brothers Band bassist/cofounder Berry Oakley, who sang “Hoochie Coochie Man” on the group’s 1970 album “Idlewild South.” Arevalo uses Oakley’s bass every time he’s on stage with Betts.
“I love the guy, he’s treated me like gold,” Arevalo said of Betts. “I wouldn’t trade my time with him for anything in the world.”
Outside Great Southern, the Siesta Key resident and Berklee College of Music graduate plays multiple instruments, melding various styles of music -- rock, Latin, hillbilly, blues -- for a fresh hybrid he calls “psychotropic” or “Siesta Creole.”
On Saturday, Pedro Arevalo and Friends will feature Arevalo on lead vocals, slide guitar, bass and, time permitting, acoustic and lap steel guitar. His brother Jefe Arevalo (bass and drums), Garret Dawson (drums) Berry Oakley Jr. (bass and guitar) and probably buddy Duane Betts will join him.
Arevalo, one the busiest musicians around, has played live and/or recorded with every single person on the lineup Saturday.
“It’s amazing the amount of talent down here,” he said. “I can’t think of any other place like it.”
Michael Mac’s namesake band features him on vocals/guitar with Lombardi (drums) and Frank Migliore (bass). They will be performing classic rock-inspired originals and covers.
Kettle of Fish and Ben Hammond round out Saturday’s roster.
Mac has been able to make the first-rate event free thanks to a huge outpouring of support from businesses in Manatee and Sarasota as well as help from a prominent downtown Bradenton figure.
“We have a lot of great sponsors sharing in our vision of ultimately creating a major music scene and starting a movement,” Mac said. “Our No. 1 sponsor is the boutique store Siesta Key University, Sign Zoo gave us a bunch of banners and then there’s private donations from people who just love music.”
Mac added, “Anyone interested in joining the movement can contact me.”
Mac’s friend, Cork Miller -- the Old Main Street Merchants Association president, a Bradenton Downtown Development Authority board of directors member and Cork’s Cigar Bar proprietor -- also played a key role in making Saturday’s fest happen.
“All bands with the exception of Dan Toler have played at our place and over the years befriended Mac,” Miller said. “The event was supposed to be at Lakewood Ranch, but then Mac called me and said, ‘Let’s get together and make this work.’
“All the musicians are being paid. This happened because of a great group of sponsors, teamwork and tons of phone calls.”
Miller noted Bradenton-based law firm Heintz & Becker, Kevin Taylor and his Palmetto-based TSI Manatee Painting Services, Budweiser/Bud Light and the region’s biggest cable television/phone/Internet company as major sponsors.
“Leah Brown at Bright House got us 400 spots on TV she donated,” Miller said. “They’re terrific.”
He expects the largest turnout in downtown Bradenton since New Year’s Eve.
“It’s going to be huge,” Miller said. “This will bring people to downtown who have never been to downtown before because of the top-notch musicians.”
Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at (941) 745-7057. Visit his blog at Bradenton.com/blogs.