Having played with the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule, and Grateful Dead spinoff band the Dead for many years now, guitarist Warren Haynes is like a figure from a jam-band fan’s wet dream. Naturally, the North Carolina native is also a bit of a favorite among Colorado audiences, and as a result there have been years when Haynes has performed at Red Rocks multiple times with multiple bands.
This year, he’s appearing at the hallowed venue just two times: this coming Monday, August 1, as part of the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration, and then on August 25 with his own band, Gov't Mule. The former performance in particular will be a special event; Monday would have been Garcia’s 74th birthday, and to celebrate, Haynes will be playing Garcia’s Doug Irwin guitar, known as “Tiger,” thanks to the image of the big cat embossed on the instrument.
For Haynes, who can’t enough of the place he describes as a “great music state,” Colorado has been especially welcoming, embracing his music since he first starting playing here. Working multiple shows at a venue like Red Rocks is nothing less than a pleasure for him.
“I don’t think it’s difficult,” Haynes says. “It’s completely different, though, with different equipment, different musicians, different repertoire, and a different approach to music. Everything is completely different, but it’s a natural change and whatever challenge it is, I enjoy.”
Haynes is a player’s player, the sort of muso that other musos pay close attention to. He thrives on musical challenges and specializes in refining the ability to switch gears in a blink. He’s a musical chameleon in a way, but only within the confines of the Southern jam style. The guy’s clear technical ability and outlaw vibe makes for a hell of a combo.
That’s why, when faced with playing Garcia’s songs with the Symphonic Celebration or with the Dead, he’s able to bring something new to the gigs, much like the original band did for decades.
“This whole thing with the Garcia Symphonic Celebration came about three years ago,” he says. “I received a phone call from the Jerry Garcia estate saying that they wanted to do a series of symphonic shows with Jerry’s music and hopefully different guest artists. They wanted to know if I wanted to be involved, and I was honored. That was really the impetus of this.”
Haynes says that a few tunes have been added to the set since the Symphonic Celebration was last performed at Red Rocks (this will be its second time here), and there will be a special encore presentation after the symphony leaves the stage, featuring longtime Jerry Garcia Band keyboardist Melvin Seals. The inclusion of Garcia Band vocalist Jacklyn LaBranch adds a little more spice.
“We’re gonna do stuff that we’ve never done, and it’s gonna be a really fun night,” Haynes says.
Haynes, who says that he loves playing “Terrapin Station” live but can’t pick favorites, believes that a great song can be interpreted many different ways, and that’s how he keeps things interesting.
“The way we all approach music is from an improvisational stance, so it’s different night by night and moment by moment,” he says. “Of course, with the symphony, it’s a lot less centered around improvisation than a normal night would be. We’ve found different ways of incorporating improvisation into the shows. After that, doing this special bonus encore set will be a blast.”
About three weeks later, Haynes will be back in town with his Southern rock-infused jammers Gov't Mule, and Haynes says that he won’t know until just before the show what the band is going to play because every Mule show is completely different.
“We’re starting to work on new material later in the year, so there’s a chance that by the time we get there some of it would make its way to the stage,” he says. “Wherever we go, we always like to do something that either we’ve never done there or we haven't done there in a long time.”
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Gov't Mule is 21 years old this year, and its leader says that in the beginning, they didn’t think it would even last five.
“It kind of grew naturally,” he says. “Of course, when Allen Woody [late bassist with Mule and the Allman Brothers Band] passed away, it put us in a situation of deciding whether we would throw in the towel or keep it going, and keeping it going meant rethinking the whole process. The band has been touring for so long that at this point, it communicates telepathically. We know each other’s musical vocabulary so well, it’s hard for me to believe this band has been together this long.”
The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Symphony, featuring Warren Haynes and the Colorado Symphony, takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, August 1, at Red Rocks. Gov't Mule with moe. and Blackberry Smoke is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 25, at Red Rocks.