Story By: Brian Mansfield
Photo By: Danny Clinch
The Bonnaroo festival celebrates the spirit of jamming and musical mingling. Warren Haynes should be the Bonnaroo poster boy.
The 44-year-old guitarist boasts membership in no fewer than four bands. He fronts his own trio, Gov’t Mule, and plays with both the Allman Brothers and The Dead. He’s also part of Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s side project, Phil Lesh & Friends.
Oh, and he also put out a solo album this week.
Live at Bonnaroo, a solo acoustic performance recorded on a Sunday afternoon before about 80,000 people at the Manchester, Tenn., festival last June, features Haynes singing his own songs and eclectic covers ranging from Radiohead’s Lucky to Otis Redding’s (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.
“I put together a set of songs I thought it would be fun to play for the crowd,” Haynes says. “I wasn’t thinking about making a record — hence the large amount of cover songs that I would’ve probably rethought if I had had any idea it was going to be a record.”
Haynes has become a fixture at Bonnaroo, which will host 90,000 people this weekend for performances by the likes of Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, Wilco, Patti Smith, Los Lonely Boys, Nellie McKay, Los Lobos and Robert Randolph.
In addition to his solo set, in Bonnaroo’s previous two years Haynes has performed with Gov’t Mule and the Allmans, as well as sitting in with numerous other acts, including Widespread Panic, Primus bassist Les Claypool and New Orleans’ Funky Meters.
This year, Haynes has scheduled Saturday performances with Gov’t Mule and The Dead. He’ll almost surely wind up on stage with somebody else, too. “There are so many people there that are close friends, we play together every chance we get,” he says.
Haynes got his first big break as guitarist for country renegade David Allan Coe during the early ’80s. He moved to Nashville, seeking work as a session guitarist. Around this time, he co-wrote Two of a Kind (Workin’ on a Full House), which became a hit for Garth Brooks and is still probably the biggest moneymaker in Haynes’ varied career. He began playing with Allmans guitarist Dickey Betts, which led to his joining the Allmans in 1989. Lesh and Haynes began playing together in 2000.
The Dead’s Bonnaroo performance launches Haynes’ first tour with that band. He’s scheduled to open frequently with a solo set.
“Warren’s range is so great,” Lesh says. “He can get down in the dirt with the slide guitar, or he can go out into space. He has the capacity to forget about everything he’s ever played in the past, in all those other contexts he’s been in, and just be in the moment. In The Dead, that’s kind of the basic point from which you start.”
Haynes says: “The Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead are the two forerunners of the whole jam-band scene. They have similarities in their approaches, but a lot of differences as well.
“When it comes to improvisation in the Allman Brothers, they are about getting to the point and finding that magic, but finding it very quickly. In the Grateful Dead, they’re much more about laying back and waiting for the magic to come. They’re both beautiful approaches; there’s no wrong or right with either one. It’s a thing of beauty to see them both operate.”
In those bands, Haynes fills the roles of two of rock’s most revered guitarists, Duane Allman and Jerry Garcia. Gov’t Mule, which will release its sixth studio album this fall, gives Haynes the opportunity to develop his own style outside of those icons’ shadows.
“Gov’t Mule is definitely a place in my heart where I can create anything musically that I want to create,” Haynes says.
“The Dead tour goes right into the next Allman Brothers tour, which goes right into the next Dead tour, which goes back into an Allman Brothers tour,” he says. “By then, it’ll be time to put the Gov’t Mule record out and start a big Gov’t Mule tour.
“At that point, we’ll be looking at Thanksgiving.”
Says Lesh: “Here’s a man who lives music. It’s a delight working with somebody for whom that is his primary reason for being.”
Says Haynes: “When I look at what my goals were a long time ago, most of them I’ve achieved in one way or another. But I can’t say that I’m satisfied with that. I’m constantly finding things I would love to accomplish. I’ve been doing this a long time, but things are better than ever for me.
“I just want to continue making the best music I can.”