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Best of 2002

Published: 2003/01/23
by Ted Campbell

Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers Band, Phil & Friends, Summerfest, Milwaukee, WI, 6/28

Merely days after the spectacular gathering of bands that was Bonnaroo, I had the good enough fortune to enjoy a day of Warren Haynes. Like many others before him, Haynes has such talent and creativity that being an integral part of one band couldn’t be enough. In the past years, while continuing to play with the Allman Bros. Band, he founded Gov’t Mule, and joined Phil and Friends (greatly improving it, in my opinion).
Not only was this a great day of music to enjoy, but it was personally satisfying to me for several reasons. The first reason was that aside from his brief solo with Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade, I didn’t see Haynes during Bonnaroo. Nor did I see the Haynes-less Phil + Friends. I spent the first half of that set standing very near the first row of the second stage, and the second half watching the Superjam take place on the second stage. No regrets there the Superjam, for those of you unfortunate enough to have skipped it, was mind-blowingly great.
But I realize the draw of Phil’s show, even without Haynes. I just happened to be looking forward to his show coming to my hometown soon afterwards, and so I didn’t mind missing it at Bonnaroo at all. Especially when, after Bela Fleck and Edgar Meier’s set, it was announced on stage that, "We don’t know who will be in the Superjam, but Bela and Edgar will."
The second reason the Warren Haynes Experience was personally rewarding was that it was the last real concert I saw in 2002. Two days later (due to poor planning), on the day of Panic’s show at Summerfest (the first show without Mikey, by the way) I was on a plane to Korea. Concerts as we think of them are scarce here. Though the traditional drumming groups are rather impressive.
Summerfest is a ten-day festival that takes place on an enormous area between downtown Milwaukee and Lake Michigan. There is something like ten stages there and music is nearly constantly being played on all of them, from eleven in the morning to midnight. And you can get anyone from Paul Simon to Reo Speedwagon, Britney Spears to Chumbawumba, Burning Spear to Widespread Panic, or even Gov’t Mule. And I can’t forget about some of the fine local bands, and interesting ethnic or "world" music (my favorites are always the South American pan flute groups).
Gov’t Mule began around 2 o’clock on one of the smaller stages. This gave us enough time to have several ice-cold local microbrews for breakfast and get our hands stamped for the main stage (meaning seeing the Allmans and Phil was free).
The crowd was pretty spacious (at first) and enthusiastic enough to stand on the stationary benches. Oteil Bubridge was the bassist, doing a fine job as always. I’d been enjoying the tapes with Schools, but Oteil brings the funk-jazz sound jaw rattling and intellectual. He gave us the seemingly obligatory "mouth solo," which could be his trademark.
And Haynes of course held nothing back singing or guitar-wise. Forget that he was the opening act for two other bands he was in and evidently, he forgot too. The Mule was strong as always powerful, emotive, and real. They’re a hell of a band, with straight-ahead, well-written songs. Simply good real good and good enough to be enjoyed by the toddler in the family near me (who danced and never cried) but heavy enough to satisfy the leather jacket Harley Davidson crowd, and me.
So I’d say that this was the best show of the three. Which is saying a lot because Phil’s band is superb. And the Allmans are true time-tested legends. But Gov’t Mule is damn good in every possible way. There is nothing lacking in the Mule no space for improvement, no weak points. From Haynes’ raw but majestic voice and inspired guitar playing to the driving and interesting backbeat, Mule took the cake that day.
Seeing the man who was only about 10 feet away for an entire concert appear on stage before a huge amphitheater was a different feeling. Is that the same guy? But from the first note played the answer was obvious, yes! And, because of the absence of Dickey Betts, Haynes really took over during Allman’s show.
And then, following the sunset (and my journey from the distant lawn to "down front") out came the huge jam entitled Phil and Friends. Haynes may have looked a little tired (a friend on his side said he looked positively zombie-like, in fact) but he sure as hell didn’t sound tired. The conversations between him and Jimmy Herring (with Phil as echoer or emphasize and leader) were as tight and fascinating as always.
Man, that guy can play!

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