Warren Haynes: Festival Notes From A Floater
Warren Haynes will perform on Friday, June 21 at Bonnaroo, as Gov’t Mule’s ninety minute set currently is slated to close out the day’s music at “the arena." However it is quite likely that this will not be all that festivalgoers see of Haynes, as he may very well take the stage with other bands (possibilities include Les Claypool, Widespread Panic, Soulive and maybe late night with Karl Denson). He’ll only be at Bonnaroo for one day as he’ll gig with the Allman Brothers Band on Saturday at the Chicago Theater. In fact he’ll be in Chicago on Thursday too, as he’s traveling down to Tennessee during the off-night of a two show ABB run, in order to perform at Bonnaroo. He talks about all of the above, and defines the role of “the floater” in this interview.
What were your thoughts when you first heard about the festival?
It just seemed like a really cool concept. The bands that are on the event are friends of ours and bands that we love personally and musically. That’s something that never really happens or never has quite happened to this extent. So the first thing you think of is all the bands jamming with each other and what a cool thing it would be for the audience to see all these different kind of bands sharing the stage.
Whenever there’s an opportunity to jam with or just watch some performers that you love, it’s always good to take advantage of that. We’re usually so busy working that we don’t have the opportunity too much. So when it comes around, it’s a cool thing and everybody likes to get there early and watch their friends. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to hang out and do as much jamming and watching as I would like although it’s a perfect set up.
You mention that you’re not going to be able to hang out. This Gov’t Mule show is sandwiched between ABB dates. Since you also perform in Phil & Friends, can you describe the challenge in moving from band to band to band.
I think that change comes about pretty quickly as far as bouncing from one band to another. It’s unspoken and it doesn’t require a lot of thought. With my being in the Allman Brothers and Phil and Friends and Gov’t Mule there is a situation where each band influences the other one a little bit but for the most part it’s easy to keep them all separate and the change comes about pretty easily.
What elements do you think make for a successful festival?
I think in a case like Bonnaroo where all the bands are different from each other but similar enough to draw the same kind of music lovers, that’s a healthy thing because some of the people in the audience are going to get a chance to discover music that they may have only heard about or in some cases never heard about. They’ll be able to be turned on to music for the first time, to be there and say, “I’ve heard of this band, let me go over to this other stage and see what’s it’s all about.” That’s an amazing opportunity for a music lover, to be able to do that. The HORDE tours were successful in that way because you had all these bands that were different enough but similar enough to where you could turn each other’s audiences on to new music. The key is letting people discover music that they’ve never had a chance to get turned onto before.
Let’s talk about guest appearances. First off, when you invite someone to sit in with Gov’t Mule, how formal does that tend to be?
With Gov’t Mule in can be extremely informal to the extent that we see one of our friends sitting on the side of the stage and we ask them if they feel like playing. In that case it happens during the show and there’s no preparation whatsoever. In some cases if we know we’re coming to a city and we know that someone lives there or is going to be there, we’ll call them about what songs we can play together. On some rare occasions we even rehearse but that’s not the norm for us
When Kid Rock sat in with us a few weeks ago in New York, he just showed up with Pamela Anderson and I thought, “Well, I’ll ask him if he wants to sit in.” All of it just happened on the fly, there was no preparation whatsoever. We just talked briefly during the show and it just kind of fell together. With Gov’t Mule that has a way of working out sometimes, just because the whole boldness is part of what we do and taking a chance sometimes will pay off. There’s always the possibility that it could fall apart but that’s part of the fun.
When you add a vocalist, at least there’s some semblance of structure already in place. In a similar situation where you invite an instrumentalist on stage, do you typically lock in on a song or just call out a key?
Usually a song but sometimes the song doesn’t matter if you trust the person to play and just say, “We’re in such and such a key, hold on.” But it varies from a lot of preparation to absolutely no preparation in terms of what can work on the stage. Our whole live record, Live with a Little Help From Our Friends, was done with very little preparation and very little rehearsal. We were just kind of winging it and most of it turned out good.
What about when John Scofield performed with you?
We rehearsed one day with John which was just about right. Then we did two shows and we recorded both shows to a mobile truck and that’s probably going to come out next year. Gov’t Mule Live with John Scofield, all instrumental music.
When someone asks you to sit in, how do you approach that role?
If I know the song then I go into it a little more prepared. If I don’t know the song then I’m just kind of feeling my way around which means maybe laying out, not playing all the time, listening to what the band is doing to figure out what I can add to the overall picture. That’s an interesting challenge as well. I don’t mind being put in that position because the rest of the band knows what they’re doing, so if I do very little that’s okay. That’s a nice challenge to be the floater as I refer to it sometimes, the person who doesn’t know what’s happening next. I’ve been in that position quite a bit.
A lot of them have worked out positively. Sitting in with Galactic or Karl Denson or Dave Matthews where I didn’t necessarily know the song you just kind of ride on top of the waves.
“Eric Krasno mentioned”:http://www.jambands.com/BonnarooBeat/content_2002_05_31.00.phtml that he when he has sat in with DMB they intentionally didn’t tell him what song they were going to play.
Yeah I can see that. Sometimes that makes for better music.
Has that been your experience?
Sometimes. I can remember one time playing a song I’d never heard with Dave and they said, “Oh, it’s really simple,” and I got up there and it wasn’t really simple (laughs). That meant me doing a lot more laying out and listening than normal. But it worked out fine, it keeps you on your toes.
Since Widespread will be at Bonnaroo, Dave Schools with perform with Gov’t Mule on bass?
Who’ll play keys?
Danny Louis. Danny’s been with us for the last little bit and Danny goes all the way back to working with me when I did my solo record in 93. He’s been doing a wonderful job with us.
Do you still see the keyboard role in the band as a rotating chair?
We’re really digging Danny doing it and since he seems to be available we’ll probably see more of him. That’s not to say that we won’t see other people as well.
Final question. We’ve been asking everyone, do you have any advice for Bonnaroo festivalgoers?
Pace yourself, don’t try and do it all.