Jeff Waful’s Jazz Fest Daily Diary (May 4, 2003)
Today The Loop looks back nine years to present Jeff Waful’s Jazz Fest diary from May 4, 2003…
Saturday May 3
I'm seated across from Gov't Mule drummer Matt Abts in the balcony overlooking the breathtaking theater. His face is brightly lit by two powerful lights, both of which are visible to me in the reflection of his stylish sunglasses. In the background, Warren Haynes and Bela Fleck are on stage rehearsing "Lay of the Sunflower" for tonight's show. We're midway through an interview for the DVD, which will document the historic concert, but each time the musicians begin to play, we pause. Our vantagepoint is perfect visually, but the acoustics of the room bring every note into our laps, drowning out our dialogue. To my right, the director puts his head in his hands, frustrated by the loud interruptions below. Part of me wants to just take a moment and appreciate the fact that it's fucking Warren Haynes and Bela Fleck jamming together not your every day occurrence. Then again, we only have a few precious hours to interview every musician that will perform tonight.
"We need Matt," Warren proclaims from the stage and suddenly the interview is over as Abts apologetically removes the mic from his rugged jean jacket. The video crew moves our operation to a vacant dressing room backstage. Up on the second floor, it's the last door on the left. I slowly walk down the hall reading the names posted on each door: "George Porter Jr.,".... "Jason Newsted"... "Dave Schools." Nearly every guest has his own room, leaving us with the smallest one. Our cameraman, Mike, sets up the tripod while Amy hangs a purple and white tapestry behind a set of chairs. The room is slightly larger than a phone booth; so small that my chair is blocking the doorway. I quickly realize that the cramped space is missing one key element air conditioning. This is a very bad thing, especially given the tremendous amount of heat that TV lights give off and the already hot Louisiana weather. Newsted and Greg Rzab are our next victims and before we begin, I explain how my questions will not be included in the finished product and that we need them to rephrase the question within their answer. I turn to the former Metallica bassist and say, "You know, like on Behind the Music."
Following Jack Casady's interview, the room is an oven. The temperature rises with every passing minute, as the glowing lights burn on. By the time Paul Jackson sits down, it's literally like a sauna no exaggeration at all. His large, bald head is covered in shiny perspiration and we're forced to stop between every question to sop up the reflective sweat. He casually explains how he wrote "Chameleon," one of the funkiest and most-covered songs in history.
During our brief dinner break, I step to the side of the stage where Mule is rehearsing with Jackson, the Dirty Dozen Horns and Bernie Worrell. As they run through "Chameleon," musicians begin to gather in the wings to marvel at Jackson's effortless groove. Although there have already been several impressive line-ups on stage today, this is the collaboration that attracts the largest crowd. Afterwards, Victor Wooten stops Jackson to say hello. Wooten's eyes light up while he talks to him, like a child meeting his hero.
I'm interviewing Danny Louis and Dave Schools when there's a loud pounding at the door. This has been happening all day and I generally put my hand up to hold the door shut while the interviews are being recorded. This time is different though. The door is forcefully thrust open and Mule's tour manager abruptly stops the interview. "Warren needs you on stage right this second," he says to Louis. "The show is starting."
After the first song, I sprint across the street, past the large crowd outside the Ween/Col. Claypool Bucket of Bernie Brains show, and around the corner to the hotel. According to the set list, there are two more songs before the night's first special guest takes the stage; just enough time to change my sweat-soaked shirt and grab the battery charger for my camera (Regan: I know technically it's your camera, but we'll talk).
I arrive in the photo pit just in time for "Pygmy Twylyte" with Dave Schools. Photographer Michael Weintrob, who's shooting for the album and DVD packaging, is pressed up against the stage next to me. "You could not ask for better lighting conditions," he states. Indeed, the conditions are perfect, with colorful swirling images on a scrim in the background and a flood of white light in the front, this is a photographer's dream (not to mention the stellar line-up). Warren is a man on a mission right from the start, tearing soulful solos and belting out throaty, heartfelt vocals.
Wooten emerges to thunderous applause. Earlier, he said how excited he was to play with a band that only wanted him to groove and how refreshing it was not to be asked to do "some crazy pyrotechnic solo." Right now he's grinning humbly, shooting Warren a playful look during "Sco-Mule." I can hear Victor's bass louder than anything in the mix, given my close proximity to his amp. It's a fairly simple bass line, one that's been played by countless musicians that have collaborated with Mule, but Wooten's "feel" is so unique. He's often heralded as the most technically proficient bassist on the planet, but tonight he's simply laying it down, a rare treat. Of course, by the end of the song Warren caves, pointing to him to take a solo. On the side of the stage hidden behind a speaker stack, a laughing Louis nearly falls out of his chair as he applauds the craziness.
Mule publicist Jim Walsh fights his way through the crowd and up into the front row where I'm flanked by security guards and cameramen. I'm told that Fred Wesley has just arrived and we need to interview him right this second, as he's scheduled to take the stage shortly and is then leaving immediately for a gig with Soulive across town. As I interview him, one ear listens to the show while the other listens to his answers.
Jason Newsted is standing above me headbanging on the edge of the stage, his sweat pouring down while I obliviously snap photos. The combination of Abts' relentless drumming and Jason's machine gun chops is overwhelming. The energy revitalizes the capacity crowd. Following "Try Not to Fall," there is a long delay. Warren's having a conversation with his guitar tech, Brian Farmer, who is crouched on the side of the stage. "Play War Pigs now," urges Farmer, but Warren shakes his head. The set list shows that "Sweat Leaf" is supposed to be first, but because the order of guests has changed (due to Claypool's gig across the street) the lyric sheet has not yet been brought out. Abts takes a lengthy drum solo while Farmer disappears back stage. Minutes later, he runs out, tapes the lyrics to the front of Warren's monitor and the band launches into "Sweat Leaf." When they finally get to "War Pigs," Newsted is bouncing off the walls with adrenaline, thrashing around the stage like a maniac. It's fucking great.
A tired Claypool finally makes it to the venue in time for the first few songs of the encore, "Greasy Granny's Gopher Gravy Pt. 124" and "Greasy Granny's Gopher Gravy Pt 224." Les wrote and recorded both songs with Mule for The Deep End Vol. 2, but has not played the tune in over a year (he sat in with the Mule in September of 2001). During a pause in the song, Claypool steps to the mic and humorously asks Warren if "this is the part where we go to the G right?" Meanwhile, there is a minor crisis taking place backstage.
George Porter Jr. is slated to take part in the show's grand finale, a triple bassist attack along with Newsted and Schools. After his guest appearance earlier, George headed to another gig and was scheduled to be back by now. The latest report is that he's 10 blocks away in heavy traffic. Following "Soulshine," the band has left the stage for another encore, but is told that George is simply not here. "The natives are gettin' restless," Farmer says, referring to the crowd's lessening intensity as the minutes roll by. "I'll just have to stall em," says a calm, but focused Warren, huddling up with the band and crew. He walks out on stage to play a solo version of The Eagles' "Wasted Time," quite the appropriate choice given the scenario. At the back door, Porter's cab finally pulls up and is greeted by a group of cheering musicians. Farmer grabs the bass and sprints through the backstage area, followed by Porter and a video crew. Who knows if it will make the cut, but you could not script a better ending to the DVD. I'm nearly trampled by the commotion, as they run directly on stage.
Porter, Newsted and Schools play the sinister, odd-metered bassline to "Thorazine Shuffle" in unison as Abts unleashes. It is a perfect ending to a legendary evening. Many are already calling it historic, "The Last Waltz of our generation," as one photographer boldly states minutes after the show ends. Backstage, an exhausted Haynes wipes his forehead with a face towel. "My hands are mush," he says. "I've been playing for eight hours straight."