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Arts & Entertainment

Warren Haynes’ Soul Shines for Phil Lesh’s 84th Birthday at The Cap

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February 25, 2024

By W.B. King–

Known in many circles as the hardest working man in the jam band scene, former Allman Brothers Band (ABB) alumnus and Gov’t Mule co-founder Warren Haynes is eagerly looking forward to reuniting with the Phil Lesh Quintet for two celebratory shows at The Capitol Theatre.

“We had an immediate chemistry from the first time we played together,” Haynes said of the group comprised of former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, guitarist Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic), drummer John Molo (Bruce Hornsby and the Range) and keyboardist Rob Barraco (Dark Star Orchestra). “It felt like a band with its own personality and all the ingredients meshed well.”

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While Lesh has for 30 years welcomed countless top-tier musician “friends” into the fold, the Quintet, known fondly by fans as “The Q,” holds the distinction as the only lineup that has released an album, There and Back Again (2002). Haynes has writing credit on a few of the 11 tracks, including “Patchwork Quilt” and “Welcome to the Underground,” among others.

“As far as I know, [The Q] is the only version of Phil Lesh and Friends that have stayed together for that long and played that many shows,” Haynes told The Hudson Independent by phone in late February,before taking the stage with Gov’t Mule in Austin, Texas. “So it’s a combination of this wonderful chemistry we have and the time to grow on it and expand.”

Lesh, who will turn 84 during his Capitol Theatre residency in March, is “unique as a bass player and a musician,” which Haynes noted is an important distinction. “He approaches the music differently than anyone I have ever played with on several different levels. One of which is the open-mindedness about what music is, what it can be and what it should be,” he continued. “He doesn’t put any pressure or expectations on the music to be any particular way. He likes the fact that it is liquid and changing all the time. Every performance is, and should be, different from the one before.”

‘We Went Around the World Together’

In 1969, Haynes’ eldest brother brought home a debut album by a largely unknown group from Macon, Ga. The self-titled The Allman Brothers Band immediately captured Haynes’ young imagination. At nine years old, he first heard songs like “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” “Whipping Post” and “Dreams,” among other iconic tunes.  “I was such a big Allman Brothers fan as a kid. I’ve heard that music all my life and really loved it even before I picked up the guitar, which was several years later,” he said of the original lineup consisting of Duane and Gregg Allman, Dickie Betts, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson (Jaimoe).

“I was starting to sing and loved Gregg’s voice, and then around age 11, I was enamored with the guitar—the way that Duane Allman and Dickie Betts played together and separately,” he said. “So that music influenced me greatly before I met any of those guys, and I met Gregg for the first time in 1981. And of course, we went around the world together and wrote a lot of songs together. Gregg continues to influence me until … well, now.”

The Grateful Dead and ABB have a storied history, often sharing the stage at concerts, and are among few rock groups that feature two drummers. Their pairing at the legendary “Summer Jam at Watkins Glen” in 1973, which also featured The Band, drew an estimated 600,000 fans to the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway.

Haynes, who was asked by Betts to join the revitalized ABB in 1989, is uniquely qualified to expound upon the history of the two band and approach to music. Before doing so, though, he related an insightful anecdote from Betts ,who penned songs like “Ramblin’ Man,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Blue Sky,” among others.

“I remember Dickie Betts and I talking one time and Dickie acknowledging that the Grateful Dead was in ‘No hurry to create the magic — they would kind of wait on the magic to come to them. The Allman Brothers were much more impatient—they wanted to create the magic right now.’” Haynes shared. “I always looked at both of those things as being beautiful in their own way. To be able to experience both in different degrees is really special.”

A prolific songwriter in his own right, Haynes has many memorable tunes, including the revered “Soulshine,” which was released on the ABB album, Where it All Begins (1994). Haynes, however, never thought that the song would be included on the album, but that changed when Gregg Allman made a surprising announcement while the band was in the studio.

“I knew he was familiar with the song, but he never mentioned recording it until that moment. Of course, hearing him sing it made it an Allman Brothers song. It immediately made me think: ‘Why I didn’t think of it that way?’” Haynes continued. “Seeing the impact [the song] has made on other people is amazing to me because when I first wrote it, it was such a simple gospel-influenced tune that I kept looking for ways to make it more complicated, but it didn’t want to be more complicated. So, I left it alone and now I’m glad that I did.”

Throughout 2024, fans may catch renditions of “Soulshine” among other tunes from Haynes’ catalog as he will be busy touring in celebration of Gov’t Mule’s 30th anniversary with band mates Matt Abts, Danny Louis and Kevin Scott.  “Thirty years is hard to believe, actually. It’s going to be an exciting year and we will be doing some special one-off Gov’t Mule shows and at some point we are going to go into the vault and release some unreleased music,” Haynes offered.

A Westchester resident, Haynes said whether he is on the road or at home, an acoustic guitar, on which many of his “mid-tempo” songs first come to life, is never far from reach. New music, he noted, is on the horizon.  “I’m working on some stuff right now putting together a lot of songs that are more like a follow-up to Man in Motion, my solo record that I did a few years ago,” he said. “There is always something on the back burner.”

Don’t Play or Sing Like Jerry Garcia

Haynes, known worldwide for his soulful southern voice and melodious, biting guitar style, first began playing with Lesh in the late 1990s, which was the second iteration of Phil and Friends. The first, which took place in at the Berkeley Community Theatre in 1994, included Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Vince Welnick.

In 2004, Haynes furthered his understanding of Dead’s songbook by joining The Dead, which featured surviving band members Lesh, Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. On January 20, 2009, the band performed at the Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball for President Barack Obama.

Whereas it might seem daunting to step into the iconic role Jerry Garcia created and maintained for 30 years with the Grateful Dead, Haynes said Lesh has never been interested in recreating history.

“When I first started playing with Phil, he just wanted all the musicians working with him to bring their own approach to the music and not play or sing like Jerry Garcia,” Haynes said. “He liked the fact that everyone brought new interpretations into the songs because he felt the songs themselves were strong enough to carry over to many different interpretations and he was right about that.”

When playing on stage with Lesh, Haynes, a fan of Garcia, is often reminded of the manner in which these infamous players created music. “Great chemistries are based on the right amount similarity and the right amount of difference. Phil has carried forth that philosophy and still looks at things exactly the same as he always has.”

When asked if he has any favorite Dead songs to play, Haynes said there are far too many to pick from, but did speak about the Garcia ballad, “Stella Blue,” featuring lyrics composed by Robert Hunter. “It’s such a beautiful song and I really like singing that song,” Haynes said. “I love the way The Q interprets that tune—it’s different every time we do it. I have enjoyed so many different excursions on that song.”

Let Phil Surprise Us

When The Q returns to the stage at The Capitol Theatre this coming March 4 and 6, Haynes said he might be as surprised as the fans as to what songs the band will play. Past set lists have included Q originals, Grateful Dead hits like “Shakedown Street” as well as covers, such as Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” Miles Davis’ “So What” and The Beatles’ “She Said She Said,” among others.

“A lot of times Phil will ask if there is something one of us would like to throw into the mix, but he is always thinking of the band’s personality and chemistry when he is putting together a set list for The Q,” Haynes said, adding that he enjoys playing The Capitol Theatre because of the room’s unique sound and special vibe. “The set lists are always based on songs he is excited about and the way we will interpret them,” Haynes said. “I’m more than happy to let Phil surprise us.”

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