I’m pretty sure that March 9th, 1998 was the first time I saw Warren Haynes’ and Allen Woody’s Allman Bros. splinter group Gov’t Mule. I’m even more sure that this concert marked my first time setting foot inside The Cabaret Music Hall, a small theatre that I would come to get quite familiar with over the next few years. And I’m positive that this was the first time I met Warren Haynes (‘cuz it was also the last time).
I drove to the show in my diesel Jetta, an uncomfortable but generally reliable ride (foreshadowing), along with my guitar-teacher-turned-concert-companion Wayne and a girl named Rose whom I knew only a little. We pulled into town and immediately made for the venue, where I found a free parking spot just beside the theatre.
Shortly after we got out of the car Wayne yelled, “Warren!” and ran across the street. I looked over and saw big, bushy Warren Haynes standing on the sidewalk beside the backstage door and hoofed across the street to join my friend, who was already fully engaged in conversation with the burly guitarman.
I sidled up and stood on the periphery, barely saying a word outside of “hello”. For some reason I can’t picture Rose being there for this, but she must have been. The only thing I really recall from the meeting was being very surprised to discover that Warren had a thick southern accent.
Which was pretty dumb of me, considering.
My ticket book tells me there was an opening band called Pothole; I don’t remember them at all but I’m guessing from their name that they probably weren’t that great. But I’ll tell you who was great: Gov’t Mule.
Though Warren and drummer Matt Abts were both fantastic, I just could not stop watching Allen Woody. Looking like a overworked roadie with no fashion sense whatsoever, Woody stood on stage left and delivered a never-ending barrage of improvised sixteenth notes that were captivating. I mean he literally never let up on the constant budda-budda-budda rhythm all night. At first I was thinking, “c’mon dude, change it up a little,” but a few songs in I was converted.
“Please don’t ever stop playing those sixteenth notes,” I begged with every breath.
Eventually he did stop playing them, but not until August 26th, 2000, when he died.
Get this: after a fantastic first set Gov’t Mule was joined onstage by all of Big Sugar – yes, the whole band – and they played together for the entire second set, which was all cover songs. Dear Mr. Fantasy, Foxy Lady, there were songs from ZZTop, Little Feat, Miles Davis, Sly & The Family Stone, and more. It was so, so good. Especially hearing the remarkably skilled Gordie Johnson easily holding his own, slinging guitar right next to Warren.
Most curious was the visuals of seeing Hugo Boss-wearing Johnson juxtaposed against the Bill the Cat-look of Allen Woody from our perch in the balcony directly above stage left. Bizarre.
Oh, it was such a great show, full of treats and surprises. But the final surprise came just as we hit the outskirts of the city on our way back home after the concert, when my Jetta completely and utterly broke down. It happened around midnight so there was no hope of getting it fixed promptly. We got towed to the nearest garage (or so I imagine; I know we got there somehow) where we hunkered down for a very chilly and uncomfortable sleep, me in the driver’s seat, Wayne on the passenger side, with Rose in the back.
When the garage opened at 6:30am or something equally insane they took the car in immediately and in hardly any time at all we were back on the road. I remember Wayne and I rolling with those punches pretty well but I equally recall Rose was pretty grumpy about the whole situation.
You’d think she was the one that was out $300 for the repair.