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Gov't Mule Continues To Bring On The Music

Jacob Blicken

Earlier in 2019, Gov't Mule released Bring On The Music: Live at the Capitol Theatre, a multi-format collection celebrating the outfit's quarter-century career.

In addition to a stand-alone live album, fans can also witness the concert via a DVD/Blu-ray release, which features behind-the-scenes footage and band interviews. Directed by Danny Clinch, the film captures the veteran act's visual impact in great detail.

Gov't Mule's intense touring schedule this summer continues with a stop in Wichita on Saturday, Aug. 17, at Wave Outdoor with opener Nikki Lane.

Guitarist and vocalist Warren Haynes recently spoke with KMUW about the magic of the Capitol Theatre (located in Port Chester, New York) as well as reflecting on his group's first quarter-century.

Interview Highlights

You've played the Capitol Theatre many times. What's the magic of that place?

The Capitol has a lot of history. It was considered one of the great theaters in the old days. There's a quote from Jerry Garcia where he says, "There are really only two real theaters left: The Fillmore and the Capitol Theatre." He was referring to the way they sound and the way they look and the way they translate to live music. The Capitol closed down [for a while]. I actually got to see the Rolling Stones there before it closed when they did one of their smaller shows for some kind of promotion. It was fantastic. They've been reopened for several years now, and I've played there a lot of times.

It's visually spectacular, too, because the psychedelic light show encompasses the entire theater; all the walls are part of the light show, so it turns it into this bubble where you're away from reality. We wanted to film there, and we wanted to film with our friend Danny Clinch as the director.

Do you get to know the history of rooms pretty well as you travel? I mean, a place like Red Rocks, it seems obvious that you would, but are there other stops where you go, "Oh yeah, I wanna learn the history of this place"?

Pretty much. I've probably played Red Rocks 25 or 30 times, I've probably played the Beacon Theatre in New York about 250 times. You try to learn a little bit of the history wherever you go, especially if the place has some cool history about it. A lot of these old theaters do. But sometimes we're just in and out so quick. If you keep going back, you end up learning a little more each time.

I know you're painstaking in your approach to putting together setlists for shows, not wanting to repeat things, etc. Tell me about the music that you played at the Capitol.

We wanted to make sure to cover a little bit from each part of our career. We were coming up on 25 years at that point. We wanted there to be something from each studio record, and we also wanted to include stuff that had not been on a lot of previous live releases, especially the couple of live videos that we've done in the past. Any of the staples that were repeated, we wanted to make sure they were different versions.

Having said that, there's a lot of stuff from the last three studio albums because none of those had been included in any of our live releases prior. We were concentrating on doing mostly original material. There's only a couple of covers, one of which we had never played before that night. We played about six-and-a-half hours over the two nights.

We ended up using all but six songs in some format or another. There's a lot of formats available. There's vinyl, there's DVD-only, there's my favorite, which is the two-CDs, two-DVDs. It's a lot of music, and our fans love that sort of thing.

You have the Mule Tracks download series, which kind of hearkens back to the days of underground tape trading.

When I joined the Allman Brothers in 1989, the band had made the decision to allow people to record shows. They could set up their own equipment, record it and trade the tapes that were made. A couple of years later, we made the decision to change the setlist drastically from night to night. Once we started doing that, it made a lot more sense to think about maybe offering some recordings ourselves based on the fact that all the shows were different.

So when we started Gov't Mule in 1994, we just adopted the same policy. In the beginning, we didn't have many songs. But we tried to change the set as much as possible. As the band grew, there were more and more songs. We let people trade their own tapes as long as no money changed hands. We started Mule Tracks as a higher quality option for people that want to go that route.

I think it only works for a band that does a different show every night. We may play a couple hundred songs over the course of a tour.

I love the fact that I have access to shows I'd never see. For instance, I love Reeves Gabrels' playing, so I can look up the times he's appeared with the band and download those gigs.

If somebody reads online that there was a special song or setlist or performance, a special guest, or the band played a song for the first time, whatever the factors that make you want to have some unique experience, then it's there. But then people who are at the shows sometimes leave, thinking, "Tonight was extra special, I think I'd like to order it and have it as part of my collection."

It's worked out pretty good. There are about three million downloads from Mule Tracks. You never know what a show is going to be.

Do you see the improvisatory quality of your music having come from the jazz tradition?

It's definitely coming from the jazz tradition; even the rock bands that did it were taking a cue from jazz musicians. The Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Cream, all of those bands. And blues bands as well. Blues bands always improvised, but in a more confined sort of way. It's interesting, the concept of doing a different show every night: The Grateful Dead were the band that got credit, and rightly so, for forging that path.

I remember seeing Frank Zappa when I was a teenager. He did two shows in one night and only repeated one song between the two shows. There were a lot of bands breaking tradition going way back.

You're performing shows with Nikki Lane, including the one here in Wichita. What made you say, "OK, we've got to get her out for some gigs with us"?

It's exciting for us to have new artists that are doing music that we like. We always like having a hand in picking a few of the openers that we actually use because most of the time we don't have openers. When we do, we like it to be music that we like and fans would like. It's also important to us that the music represents a wide array of influences.

It could be, in her case, progressive country. It can be reggae music. Funk, soul. It can be any of the things that we consider timeless and that we love. It just makes for an interesting night of music. It's similar to the way that I look at Christmas Jam, which is my charity show that I do every December. There're so many different types of music being represented that, over the course of a long night, it keeps the interest up.

We're talking about 25 years now since the formation of the band. It has to feel pretty good to stand here and say that because a lot of bands don't get to that point.

With Gov't Mule especially because we never thought we were going to make a second record or even stay together for a second year. When we started, we were just doing something for fun as a side project to the Allman Brothers. We had no idea that it was going to catch fire, turn into its own thing and eventually lead to us making the decision to leave the Allman Brothers and making the decision to concentrate full-time on Gov't Mule.

That was something that just happened organically. If someone would have asked me in 1994 or 1995, "Do you think you're going to be around in 25 years?" I would have said, "Absolutely not."

I'm glad we are. It's been an amazing 25 years, and we're going to continue as long as people want to hear what we do. It's an honor to stay together that long and have an audience, but I think it's also cool to point out that we all still get along and enjoy being around each other and enjoy playing music together. That's not something that can be said for a lot of bands that have been around 25 years.

Or nine months in some cases.

[Laughs.] That's right.

Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.