Warren Haynes doesn't get bored. He doesn't have time to. Between touring with his own band Gov't Mule, the Allman Brothers Band — of which he's been a member for 25 years— the Dead, along with four actual living Grateful Dead members (not currently active, but you never know when they'll reboot), and various solo projects and collaborations, Haynes' calendar doesn't offer many breathers. This Thursday night, he'll reprise his role sitting in for the late Jerry Garcia once again, but this time with an entire symphony behind him. The idea first came to fruition last year. The 2014 incarnation of the tour will expand upon it and dig a little deeper.
"We're going to add some new material that I'm very much looking forward to," says Haynes. "The fact that we'll have last year's tour behind us will help because the whole concept of performing with a symphony was pretty intimidating in the beginning, just speaking for myself. It's so different than anything I've ever done. I'm used to being part of a world based on improvisation, and symphonies don't improvise. We had to find ways of combining those two worlds together, which worked out great. I had such a wonderful time, and I think we were able to do that in a way that was very unique and rewarding."
For last year's run of shows, Haynes was able to borrow Jerry Garcia's famous "Wolf" guitar from its current owner. Garcia played Wolf from 1973 to 1993, and it was custom-made for him by Doug Irwin of the then-new guitar company Alembic. It's made from purpleheart and curly maple with an ebony fingerboard, and it gets its name from the hungry cartoon wolf sticker Garcia slapped below the tailpiece. As of publication, it's still unknown whether or not Wolf will be made available this time around.
"I sure hope so," says Haynes. "That's my intent, if we can work it out. For last year's tour it made a huge difference. It was really inspiring for me to be able to play that instrument. It kind of put me that much closer to the spirit of the songs. It was a wonderful experience."
To choose the setlist, Haynes sifted through the lengthy and familiar Grateful Dead catalog and tried to imagine which songs would sound best with an orchestral arrangement. With over 300 songs to choose from that the band played in its 30-year existence spanning a diverse range of genres, there were many options. Haynes then passed his list and ideas on to three arrangers who divided up the scoring duties and worked together to weave the symphonic tapestry. Last year's tour setlists included classic tunes like "Scarlet Begonias" and "Terrapin Station," deeper cuts like "Standing on the Moon" and "High Time," and extended jams like the always-very-open-ended and trippy "Dark Star." Garcia was the reluctant artistic centerpiece of the band, and since his death in 1995 no one has filled his shoes, but musicians like Haynes continue to honor his genius with their own interpretations of his creations.
"Usually it's a different symphony in each city and we show up early and rehearse and get everything ready," says Haynes. "Since their charts don't vary from show to show, they're very professional and it's what they do every day — it's just a matter of merging the two worlds together."
Symphonic Jerry tour aside, it's a monster year for Haynes. It's the 10th anniversary of Mountain Jam, the festival he co-founded in upstate New York, the 45th anniversary of the Allman Brothers and the 20th anniversary of Gov't Mule. But it also marks the last year he will play with the Allmans before their recently announced disbanding.
"Gov't Mule will continue to be a major focus for me, and all the solo projects that I do, and there's some other projects on the horizon we can talk about when the time comes... but I definitely look forward to maintaining a busy schedule," he says.
There's no bad blood with the Allmans though. The end of the aging group was a long time coming.
"It's been something that we've been talking about as a band for at least two or three years now," says Haynes. "I think most of us or all of us felt that the 45th anniversary was the right time to go out on a high note."
JERRY GARCIA SYMPHONIC CELEBRATION FEATURING WARREN HAYNES will be at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford, on Thursday, May 15, 7:30 p.m. $35-$75. oakdale.com.Copyright © 2015, CT Now