It’s no secret that Halloween and New Year’s Eve are the two most sacred days in the jam band scene. While credit has to go to The Grateful Dead for paving the way with legendary shows on both holidays that set the bar very high, in 1994, as The Dead were nearing the end of their storied run, an upstart band from Vermont called Phish broke the mold when they covered The Beatles White Album in its entirety during their Halloween show in Glens Falls, NY.
That same year, Warren Haynes and fellow Allman Brother, Allen Woody, founded Gov’t Mule based on their shared love for power trios and while Gov’t Mule has long focused on original music rooted in the harder edges of rock and roll, well-placed covers have always been an important part of their setlists. In 1998 Gov’t Mule threw a guest-laden New Year’s Eve party at The Roxy in Atlanta that featured covers of Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Little Feat and more, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Haynes borrowed a page from the Phish playbook and adopted a Halloween tradition of covering another band’s music with a full performance of Led Zeppelin’s House of the Holy. A year later, expectations were high when The Mule took the stage at The Orpheum Theater in Boston and tore into a monster show that featured a full set of Gov’t Mule favorites followed by a set of the band’s favorite Pink Floyd songs. The show was an instant classic and has grown to nearly mythic status over the last decade so, when the band announced this spring that they were bringing back Dark Side of the Mule as it’s been dubbed, the community erupted in joy.
“The first show — which at that time wasn’t called Dark Side of the Mule — was just one of our Halloween shows,” Haynes told The Marquee before starting a short run of Dark Side shows with The Avett Brothers and Magpie Salute. “As we started approaching the tenth anniversary of that night, we were getting a bunch of requests to take it on the road so we decided to do a handful of shows. Originally we thought we would do it one time and that would be it, but it’s been really fun and since there are only seven or eight shows total it’s kind of a unique thing. I encourage people to come and check it out. It’s grown into something far beyond that show ten years ago.”
The guitarist went on to explain that when the band hits Red Rocks for the final Dark Side show of the year — and the only one west of the Mississippi — fans can expect something truly special. “The production has been stepped up enormously for these shows,” he said. “There is a huge laser show, and light show, and of course the band itself is augmented. Instead of being four pieces we are nine so we can cover everything from old Floyd to newer Floyd. We have three female singers, a saxophone, and an additional player on keyboards, guitars, and vocals. So it’s really a big sound.”
While Pink Floyd was known for an expansive and experimental sound, it was David Gilmour’s guitar tone that defined the band for many, and with Haynes being a connoisseur of tone, he said that he’d obviously be emulating Gilmour’s famous sound for this show. “I am definitely paying homage to his sound,” Haynes said. “The first thing I do is switch to a Stratocaster — which is not what I’m known for — and I start kind of going after his sound a bit. I’m not chasing it or trying to copy it, but instantly when I dial up that sound it makes me play a little bit different because it’s way different than my normal sound. I have so much respect for what he does, and love that music so much, that my interpretation of it comes off being kinda fifty-fifty — a lot of him and a lot of me.”
It’s important to note that, despite its name, the show does not follow the track list of Dark Side of the Moon and instead focuses on a wide swath of the Pink Floyd catalog. “We select the songs based on what we would have fun playing. There is some obvious stuff and some not-so-obvious stuff that I feel like we can deliver with our own spin while still honoring the original versions,” Haynes explained. “Most of the material from the first show ten years ago is still in the repertoire but we’ve expanded that and while we try to give a little bit of a different show each night, it doesn’t change drastically like a normal Gov’t Mule show would. We’ve done stuff like ‘The Nile Song’ which is pretty obscure — it’s from the More movie soundtrack — and we’ve done ‘Fearless’ and ‘One of These Days’ and ‘Echoes.’ We are just trying to give the show a nice flow, something that takes you on a nice ride from beginning to end.”
At Red Rocks, Haynes and company will have around six hours to construct that ride and they have structured the evening to highlight several aspects of Haynes career. “I’m going to do a solo acoustic set at the beginning of the night, then Gov’t Mule is going to do a whole set of Mule, and then there will be a whole set of Dark Side of the Mule,” he explained. “As a result, we are going to be able to do a really long Floyd show and I’m really looking forward to that because, up until now, Peach Fest was the only time we have had enough time to really stretch out and play as long as we’d like to.”
While the promise of a sprawling Pink Floyd set will likely be enough to pack Red Rocks, fans are in for a treat when Haynes opens the evening with the solo acoustic set. The faithful will remember that Gov’t Mule and The Allman Brothers shared a weekend on The Rocks back in 2006 and, on the second night, Haynes welcomed his bandmate Gregg Allman to the stage for a 40-minute acoustic set that remains a standout musical experience for many who were in attendance. “That was a unique performance and I have very fond memories of that night,” Haynes said of the cool September evening. “The two of us only played as an acoustic duo a handful of times and that was one of them. In that beautiful setting, it was magical.”
In addition to the night at Red Rocks, Gov’t Mule will make the pilgrimage to Telluride for a festival closing performance at the Blues & Brews festival. While Haynes made it clear that the Telluride show is not going to be a Dark Side of the Mule set, he didn’t rule out the possibility of playing a Floyd tune for those fans who can’t make both shows. “I haven’t thought about it that much,” he admitted. “I’ve thought about it more from the standpoint of making sure that the shows are completely different for the people that see both of them. If we did play one of those songs it wouldn’t be with the whole enhanced band and all that stuff. We’ve covered Floyd stuff as a four-piece through the years and it still takes on a nice light and a nice interpretation but the Red Rocks show is going to be the whole Dark Side of the Mule experience.”