Every year at about this time, thousands of people make memories at FloydFest. That number includes the hundreds of performers who play there.
Warren Haynes, frontman for eclectic blues-rock and improvisational act Gov’t Mule, returns on Thursday, when his band will be the main stage headliner. Ketch Secor and his band, Old Crow Medicine Show, will hit FloydFest for the fourth time on Sunday, headlining the main stage.
In recent interviews, both performers shared their FloydFest memories with us.
Gigging with Gregg
Haynes had his FloydFest debut in 2016, fronting his Ashes & Dust project, which combined folk and bluegrass with bursts of wild jazz and rock energy. That Saturday, July 30, set was scheduled to happen just before Haynes’ onetime Allman Brothers Band mate, Gregg Allman, hit the stage.
Allman, who had told The Roanoke Times in a pre-show interview that he was hoping to jam with Haynes that night, fell ill in Roanoke and didn’t make the show. He died the following May.
“We did actually discuss playing together that night, and it would have been the first time we’d played together in a little bit,” Haynes said. “I knew that he had canceled some other shows here and there and that he was having some health issues, which at the time we were all hoping were not major. When I got the word that he had canceled FloydFest, I remember hoping this wasn’t a bad thing.
“There was a fair amount of time between then and when he passed, but you could tell at the time that his health was starting to deteriorate. It was a tough time for everybody. Losing him and Butch [Trucks, the Allmans’ drummer] back to back like that, was really hard on our whole family, you know.”
Still, Haynes and his band pulled off a spectacular FloydFest show that night, with drummer Jeff Sipe — a frequent musical partner to Haynes — swinging like mad on such numbers as “Devil Likes It Slow” and Allman Brothers classic “Jessica.” Haynes said he hopes to reconvene that group of players someday, because he had a blast playing with them.
But Gov’t Mule, formed a quarter century ago with drummer Matt Abts and the late bassist Allen Woody, is his main musical squeeze. The act continues to grow with each record, including last year’s “Revolution Come ... Revolution Go.”
“I look at Gov’t Mule as this place where we can collectively express ourselves in a way that continues expanding and growing with each record and with each tour,” Haynes said. “Gov’t Mule ironically enough started as a side project that never expected to make a second record. We weren’t expecting to stay together five years, much less 25 years. So each year we stayed together, it was important to add influences that had always been with us but we had not brought to the surface yet.
“The longer you stay together, the more you allow yourself to do that.”
With those years came a fan base that is up for musical adventures that include lots of improvisation and changing song structures.
“We feel like thanks to the audience that we’ve been able to build, we can kind of go wherever we want, because they’re part of the journey. They want us to take it wherever we can. ... That’s one of the things that I’m most appreciative of when it comes to Gov’t Mule. Some audiences wouldn’t tolerate such behavior,” he said, with a laugh.
Revolution Come. Revolution Go
Rock & roll has always been a reflection of the times, and the new Mule is no exception.