Warren Haynes featuring Railroad Earth
Lake Champlain Maritime Festival
August 9, 2015
With the warm breezy notes opening their introductory set August 9th Railroad Earth set the tone for the evening at Burlington's Waterfront Park. In short order too they reaffirmed why they deserve their feature billing on this tour with Warren Haynes: no question the sprawling (in more than one ways) crowd came to see the erstwhile Allman Brother and titular leader of Gov't Mule, but the success of his >em>Ashes & Dust (Concord, 2015) project, on stage and in the studio, is based on the solidarity of band as much as Haynes' well-known means of establishing camaraderie with his fellow musicians.
The guitarist/singer/composer's humility has much to do with that too, so it was appropriate his first appearance on stage was to play guitar along with Railroad Earth roughly an hour into their set. The provocative likes of his new songs, such as "Coal Tattoo" and "Company Man," are the foundation of his collaborative effort with the group and both numbers gained even greater resonance in the wake of a tune dedicated to Bernie Sanders ("Stranded in Self Pity"). "Patchwork Quilt," Haynes' own homage to the late Jerry Garcia on the twentieth anniversary of his passing, wasn't exactly de rigeur, but carried slightly less sense of surprise than his solo performance of George Harrison's "Give Me Love." And even his 'theme' song "Soulshine,"was freshened up here with an arrangement including mandolin from John Skehan and fiddle from Tim Carbone.
But the understated restraint all the musicians' manifest in playing together over two hours was remarkable, largely because the tranquility they conjured up never turned to torpor. Credit their mutual professional savvy in knowing how to construct a setlist that contained just enough upbeat tunes, inserted at just the proper intervals, to enliven the audience and keep their attention focused, but it was fascinating to watch how Railroad Earth, taking cues large and small from each other as well as Warren Haynes, brought the wide range of songs in this set list to life. It wasn't long into their solo performance that it became clear they are that rare band that begins to cook in very short order once they begin to play and they were able to exhibit their own technical skills plus their collective strength(s) in conjunction with their (temporary) leader as the evening wore on.
Over the course of his career with the Allman Brothers Band
, Gov't Mule, Phil Lesh & Friends plus countless sit-ins, Warren Haynes has proven he finds such versatility and empathy inspiring in many, so the reciprocal openness to reinventing a song as well-known as "Blue Sky" created a brilliant cross of a bluegrass reel and country-rock comparable to that which author Dickey Betts re-imagined during his earliest solo efforts.
The rousing musicianship within that extended jam, appearing as it did late in the evening, led Haynes and Earth into the homestretch of a performance that closed in ways as surprising as they were logical. On Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter's "China Doll," the players once again displayed a gentle precision in singing and playing, which ended up working effectively to contrast the more raucous likes of the New Orleans-tinged blues rock finale of "Two Of A Kind Blues."
Not dour but stoic, Warren Haynes doesn't usually show much emotion on stage, but his frequent between song repartee, combined with recurring broad smiles and relaxed body language, spoke volumes about his pleasure in returning to Burlington Vermont as he has so often in the past. No doubt that, in turn, was at least in part a reflection of the picturesque beauty of the late summer atmosphere on the shore of Lake Champlain, but even more importantly the musicianly connection he's established with Railroad Earth that's clearly deepening the more they play together.
Haynes' repeated wish the audience enjoyed itself sounded like a mirror of his own satisfaction when he walked offstage, an obvious bounce in his step. just before the Sunday night curfew that concluded perhaps the best Lake Champlain Maritime Festival in its short sweet history.