An unseasonably cool and drizzly evening greeted Warren Haynes and special guest Zach Nugent at Northlands Live in Swanzey, NH for the third of Haynes’ four-date solo ‘tour’ on Friday night. The inclement weather, however, didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for all three involved. Haynes, Nugent, and the socially distant crowd all simply seemed happy just to be in the presence of live music and the feeling that the world is, albeit slowly, beginning to return to some semblance of normalcy.
Vermont native Nugent began the evening’s festivities with a brief acoustic set right at his appointed time. His three-song set, featuring a trio of Grateful Dead covers, provided a charming backdrop as the evening’s concertgoers found their way to their appointed roped-off pods. Nugent, who had graced the Northlands stage last summer as part of a Grateful Dead jam event, appeared to be a relative unknown to most in attendance but was received warmly by the always-welcoming Haynes faithful as he concluded his set.
Haynes himself took the stage shortly after, expressing gratitude for those in attendance, and in his typically reserved way, his own happiness at being able to perform to a crowd again, musing, ‘If you’re wondering what to expect tonight, join the club’ before donning (surprisingly) his custom Gibson Les Paul and beginning the evening’s main event. The wet-but-happy crowd was then taken on a roughly two-hour, two-set cross-section of stripped down Gov’t Mule, solo band, and Allman Brothers Band selections.
While the majority of the choices from the evening translated well to this mode of delivery, others were a pleasant surprise, notably “Captured,” originally recorded as part of Gov’t Mule’s guest-filled 2012 double album, Shout!. While traditionally a full band song, stretched out into the eight-minute range, Haynes impressively distilled the often guitar solo-filled composition to its basic elements, allowing its lyrics to stand out even more than usual.
After a brief break, Haynes returned to the stage for a second set, featuring bluesier selections and punctuated by the ever-welcome appearance of a trio of Allman Brothers classics. An ever-so-slightly clumsy “Come And Go Blues” closed out the main set, followed by a pair of encores: “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” and the crowd favorite, “Soulshine,” the latter including enthusiastic (and rather touching) participation from the crowd during its final verses, leaving all involved visibly satisfied.
While the week-long run of dates was but merely a warm-up for Haynes’ performance at Peach Festival on Sunday, and not the full-summer tour the guitarist’s devotees may have been hoping for, Haynes’ appearance on stage is undoubtedly a welcome sight.