Having lived my entire life in Tuscaloosa, I can say without any hesitation that the Bama Theatre is by far the best venue in the city. It really is the center for artistic culture in West Alabama. The Italian décor of the stage and night-sky ceiling adds an air of intimacy that really connects the performers and audience together in a way very few venues can. Whether you are watching a play, an independent film or a band performance, the Bama Theatre seems to encourage audience engagement more than any other stage I have ever seen.
On October 2nd, this historic Tuscaloosa landmark will host an artist that is all too familiar with the importance of audience engagement. Gov’t Mule has been a staple of the jamband scene and festival circuit since the middle of the 1990’s. A band that embodies the do-it-yourself spirit of rock n’ roll troubadours of the past, Gov’t Mule bases their sound in the blues rock/early hard rock of power trios such as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, though their influences also include groups like the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Like most other jambands, their constant touring and ever-changing sets have earned them a devoted following, especially here in the South.
The key figure behind Gov’t Mule is guitarist and lead vocalist Warren Haynes. Haynes has had a long and eventful career in music, even before Gov’t Mule ever came into existence. When he was just 20 years old, he joined country musician David Allan Coe’s touring and recording band as the lead guitarist. After touring with Coe for several years, Haynes joined the former Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts solo project. When The Allman Brothers Band reformed in 1989, Betts recruited Haynes to be the second guitar player for the band. Though Betts eventually left the band, Haynes remains a member of the Allman Brothers to this day, although he has announced he will leave the band after this year. He has also toured with The Dead, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead.
Warren Haynes formed Gov’t Mule in 1994 as a side project initially. He was joined by bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts. Woody also played with the Allman Brothers, and Abts had been the drummer for Dickey Betts. They released a self-titled debut a year later, and followed with several live albums throughout the 90’s. Woody died in 2000, just after Mule released the album Life Before Insanity. He would eventually be replaced by Andy Hess, formerly of the Black Crowes. In 2002, Danny Louis joined as a keyboard player, expanding the line up to four members. Hess left the band in 2008 and was replaced by Jorgen Carlsson. Many other famous musicians have played with Gov’t Mule throughout their existence, including Chuck Leavell, Les Claypool, Oteil Burbridge, Victor Wooten, Billy Gibbons and Jack Bruce.
Warren Haynes last came to Tuscaloosa with his solo band in 2012. Haynes’ solo act is more focused on traditional blues and has a much more reserved performance. Gov’t Mule is much heavier, with emphasis on hard rock. There is sure to be quite a scene when they play at the Bama Theatre. I cannot think of a better venue for someone to watch Warren Haynes play guitar. The old style works well for an old soul. The crowd will also be interesting to see. Mule’s fanbase contains a healthy mix of older rock fans and younger festival goers. The event is also another sign of the Bama Theatre’s continued variety of entertainment options that has defined the venue since the 1970’s. As a lifelong resident of Tuscaloosa, I appreciate what they have brought to this city.

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