The song which lingered in guitarist Warren Haynes’ mind by the end of Thursday’s emotional six-hour “One For Woody” benefit concert at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom was the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” — “the part where everyone remembered what we were here for,” he said backstage.
“Everyone” seemed to be on hand, and Haynes’ Gov’t Mule bandmate Allen Woody — found dead of unknown causes in a Queens hotel room Aug. 26 — surely would have wished that he could join the night’s historic jams as well.
The Allman Brothers Band (where Haynes and Woody first met up twelve years ago), the Black Crowes, and Phil and Friends (the group led by Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh with which Haynes is touring this fall) were the marquee heavyweights. But more than twenty-five musicians — including Leslie West, Little Milton, Merl Saunders, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Artimus Pyle and Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools — also joined in the event whose proceeds went to an education fund for Woody’s three-year-old daughter Savannah.
“I think Woody would have been proud of the way it turned out,” said Haynes, who played the entire night except for the first three songs by the Crowes. He began with Phil and Friends, which opened the show with the Dead’s ominous “Dark Star” and wove through highpoints like a poignant “I Know You Rider,” “The Wheel” and a finale of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” which was ripped open by Haynes and guitar foil Jimmy Herring.
Haynes then reclaimed a spot in the Allman Brothers Band, filling in for the absent Derek Trucks to rejoin Herring on guitar. Gregg Allman led the group through bluesy warhorses “Trouble No More,” “Black Hearted Woman” and “Stand Back” (laced with Haynes’ gorgeous slide work) before the guitarists soared through “Jessica” with crying dual fretwork. But from there, the set turned into a cameo affair featuring bluesman Little Milton on “Soulshine,” the Crowes’ Chris and Rich Robinson on “Dreams” (with Rich taking the first emotive slide flight) and the Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower,” with Lesh joining the Allmans’ Oteil Burbridge in high-probing bass counterpoint.
The question was how the show could top such climactic guest appearances to conclude a set barely over two hours into the evening. Yet the Crowes’ loud, blustery rock & roll injected the right energy with “Hot Burrito No. 2” and a slinky take on Bob Marley’s “Kinky Reggae,” with the denim-clad Chris Robinson clapping and grooving. Haynes came out for the last few songs of that half-hour set, contributing an icy slide break to “Shake Your Money Maker” and a biting final solo to old Fleetwood Mac raveup “Oh Well,” begun over Robinson’s maracas and humming with three guitars.
Somehow, the best was yet to come. And fittingly, it was up to surviving Gov’t Mule members Haynes and drummer Matt Abts to set the table. With Dave Schools filling in on six-string bass and dual keyboardists in Johnny Neel and Danny Louis, they tackled two Mule songs, “Lay Your Burden Down” and “Fallen Down,” eschewing that band’s power-trio attack for territory that was both dark and uplifting, dug deep with weight and soul.
Then it was back to cameo-studded covers, starting with one of the night’s best renditions — Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” with Schools oozing its usual piano prelude on bass before the keyboards added color. With Haynes injecting an eerie slide melody and vocals uncannily close to Steve Winwood’s, its resonant performance brought Chris Robinson and fiance Kate Hudson, among others, out to the side of the stage to watch.
With a band changeup to Gordie Johnson of Toronto’s Big Sugar and Berry Oakley Jr., trading off on guitar and bass, the momentum only built with a shift into Pink Floyd. Haynes dove into “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” as a blistering slow blues and Lesh joined for “Wish You Were Here,” which featured a video collage of Woody and the Mule that was cheered by fans.
“Cortez The Killer,” Kevn Kinney’s country-fried delivery of “Straight To Hell” and Little Milton’s upbeat swing “When The Blues Come Knockin'” kept the variety churning before two more Dead-identified nuggets. Merl Saunders, Oteil Burbridge, drummer John Molo and Lesh drove a sendup of “Lovelight” with Little Milton before Lesh returned for “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad,” which climaxed as a levitating group sing-along.
Artimus Pyle manned the drums for Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” and a wily, trimmed-down Leslie West (“One of Woody’s heroes growing up,” Haynes told the crowd) emerged to stoke his guitar in Mountain classics “Never in My Life” and “Mississippi Queen,” with Pyle banging a cowbell. Finally, an extended ensemble including Kinney, Edwin McCain, Hot Tuna’s Michael Falzarano and harp player Hook Herrera backed Haynes’ reading of “I Shall Be Released,” bringing the marathon tribute to a fallen brother to a fitting end.