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This must be the place: Haynes conjures rock spirit through symphony

Warren Haynes. Warren Haynes.

Arguably the hardest working man in rock-n-roll, guitar legend Warren Haynes has never been one to shy away from testing his own boundaries, blurring the lines between the knowns and unknowns of music — especially when performed live. 

“I always learn the most when I’m forced into a situation that is completely different from what I’m used to,” Haynes recently told The Smoky Mountain News. “Anytime you get out of your comfort zone, you always wind up discovering new doors that you can open.”

And with those sentiments, the 58-year-old Western North Carolina native will present his latest collaboration, “Dreams & Songs: A Symphonic Journey,” which will be held March 16-17 at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in downtown Asheville. 

“It will be a balance of songs, interpretation, instrumental music, songs that don’t depend too much on improvisation, songs that depend completely on improvisation, and everywhere in-between,” Haynes said. “The intent is to cover all the bases of what music means to me and all the different aspects of music that I enjoy equally.”

Backed by the Asheville Symphony, Haynes will be joined by a slew of iconic musical talent, including Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Sipe, John Medeski, Jasmine Muhammad, Greg Osby and Edwin McCain. The ensemble will perform songs from the catalogs of Haynes’ own Gov’t Mule, The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead. 

“More than anything, I wanted to pick songs that I felt would marry to a symphony in a way that would elevate the songs to another place and didn’t just sound like adding an orchestra to a song,” Haynes noted. “I also wanted to make sure that we left plenty of room for improvisation, which is a huge part of that music. In a similar vein, I went through an enormous amount of songs I thought would work and which ones would not work. I’m not someone who thinks all pop music or rock music sounds good being interpreted by a symphony — it has to be certain individual choices.” 

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Within that carefully-constructed group, both Burbridge and Sipe came up through the universally cosmic school of the late Colonel Bruce Hampton and his improvisational powerhouse band, The Aquarium Rescue Unit. Hampton was someone who also made a deep impression on Haynes, showing all three of the musicians (and countless others) the endless possibilities of not only their craft, but also life in general — a melodic torch continuing to glow with this symphony project.

“The Colonel had such a beautiful philosophy about what music is, can be, and should be. And that’s carried over for all of us,” Haynes reminisced. “We all learned so much from being not just onstage with the Colonel, but just being around him in everyday life — how you listen to music, how you view music, and how you allow yourself to knock down the barriers that tend to get in the way [where] musicians can limit themselves from a creative standpoint.” 

This year will also mark the 25th anniversary of Haynes’ rock juggernaut Gov’t Mule, a sonically innovative band that was carved out of the traditions and attitudes at the heart of rock-n-roll. 

“For a band that never had any expectations of even doing a second album, much less a tenth album, it’s pretty amazing when I look back at how far we’ve come — it was organic,” Haynes said. “We always took one step at a time and never really knew what was going to happen until it was upon us. The band has gone through a lot of changes and adapting, but the spirit that we started with is still completely intact. And all the new directions we’ve grown in, and continue to grow into, are one that’s we’re very proud of, and in some ways inevitable.”

Even though he’s regarded as one of the greatest six-string aces in the history of American music, Haynes is constantly absorbing new and interesting things about his beloved guitar. It’s part of the wisdom and lore that resides at the core of Haynes himself — never stop learning, never stop evolving. 

“For me right now, I’m kind of going back into a phase where I’m thinking about a lot of instrumental music, writing instrumental music, exploring the jazz roots a bit, but I’m also re-traveling down this whole country-soul Muscle Shoals path that’s been in and out of my life from the very beginning,” Haynes said. “I’ve been writing a lot of songs that are somewhere between my solo albums ‘Man in Motion’ and ‘Ashes & Dust.’ So, the guitar is influencing the songs, and the songs are influencing my guitar playing — I’m curious where it’s all going to end up.”

Editor’s Note: Though the “Dreams & Songs: A Symphonic Journey” March 16 show is sold out, tickets are still available for March 17 by going to and clicking on the “Shows” tab. To listen to the entire audio of this interview, go to YouTube and search: “Warren Haynes Garret K. Woodward.” 


Hot picks

1 Americana/bluegrass group Ol’ Dirty Bathtub will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 16, in The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville.

2 There will be a special performance of traditional West African music with Master Kora player Sean Gaskell at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14, at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin.

3 Innovation Brewing (Sylva) will host a “St. Patrick’s Day Celebration” with Positive Mental Attitude (reggae/rock) 3 p.m. Sunday, March 17.

4 Sponsored by the American Bladesmith Society, the “Great Smoky Mountain Hammer-In” will be held March 21-24 at Haywood Community College in Clyde.

5 There will be a barbecue and craft beer tasting with UpCountry Brewing from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 16, on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, departing from Bryson City.

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