Gov't Mule + Lukas Nelson & POTR | The Venue at Thunder Valley | 2/16/2024

Article Contributed by Alan Sheckter | Published on Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Gov’t Mule, in the midst of its 13-stop, Thirty Years Strong tour of the West, and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, on its opening winter/spring tour stop, both touched down on February 16 for a massive, and splendid, night of music at The Venue at Thunder Valley Casino Resort, just north of Sacramento.

The Venue at Thunder Valley | Lincoln, CA

Govt’ Mule headlined the show, with the foursome’s compelling brand of Southern-tinged power rock ‘n’ blues visibly captivating the all-but-sold-out audience (The Venue has a capacity of 4,500). The show, and Gov’t Mule’s epic set, culminated with Nelson appearing back onstage for a muscular 19-minute double encore of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” followed by Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” on which Haynes and Nelson shared lead guitar and vocal duties.

Danny Louis | Gov't Mule

Kevin Scott | Gov't Mule

John Molo sitting in for Matt Abts tonight

Mule, featuring 20-year band veteran Danny Louis on keyboards and a bit of trombone, also included bass player Kevin Scott, who became Mule’s full-time bassist in mid-2023, and John Molo on drums, sitting in for founding member Matt Abts, who the band stated on social media, “is under the weather and not able to travel. He’ll be rejoining us in Tucson <on Feb. 20>.” Molo, a versatile drummer who played with Bruce Hornsby & the Range for many years, and handles the drum kit for the San Francisco Bay Area’s Moonalice and The David Nelson Band, also shared the stage with Haynes in the Phil Lesh Quintet, aka The Q, in the early 2000s, and oddly enough will soon perform together again with The Q in New York City on March 4 and 6.     

Warren Haynes | Gov't Mule

Gov’t Mule frontman Warren Haynes, who is 63, began the 2½-hour headlining set with a brief, twangy slide-guitar jam before belting out the lyrics, “It takes more than a hammer, more than a hammer and nails, to make a house a home,” giving reverence to The Staple Singers’ “Hammer and Nails,” a gospel tune recorded more than 60 years ago. Kind of a power trio with an added bonus of Louis’ keyboards wizardry, Gov’t Mule is commanded by Haynes’ massive guitar talents and Scott’s forceful bass passages, and in this case, Molo’s steady and cohesive drumming. In the jam band tradition, Mule completely mixes up its set lists. Only three songs were repeats from the previous night’s show at The Wiltern in Los Angeles.

Gov't Mule | Lincoln, CA

Mule would go on to perform 11 covers on the night, not counting Haynes’ classic, “Soulshine,” which he wrote for the Allman Brothers Band in the early ‘90s. Following a few Gov’t Mule songs after “Hammer and Nails,” the band delivered a couple of numbers that were long ago part of Jerry Garcia Band’s repertoire – Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” which segued into Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out of My Life Woman.”

John Molo & Warren Haynes | Lincoln, CA

Next, Mule dished out, back to back, a pair of songs from their new project “Peace… Like a River,” just as they appear together on the record: “The River Only Flows One Way,” which began with a slow spacey jam, and “After the Storm.” Next, Mule performed a sweet rendition of “Soulshine,” and went on to offer a stream of covers to end the set, including an instrumental version of Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” and two Bobby “Blue” Bland tunes, “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” and “Turn on Your Lovelight,” the latter of which was  a mainstay in the Grateful Dead’s live catalog.

Gov't Mule | Lincoln, CA

Kevin Scott | Gov't Mule

Warren Haynes | Gov't Mule

And though Mule (and Nelson’s band) were all male performers, Mule gave a tip of the cap to female musicians by performing Etta James’ ballad, “I’d Rather Go Blind” (recorded by James in 1967), and closed their set with Ann Peebles’ 1971 R&B tune, “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home Tonight.”

Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real | The Venue at Thunder Valley

Nelson and Promise of the Real (POTR), who would embark on their own headlining tour the following night, opened the show. Way past being known only as “Willie Nelson’s son,” Lukas is a talented and clever songwriter and passionate, enthralling onstage performer. Leading the band on lead guitar and vocals, he was flanked by POTR mates Logan Metz on keyboards, lap steel, harmonica, and backing vocals; Corey McCormick on bass and backing vocals; Tato Melgar on percussion; and Anthony LoGerfo on drums and percussion.

Lukas Nelson | Lincoln, CA

Tato Melgar | POTR | Lincoln, CA

Logan Metz & Lukas Nelson | Lincoln, CA

Corey McCormick | POTR

The band, which has been at it for about 15 years now with the same lineup, opened with “Sticks and Stones,” the title track of their current album, and followed that up with “Every Time I Drink,” a song Lukas penned that was originally recorded, with a slightly different title, for Willie Nelson’s “Heroes” project in 2012 and which also appears on “Sticks and Stones.”

Lukas Nelson & POTR | Lincoln, CA

The just-under-an-hourlong set included an even dozen selections that ranged from soulful, countrified acoustic ballads to off-the-hook, roadhouse rockers with Nelson tearing it up on the guitar. After the opening two selections, he and the band leaned heavily on their successful 2017 self-titled, “Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real” project, performing crowd pleasers “Fool Me Once,” “Just Outside of Austin,” “Carolina,” and “Die Alone,” with one of Lukas’s signature tunes, “(Forget About) Georgia,” positioned in the middle.

Lukas Nelson | Lincoln, CA

Lukas Nelson & POTR | The Venue at Thunder Valley

Logan Metz | POTR

Lukas Nelson | Lincoln, CA

Lukas Nelson and POTR | Lincoln, CA

“Ladders of Love,” also from the new project was next, followed by Willie Nelson’s “Bloody Mary Morning,” originally released in 1970. Lukas Nelson and POTR’s closing sequence included the twangy mid-tempo “Find Yourself,” followed by two tracks from the “Something Real” album – power ballad “Set Me Down on a Cloud” and a soulful, swirling organ solo that led into a fully rocked out “Something Real.”

Warren Haynes | Gov't Mule

Other notes: Haynes career goes way back to his days with David Allan Coe in the early ‘80s, and a band called Rich Hippies in the mid-‘80s. He then played with the Dickey Betts Band (which also included Abts on drums) in 1987-88, and the Allman Brothers Band beginning 1989 to 2014. Haynes formed Gov’t Mule in 1994 with the late Allen Woody, bass player for the Allman Brothers. He also performed with The Dead in 2004 and again in 2008-09. In addition, Haynes intermittently leads the Warren Haynes Band, with Kevin Scott (bass), John Medeski (keyboards), and Terrence Higgins (drums), and is a mainstay of The Last Waltz Tour since 2017. Haynes also presides over Christmas Jam, which since 1988 has showcased an eclectic array of musicians as a benefit for the Asheville, North Carolina, Area Habitat for Humanity.
John Molo & Warren Haynes |

While Gov’t Mule performed one set on this night instead of the two sets they typically perform when they are the only band on the bill, they did play 18 songs in total, which was more than the 16 they played in Los Angeles the previous evening, and comparable to the two-set 19-song show in Oakland, Calif., on the following night.

Lukas Nelson | The Venue at Thunder Valley

Built and financed by the United Auburn Indian Community, which is comprised of both Miwok and Maidu Indians, The Venue, a luxurious, year-old, 4,500-capacity concert setting, replaced Thunder Valley’s outdoor amphitheater (which was uncomfortable on summer days that typically reach 95-100 degrees) and cost a reported $100 million to construct. It features an elegant entryway, L-Acoustics K2 audio system, two large high-definition video screens, great sight lines, and inside venue concessions. Parking is free. Two drawbacks: they do tend to raise the adjacent hotel rates significantly on concert nights, and rather than have people enter directly into The Venue, ticketholders must enter into and walk through the smokey casino.

Warren Haynes | Gov't Mule

Gov’t Mule: Hammer and Nails, Wake Up Dead, Banks of the Deep End, Sco-Mule, That's What Love Will Make You Do, Get Out of My Life Woman, The River Only Flows One Way, After the Storm, Soulshine, Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City, Stratus, I'd Rather Go Blind, Slackjaw Jezebel, The Joker, Turn On Your Love Light, I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home Tonight. Encore: Almost Cut My Hair, Cortez the Killer.

Lukas Nelson | Gov't Mule

Lukas Nelson and POTR: Sticks and Stones, Every Time I Drink, Fool Me Once, Just Outside of Austin, (Forget About) Georgia, Carolina, Die Alone, Ladder of Love, Bloody Mary Morning, Find Yourself, Set Me Down on a Cloud, Something Real.