There are different levels of celebrity at Bonnaroo and Warren Haynes belongs in the elite group.
After eight visits and dozens of performances, Haynes _ the Gov't Mule frontman, the voice of The Dead and the go-to guitarist of The Allman Brothers Band _ is a part of the fabric of the 10-year-old festival down on the farm in Tennessee.
After laying down a scorching set of soul songs on Friday afternoon from his new solo album, "Man in Motion," he had trouble clearing the backstage area because of well-wishers. A quartet of security guards asked him to pose for a picture and old friends laid down hosannas.
On the bus, The Warren Haynes Band, which includes Ivan Neville, were critiquing the show, picking over details that could be improved.
"I don't care," keyboardist Nigel Hall said. "We killed it tonight."
After changing out of his sweat-soaked shirt, Haynes talked about how being a musician makes you a student for life and how Bonnaroo with its free-spirited, multi-genre lineup fits in with that philosophy.
"I feel a connection to the crowd, to the musicians, to the people who run the event," Haynes said. "I feel like I've been here from the very beginning. It's kind of an extended family in some sort of ways. I've played on stage with so many of the artists and bands that play Bonnaroo. It's dozens and dozens."
He's showcased his versatility at Bonnaroo, laying down epic guitar solos with his jam band friends, playing the blues and now laying down soul songs that might appeal to an entirely different crowd.
He worried his fans might be slow to accept these new sounds, but the set was one of the afternoon's best attended and there was plenty of booty-shaking going on, especially when he launched into Stevie Wonder's "I Wish."
"Man in Motion" is Haynes' first solo album in 19 years and arrives as something of a left turn for fans who are into his long-form rock `n' roll.
"This is what I grew up on before I ever heard rock `n' roll music," Haynes said. "My first hero was James Brown. I learned how to sing listening to Otis Redding and Levi Stubbs from The Four Tops and Dennis Edwards from The Temptations and Sam Moore from Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett. And so before I ever picked up a guitar I was a little kid in my room trying to sound like a soul singer."
Then he heard Jimi Hendrix and Cream and he was drawn in another direction. But his love of old soul always remained. He saw no point in putting out a solo project that sounded like Gov't Mule, so he thought he'd take the chance to explore.
He invited a talented group to Willie Nelson's studio in Austin, Texas: Neville; fellow keyboardist Ian McLagan, formerly of The Faces and The Rolling Stones; saxophone player Ron Holloway; drummer George Porter Jr. of The Meters; drummer Raymond Webber and backup singer Ruthie Foster. At the studio, Haynes laid down songs that had a soul feel, but also were marked by his trademark fiery guitar solos.
Neville said he walked into the studio with no idea what he would record, listened to Haynes rough out the songs and then was astonished to find the tape rolling right away.
"We recorded them with virgin ears, I mean very early on," Neville said. "We played the song maybe once and probably the next time we played it was probably the take, for the record. There wasn't a lot of takes of a bunch of stuff. We kind of caught the moment. That's what makes this project so cool."
Haynes wouldn't have had it any other way.
"I think a lot of people get trapped into thinking they have to do that one thing because they think that's all their audience will let them get away with," Haynes said. "Sometimes they try something that's too far removed from what they started with and the audience is like `Oh, I don't want to hear that.' I'm lucky that I've got an audience that's willing to go where I go and that's such a blessing."
Contact Chris Talbott at http://www.twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.