Warren Haynes has spent the last 30 years slowly weaving himself into the tapestry of American music. In addition to his own shaggy, Southern-rock band Gov’t Mule, he’s enjoyed extended stints with the Grateful Dead and (most famously) The Allman Brothers Band. To hold your own with these acts, you need to possess a deep understanding of folk, blues, gospel and rock. So in the past decade, when popular music started trending heavily to roots-based acts furiously playing banjos and growling out declarations of love, let’s just say that Haynes’ resume was in order.

Haynes’ 2015 album “Ashes & Dust” represented a change in direction for the guitarist. With the help of Americana band Railroad Earth, “Ashes” is an acoustic set, rich with a variety of strings and steeped in a backcountry, old-time vibe. With sturdy, socially conscious songwriting and loose, porch-jam arrangements, the album is a career highlight for Haynes.

He brought the tour to Portland with Railroad Earth swapped out for Nashville trio ChessBoxer, who provided a highly accomplished, Gothic-sounding opening set that swiftly proved their place on the bill. They joined Haynes and some of his regular musicians for an evening that opened with a Bob Dylan cover (“Tough Mama”), closed with an Allman Brothers Band cover (“Jessica”) and interspersed a wide range of American rock with highlights of “Ashes & Dust.”

Playing in front of backdrop of crumpled fabric that resembled a canyon wall when light shined on it, Haynes showed off the instincts that make him among the finest rock guitarists alive, noodling lightly here and there, dipping into woolly psychedelia, and turning on a dime into walloping, blues-based chords. The acoustic arrangements of these songs frequently allowed him to show off his vocals more than he has with past bands, and while nobody will mistake him for Sam Cooke, his voice proved to be soulful and solid enough to carry that weight.

The lengthy instrumental passages, however, were the main draw. “Ashes & Dust” songs such as “Company Man” – which sounds like “Desire”-era Dylan — and the New Orleans-flavored “Stranded in Self-Pity” gave ample room for the musicians to trade licks, with each solo frequently earning its own round of applause. ChessBoxer violinist Ross Holmes stole the show, nailing every emotional beat and drawing an array of textures from his instrument. At times, Haynes played the highest notes on his guitar until they melded together with Holmes’ violin.

As strong as the “Ashes & Dust” material is, the concert highlights were predictably The Allman Brothers Band chestnuts, particularly a stretch that saw the acrobatic “Instrumental Illness” give way to soaring “Blue Sky.” Careers may evolve and people may change, but these songs are evergreen for a reason – it is impossible to hear them and not be filled with cheer, particularly in a concert setting.

Robert Ker is a freelance music writer in Portland, where he and his wife own the vintage store Find. Contact him at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @bobbker

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