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Warren Haynes reflects on 9/11

Jay Funk Dawg

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Warren Haynes 

Like it was yesterday, I remember making our way to Wetlands, the cool, environmentally-friendly hippie music club in downtown Manhattan. My wife Stefani and I were going to bid farewell to one of our favorite spots which was closing down after a successful 12-year run as one of the hippest music venues ever. We arrived late at night on the evening of September 10 to a club overly packed as usual bracing ourselves for a long, crazy night! Little did we know.
A lot of the night is a bit hazy now—and understandably so—but parts of it stand out in my memory. There was a lot of cool spontaneous music being played over the course of the long night but what stands out to me is the time on stage with myself, Mike Gordon and Stanley Jordan sitting in with DJ Logic and Project Logic. We were just having fun—playing unscripted, unpretentious music for a bunch of music loving hippies at the place that virtually spawned the jam band scene. Aside from the fact that it would be closing a few days later (or so we thought) it was just another night at Wetlands. I had played there dozens of times, with the original Warren Haynes Band and with Gov’t Mule, and had sat in on so many occasions with bands like Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors, Frogwings and the Dave Matthews Band. Having moved to New York City a decade earlier, Wetlands had become a home away from home. We were all gonna hate to see it go.
After playing for a long time we all hung out for a while in celebratory fashion. It was after 4 am when we finally left to head back to our apartment which was only ten minutes away. Stefani and I stayed up, unwinding, and finally went to bed around 6 am. Details are a bit hazy here as well as I recall our friend Janine, who lived in our building, calling a little before 9 am but I remember Stefani was already awake. I still remember being in a dream-like state and being told that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Bear in mind that our apartment at that time was on the top floor of a 13-story building and our view to the South was of the Trade Center. Though in recent years some buildings have been constructed between the WTC site and our building, at that time there was nothing between the two that blocked the view and although we were quite far away the view was incredible. Pictures from our balcony looked like postcards and in fact there was a moment in time when myself, our friend Andy Mendelsohn (who also lived in the building), and photographer Danny Clinch talked about doing a book of Sunsets at the World Trade Center featuring pictures taken from our balcony. That never came to fruition which is another story and I digress.
Anyway, what happened next is something the whole world remembers but people living in NYC remember much more intensely. We watched it all unfold, as I tell people, “on the world’s biggest TV screen," from our balcony in real time. At first, like most people, we thought it had been an accident. We had been told early on that it was a small private plane but that obviously turned out not to be the case. Still we clung to the belief that it was some sort of mistake. When the second plane hit the world stopped. This was no accident. My first thought was "we’re going to war.” Everything gets hazy from that moment forward. Whatever adrenaline that had not already kicked in surged through our bodies and any feelings of going back to bed after only sleeping for 2 1/2 hours went out the window. We had entered a new world. Our lives were suddenly changed—in a heartbeat.
I remember at some point my mom called to see if we were okay and we assured her that we were. Shortly after that we had no phone service—I’m sure for security reasons. What a strange feeling to know that you can’t call anyone and no one can call you at a time when everyone you know is wondering if you’re alright. This lasted for quite a while and then suddenly we had phone service again.The next few days rushed by and dragged by all at the same time. No way to concentrate on anything else, all we did was rehash the same worries and pose the same unanswerable questions. “What was going to happen?” “Were there going to be more attacks?” “In what form would the next one be?” From our balcony we continually watched the progression of events. We could see the huge streams of thick grey and black smoke that were, lucky for us, blowing towards Brooklyn— a whole other direction. Several times while sleeping I would dream that our apartment was filling up with smoke only to wake up with no cause for alarm in that regard. We continued to monitor the smoke which miraculously never shifted in our direction.
Our apartment was in the “quarantine zone” which meant there were no vehicles allowed on the streets. From our balcony we could see there were 2 cops on each street corner. ID was required to come or go. It literally looked like what I would picture a war zone to look like. The ironic thing is that when people eventually started venturing out again there was this newfound solidarity among New Yorkers that happened on its’ own. Where normally in NYC everyone is in a hurry, walking briskly, avoiding eye contact and casual conversation, in the days after 9/11, and for quite some time, this was no longer the case. We all felt a unique special bond. We were brought together by a monumental tragic act that affected us all equally and in the same way. Strangers were now stopping on street corners to chat and make small talk. No one was in a rush. Wherever we were going, whatever we were doing- nothing was important in the eyes of the new day, especially when compared to the weightiness that had been thrust upon us all. We were all in this together. You couldn’t leave even if you wanted to. All transportation had been shut down. No one was working. No one was doing anything for fun. There was a built-in guilt that wouldn’t allow us even to laugh or enjoy listening to music or watching television.
As I’m writing this I’m reminded of those days after 9-11when all Americans felt a kinship, a shared spirit, a bond, an allegiance. There had been a division among Americans prior to then (not unlike now but nowhere near as visceral) and then something as powerfully devastating as 9/11seemed to remind us all that in spite of any differences we have we are all lucky to be Americans. When I think about what we’re all going through right now I’m amazed that we can’t make that same connection as a nation. Maybe it’s being locked down for all this time. Maybe it’s the internet where fake is real and real is fake. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ve had some recent leaders who only care about themselves which makes them the opposite of a leader. Regardless, it’s been 20 years since 9/11 and we should be able to see the difference. This time it’s not someone else. We’re doing this to ourselves. If we truly believe that America is the greatest country on Earth then let’s stop to think “Why?”. Keep on rocking in the free world.- WH
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