Happy Birthday Gene Ween: Performing Live With Ween At Bonnaroo 2016
Watch Ween's career-spanning set at Bonnaroo 2016.
Today marks Gene Ween‘s birthday. The singer-songwriter and guitarist was born Aaron Freeman on March 17, 1970 in Philadelphia. Freeman is an extremely talented songwriter and lyricist whose tunes range from the delightfully silly to the profound. A highly skilled vocalist, Gener possesses a plethora of vocal stylings which can be heard across Ween‘s extensive canon.
Freeman would bring this skill set to Ween, which he co-founded in 1984 with childhood friend guitarist Mickey Melchiondo, also known as Dean Ween. Ween made their first public appearance at a high school talent show in their hometown of New Hope, Pennsylvania where they covered Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” with a rhythm section consisting of bassist Chris Williams (a.k.a. Mean Ween) and drummer Karl Weimer.
But many of the band’s early performances and recordings consisted of just Aaron, Mickey and a Digital Audio Recording (DAT) machine. The duo began making lo-fi recordings and self-released a number of cassettes before putting out their official debut album, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, on the Twin/Tone label. In the late ‘80s, Ween also became regular performers at John and Peter’s in New Hope and City Gardens in Trenton, New Jersey.
At City Gardens, Ween would open for a number of now-famous acts including They Might Be Giants, GWAR, Butthole Surfers and Henry Rollins. Ween’s reception was not so warm at first but Rollins saw the potential in the band and after a show famously said “start liking them now” [for one day] you will get down on your filthy knees and crawl to the altar that is Ween.”
Rollins’ words would end up being prophetic as the band began to garner a cult following. Ween continued to perform as a duo with the DAT adding backing tracks and headed over to The Netherlands for a run of shows at the end of 1990 and early 1991. That year also saw Ween releasing their second album, The Pod, on the Shimmy Disc label. In early 1992, Ween traveled to the UK for a tour that saw them performing with drummer Claude Coleman Jr. for the first time. That same year, Ween made their major label debut on Elektra with Pure Guava. The single “Push th’ Little Daisies” got attention from MTV after it appeared on Beavis And Butthead.
While “Push th’ Little Daisies” would remain their highest charting single, the band continued to record stellar albums in the mid-late ‘90s including Chocolate And Cheese, the country record 12 Golden Country Greats and the nautical-themed masterpiece, The Mollusk, in 1997. It was around this time that bassist Dave Dreiwitz and keyboardist Glenn McClelland joined Dean, Gene and Claude, which is the same lineup the band tours with to this day.
But on May 29, 2012, Freeman announced the retirement of the Gene Ween moniker as well as his departure from the band to focus on a solo career and to enter recovery for drug and alcohol abuse. “All that matters to me is that I’m getting sober,” Freeman later revealed. “Becoming an out of control drug addict and alcoholic is my own fault and I take responsibility for it. I HAD to leave the Ween organization to stay sober.” Aaron would continue to perform and record with his band Freeman who released a self-titled album in 2014. The project showcased Aaron’s immense songwriting talent and also gave fans a perspective of the songsmith outside of Ween.
Ween’s hiatus lasted four years until the band reunited for a run of shows near Denver in 2016. Later that year, Ween performed at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee where they delivered a 14-song set which kicked off with “Transdermal Celebration” and also included “Roses Are Free,” “The Stallion Pt. 3,” “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down),” “Happy Colored Marbles,” “Buckingham Green,” “Your Party,” “Take Me Away” and “Did You See Me?,” among others. Ween brought their 2016 Bonnaroo set to a close with “The Mollusk.”
To celebrate Gener’s birthday, watch Ween’s entire 2016 Bonnaroo set below via the JamBase Live Video Archive:
Setlist (via BrownBase)
Set: Transdermal Celebration, Roses Are Free, The Stallion pt 3, Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down), Happy Colored Marbles, Buckingham Green, Your Party, The Grobe, Nan, Take Me Away, Touch My Tooter, Ocean Man, Did You See Me?, The Mollusk
[Originally published March 17, 2021]
Loading band summary