AVJ Reviews the Best Christmas Jam of the Past Decade

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Review by Breanne Smithi-FKMxV9W-M

Photos by Brad Kuntz

When it comes to Warren Haynes annual Christmas Jam at The Asheville’s US Cellular Center, it seems like a race against time with all the artists coming and going on stage but it is indeed, a marathon. There are the seasoned veterans that come back, annually, to joyfully celebrate the season with the ever-changing artists that Warren himself chooses. Past Jam’s have brought such artists as The Allman Brothers Band, Blues Traveler, Jackson Browne, The Drive by Truckers, DJ Logic, Peter Frampton, Gov’t Mule, John Hiatt, Bruce Hornsby, Hot Tuna, Ray LaMontagne, Phil Lesh & Friends, Little Feat, Living Colour, Branford Marsalis, Dave Matthews, Neville Brothers, New Orleans Social Club, North Mississippi Allstars, Phish’s Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Robert Randolph & The Family Band and many others. This may be due to the fact that all proceeds go to charity.

The first show was dubbed, “The Christmas Jam: Musician’s X-Mas Reunion” and was held at 45 Cherry, a local club in Asheville, on December 29, 1989. Some of the artists at the first Christmas Jam were Warren Haynes, Mike Barnes, Crystal Zoo, The Stripp Band and the McBad Brothers Band. It soon gained popularity in the local scene and was began to be called “Warren Haynes Presents: The Christmas Jam”. Because of this ever-changing group of talent, it almost always sells out within the first day of sale and eventually moved to The Civic Center which is now The Asheville US Cellular Center.  In 2008, for its special 20th year anniversary, The Christmas Jam consisted of two nights of music. However it went back to only one night in 2009. Initially, the charities benefitting from the Christmas Jam varied from the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, AIDS charities, and homeless relief groups among others. Haynes settled on Habitat for Humanity in 1988. Christmas Jam started 24 years ago as an opportunity for local musicians to jam at the one time of year they were all in town at the same time. Back then, we gave the money to whatever charity we felt like. As the event grew and we became aware of Habitat For Humanity, we settled on them because we believe in the organization and know the money goes where it’s supposed to.” As of 2007, nearly one million dollars had been raised for the Asheville Chapter of Habitat For Humanity. The main goal continues to be providing housing for families who are in need. The London Times has rated it “One of the top ten concerts in the USA” and In 2002, Haynes received the Key to the City from Asheville Mayor Charles Worley. In 2003, Mayor Worley proclaimed December 18th “Warren Haynes Day.”

As a tradition, the pre-jam took place at the Orange Peel December 15th. This is a taste of what the following night will entail. As always, it is broadcast live on WNCW. In addition to these nighttime concerts, The Christmas Jam By Day series includes daytime concerts, and art exhibits which takes place Downtown. The Christmas Jam also does wonders for The Asheville Community. There is the “Before The Jam, Lend A Hand” volunteer week in which volunteers can work on the houses that have been made possible by the funds raised by The Christmas Jam concerts.

As tradition, Warren joins each band at some point during their set to add his special touch to each talent which makes for one awesome jam each and every time. The night opened up with The Blind Boys of Alabama in which Nigel Hall joined in on, eventually making way for Trombone Shorty to do “John The Revelator”  with guests Karl Denson, and Ron Holloway. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue came out second and played four tunes until “Down By The Riverside” with guests, The Blind Boys Of Alabama, then “Do To Me” with Warren. The Avett Brothers were a last-minute, very special guest that was added to the talented list of musicians this year. A local favorite, The young talent that is the Avett Brothers played nine of their original tunes. The female presence this year was world-famous, Sheryl Crow. Her band played her top hits such as “A Change” and “All I Wanna Do.” The real treat of her set was “Run Run Rudolph” with Warren.

As soon as I entered The US Cellular Center, the mission for most was clear, The String Cheese Incident was the main attraction. Awaiting their set was easy but anticipated among others. The crowded floor and upper seating was full, stairs empty as all waited with hungry eyes for Michael Kang, Michael Travis, Bill Nershi, Kyle Hollingsworth, Keith Moseley and Jason Hann. They took stage, made new fans and blew the old ones away with one stellar set of SCI hits and a few, pulled out of a hat. With special guest, Anders Osborne, they played “Joyful Sound” and “Junco Partner. They moved onto “Can’t Wait Another Day” with drumming sensation Count M’Butu. Which lead to an all-star jam of “Rosie” with Karl Denson and “Outside & Inside” with Warren Haynes and covered “Quinn the Eskimo” (Mighty Quinn) with Warren Haynes, Anders Osborne, Count M’Butu, Karl Denson & Nigel Hall.

Warren Haynes as usual, plays last to showcase the talent he has invited. This “Super Jam” is a gathering of different musicians from the night to get together and create magic. This year The Warren Haynes Band played a few originals then was joined by  Count M’Butu and Karl Denson.

The night came to a close on a cold, rainy, Winter’s evening. The tired, perpetual fans made their way to wind down and meddle in the night’s music that still rung in their heads. This was only my third trip to Winter Wonderland with Warren Haynes but I will be back time and time again because you never know who might show up on stage at Warren Haynes Presents: Christmas Jam.

“When your work is music, its easy and fun to give back.” – Warren Haynes


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