Words by: Ryan Neeley | Images by: Roger Gupta and John Zara
Warren Haynes Christmas Jam :: 12.15.12 :: US Cellular Center :: Asheville, NC
Full review below photo gallery!
Warren Haynes is one of a handful of artists in the music industry whose respect amongst his peers far outweighs his name recognition and commercial appeal in mainstream America. So, it was no surprise that the list of musicians and surprise guests lined up to perform with the guitar virtuoso at his 24th annual Christmas Jam in Asheville, NC, was a "who's-who" in the jamband community and beyond.
|Christmas Jam by Roger Gupta|
The evening kicked off around 6pm with The Blind Boys of Alabama, who Haynes had collaborated with at The Peach Music Festival held in August in Scranton PA, and the five-time Grammy Award winning gospel group wasted no time in showing the crowd what they were in for. As was the case for most of the performers during the evening, Haynes joined the Blind Boys of Alabama on stage, playing a moving "Amazing Grace", a symbolic "People Get Ready", and a few Warren Haynes originals including a driving, soul-influenced "John the Revelator", and the most commercially successful Haynes penned song, "Soulshine". Numerous special guests joined the acclaimed group during the set, including Haynes, Trombone Shorty, Karl Denson, Warren Haynes Band keyboardist Nigel Hall and saxophonist Ron Holloway. Christmas Jam first-timers Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue followed the Blind Boys and put out a funk-laden set, joined by Haynes on "Do to Me" and the Blind Boys on "Down by the Riverside".
The Avett Brothers, announced Thursday as a late addition to the lineup, came up next and wowed the crowd, many of whom were surprised by the last minute addition, with their subtle harmonies and old-time string band sound. They played a few selections from their new album The Carpenter, including "I Killed Sandy's Lover" and a first time played selection, "Life". They also performed the Kentucky folk ballad "Old Joe Clark", a mountain ballad that was "sung during World War I and later by soldiers from eastern Kentucky.” They finished their 45-minute set that was absent of the numerous guest stars in other sets with the holiday song "I'll be Home for Christmas" and "Go to Sleep", getting a rousing round of whoops and shouts from the crowd as they closed.
|The Avett Brothers by John Zara|
The next artist to take the stage was without argument the most commercially successful, though not as much so with the crowd in attendance on this evening. Drawing a spot before The String Cheese Incident is a difficult task for most any group, especially an artist that has benefited from radio airplay and mainstream success, but Sheryl Crow was undaunted and came out with an aura of confidence. Haynes and Crow have been friends since she toured with The Allman Brothers Band on H.O.R.D.E. tour in 1994, and her current touring band is chock-full of Christmas Jam veterans, including former Wallflowers drummer Fred Eltringham, former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed and Robert Kearns, former bassist of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Crow came out and put on an impressive set of her originals, including "All I Want to Do", and "If it Makes you Happy" with Haynes and String Cheese Incident drummer Jason Hann joining her on stage. Haynes also joined her for the Chuck Berry holiday rock hit "Run Run Rudolph" and Blind Faith's "Can't Find my Way Home", with Trombone Shorty and Warren Haynes Band drummer Terrance Higgins.
|Sheryl Crow by Roger Gupta|
The next group to hit the stage was arguably the most anticipated and longest set of the evening - Colorado jam legends The String Cheese Incident took the stage and to many in the crowd, this was the beginning of their evening. I'm not sure if it was due to the amount of people on the floor actually watching the show, the soundperson, or simply the fact that they've been together almost 20 years, but String Cheese's sound was fuller and more clear than any of the previous performances of the evening, and the six-piece group demonstrated why they have become one of the hottest tickets of the year. They played some newer songs, including a romping "Colorado Bluebird Sky", and "Can't Wait Another Day". Guitarist Anders Osborne, who had also played at a Christmas Jam by Day event, sat in for an uplifting "Joyful Sound" and "Junco Partner". Karl Denson joined them on a horn infused Rosie and Haynes came out for fan favorite "Outside and Inside". But the highlight of the set, and for many the highlight of the evening, came as the group powered through "The Mighty Quinn" with Haynes, Denson, Osborne, Nigel Hall and Count M'Butu joining them. The crowd belted out the lyrics along with the group, filling the cement-happy venue with joyful sounds reaching every corner of the room.
|The String Cheese Incident with Anders Osborne|
by John Zara
Following String Cheese Incident, The Warren Haynes Band took the stage and put on a soulful, blues driven set heavy with selections from Haynes' 2011 Man in Motion release, including "Tear Me Down" and "River Gonna Rise", with Count M'Butu sitting in. Karl Denson joined M'Butu on "Spanish Castle Magic" and "On a Real Lonely Night", adding a lot of body and fullness to the selections. For many, the highlight of the charity event was the emotional extended encore of John Lennon’s Imagine, prior to which Warren exclaimed, "Let's see how many people we can get up on this stage!"
Feeling the crowd's energy was waning and the floor was beginning to thin out a tad, Haynes called out to backstage, beckoning a large group of announced and unannounced guests to come out for the finale, an extended version of John Lennon's Imagine, which segued into The Staple Singer's hit "I'll Take You There", then back into Imagine.
The special guests included The Revivalists, who had played at one of the Christmas Jam by Day events, along with legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle, Derek Trucks Band percussionist Count M'Butu and former Aquarium Rescue Unit keyboardist Dr. Dan Matrazzo. Christmas Jam veteran guitarist Mike Barnes joined Ed Williams on pedal steel, Zack Feinberg on guitar, Vocalist David Shaw, Saxophonist Rob Ingraham all four of New Orleans up-and-comers The Revivalists, for the song which Warren Haynes proclaimed was "completely unrehearsed." Haynes apologized for ending the evening on such a somber note, but noted that the school shooting that had occurred the day prior to the show at Sandy Hook Elementary was not far from his home in Westchester County, NY. The ballad moved a number of people in the audience to tears once again proving the effects of music on people during such a horrible tragedy, as strangers locked arms and sang "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us - And the world will be as one."
|Warren Haynes by John Zara|
The group closed out a few minutes early to a crowd that was more than happy to show their appreciation to Haynes for making the 24th annual Christmas Jam benefiting Habitat for Humanity a rousing success once again, proving that you don't have to sell out to commercial interests to put on an epic charity event.
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