The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam went exactly as expected, with Warren making lots of people happy. A capacity crowd was treated to some great music in Warren’s hometown of Asheville, North Carolina on December 21st, 2001. The stage at the benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity hosted a bevy of talented musicians who, along with fans, took time out of their holiday season to support this worthy cause. Returning performers included Edwin McCain, Jimmy Herring, David Schools, John Popper, Kevin Kinney and Col. Bruce Hampton, while first time performers included Mike Gordon and Phil Lesh and Friends.
The magical evening began with a video preview of Mike Gordon’s documentary of the recording of Gov't Mule’s The Deep End. If you don’t already have the first part of The Deep End, I highly recommend counting out enough change to buy this gem of an album featuring a collection of some of the finest bass players in the world assembled to pay tribute to fallen brother Allen Woody.
Musically the evening began with a tight set from southern rockers Drivin' & Cryin’. Front man Kevin Kinney drove the crowd into a frenzy with a raucous set that ended with the help of Edwin McCain and Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed on the band's hit single "Straight To Hell."
Harmonica extraordinaire John Popper, who played the event solo last year, was up next with the rest of his Blues Traveler mates. Popper, looking healthy and fit led the band through an energetic set, a set which was much longer than the Drivin’ & Cryin’ set. Among the highlights of their set was a touching rendition of Mountain’s "Win Again," dedicated to lost friends and featuring guest guitarist Warren Haynes. A striking, and unfortunate, difference from last years show was that this was Warren’s first musical appearance of the night, as opposed to last year when he started the evening with a few acoustic songs.
Speaking of acoustic music, the set following Blues Traveler opened with Danny Barnes performing “I’m Alone For Christmas” solo on his 40th birthday. One of my favorite parts of the evening came next with surprise guest Alvin Youngblood Hart coming out to play some blues for the enthusiastic crowd. The acoustic jam band itself consisted of Jimmy Herring, John Popper, Oteil Burbridge, Edwin McCain and Danny Barnes. The acoustic set was great and it was a treat to see Jimmy playing acoustic, but I really missed Warren’s presence for this part of the show.
The rest of the crowd and I did get our Warren fix soon thereafter as Phil Lesh and Friends hit the stage next. And hit the stage they did, they hit it running, opening their set with a sublime “Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion” that got the crowd as excited as any crowd I’ve ever seen. The set contained a nice mix of old songs like “Tennessee Jed” and new tunes like “Night Of A Thousand Stars” and concluded with a rip-roaring take on “Turn On Your Lovelight.” Lovelight was one of the evenings highlights as Warren traded licks with pedal guitarist Robert Randolph and the vocals were provided by Colonel Bruce Hampton. Last but not least was Warren’s own band, Gov’t Mule.
As they have since the passing of Allen Woody, Gov't Mule took the stage as a four piece unit, but with one major difference, no Chuck Leavell. In Leavell’s place was Phil and Friends’ Rob Barraco on keys and rounding out the quartet was Allman Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge. As is the case in many Gov’t Mule shows, the stage became a parade for countless guest artists and endless jamming, which suits me just fine. Among the guests in this set was Phish bass player Mike Gordon performing “Banks of The Deep End” a song he recorded with the band on their last release. Another fabulous bassist, Widespread Panic’s David Schools, followed Gordon onstage and closed out the show as the band scorched through “Blind Man In The Dark” and the David Crosby penned rock anthem “Almost cut My Hair.”
The nearly seven hour concert drew to a close as the band came back out for the lone encore and covered Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World.” The show was a damn good time and the city of Asheville itself is a whimsical town hidden in the mountains. My hat is tipped to all of the people who helped to bring this event together and of course to Warren, not many people have a big enough heart to go through so much effort to help others. Thank you all for reading, have a happy new year and I hope you get to see and hear more great music this coming year!