photo by mir ali | xmas jam 2001
The 14th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam took place on a crisp, clear night in the Smokey Mountains of western North Carolina. Asheville is the home to Warren Haynes, lead guitarist for Gov't Mule and previously the Allman Brothers. Each year he gathers together his friends who are home for the holidays, and they play a little music for charity. This year they raised more money than ever before, generating over $40,000 for Habitat for Humanity. The show was also filmed for a possible DVD release.

The 7200-seat Asheville Civic Center was sold out and the musicians were pumped up. Many of them had jammed the night before at a private party and radio broadcast. Haynes introduced his dad to start the show, who introduced Asheville mayor Charles Worley, who then presented Haynes with the key to the city. With an eye to the crowd, Haynes asked him, "Does this fit the jail?"

Fiddler Donny Lewis from Sons of Ralph, a local band whose set would follow, took the stage and started a tune. Haynes joined in and touched on James Taylor's classic "Carolina in My Mind" before twisting into U2's "One." This poignant beginning led into a set by local jamgrassers Sons of Ralph, named after Donny's dad Ralph Lewis, who was one of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys. Haynes made the first of many appearances of the night sitting in with them on "Nine Pound Hammer."

Jerry Joseph was next on stage, sans Jackmormons. He ran through solo versions of "Good Sunday," "The Kind of Place," and "I Know There's a Darkness," before being joined by Robert Randolph, Dave Schools and Matt Abts. Joseph jokingly introduced "Climb to Safety" as a Widespread Panic cover. (Panic plays it, but Joseph wrote it.)

Up next was a brief set by Edwin McCain, who mixed things up with a different lineup on each song. The first track featured Black Crowes' guitarist Audley Freed, the second added Drivin' & Cryin's Kevin Kinney, and the third replaced Freed with Haynes on guitar. To wrap up the set, Gov't Mule keyboardist Danny Louis joined in for a rousing version of "The Times They Are A-Changin'," featuring Haynes' beautiful flamenco guitar runs.

Variety night continued with Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Their huge opening jam led into the laid-back groove of an instrumental version of "Don't Worry, Be Happy." During the next song, Chuck Garvey from moe. came out to add some guitar. One huge jam later, Haynes and Danny Louis joined in for the Slim Harpo juke-joint classic "Shake Your Hips." Haynes and Randolph traded slide licks back and forth until even the folks in the back row were bouncing up and down. This closed out the set, as Randolph stole the show once again and won over thousands of new fans.

moe. was the next band out, and they wasted no time paying homage as they eased into a meandering "Dark Star jam." This led into "Mexico" which featured amazing, intense guitar solos from Chuck Garvey. Haynes came out to sit in on "Opium," and then Bob Weir and Rob Barraco joined him for a rousing rendition of "The Weight." Everyone got their own verse to sing, and the audience sang along with the whole thing. To top it off, Weir and Barraco stuck around for "Jack Straw" to close out the set. The audience went wild and was left in a state of manic anticipation for Weir's set later in the night.

There was a lot of music still to be heard before that point, however. DJ Logic set up his turntables and spun some tunes during the setbreak. He was doing more DJ-ing than scratching, but the sounds kept everyone dancing. John Hiatt & the Goners followed with an intense electric country set. John Smith from Edgar Winter's band sat in on sax, and then, to no one's surprise, Haynes came out to play one with the band. They tore into "Memphis in the Meantime" as Haynes battled Hiatt's explosive guitarist Sonny Landrith for the title of Slide Ruler.

One short setbreak later and it was time for the main course of the evening. Bob Weir & Friends was a one-time band put together just for tonight. The band featured Bob Weir, Warren Haynes, Dave Schools, Rob Barraco and John Molo. The Grateful Dead meets Panic and Mule. People looked at each other in disbelief as the opening notes of "Shakedown Street" carried over the crowd. They followed with "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," "Playin' in the Band," and "Truckin'." The groove just got heavier and tighter, and the music more intense, as they finally exploded into "The Other One." Having gotten as thick as they could, they took a step back with a beautifully expansive "Bird Song," which led into the timeless "Dark Star" then back to "Bird Song" and back again to "Dark Star." There was perhaps only one song which they could fittingly close with: "One More Saturday Night." A great end to an incredible set, and although it may have been the main course, there was still some Mule for dessert.

Finally, after sitting in with practically everyone all night long, Warren Haynes got up on stage with his own band, Gov't Mule. They've been featuring a rotating cast of characters on bass lately, and tonight it was Greg Rzab who took the stage with them first. They opened with the anthemic "Soulshine" to set the mood for the holiday season. "Suffer" was next, followed by "Mule" which featured a "Who Do You Love" middle part. They ripped through "Worried Down With the Blues" before being joined on stage by DJ Logic, John Smith, Mike Barnes and Dr. Dan Matrazzo for a furious version of "Sco-Mule."

Dave Schools then took over on bass and the band jumped into "Don't Step on the Grass, Sam," while their guitar tech (and Haynes look-alike) carried cue cards on stage featuring lyrics for the audience to sing along to. "Driving Rain" then led into a darkly powerful version of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter." To close out the set, Mule invited Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle on stage for Skynyrd's "Simple Man."

No Christmas Jam would be complete without an all-star jam. Guests coming out to join Gov't Mule included Col. Bruce Hampton (who must have been hiding in the back all night), Robert Randolph, Dave Schools, DJ Logic, Rob Barraco, Audley Freed, Al Schnier, Vinnie Amico, Dr. Dan Matrazzo and Robert Kearns on cowbell. "You guys are hardcore," said Haynes as he stared at the weary-eyed crowd. The band then lit into "Turn On Your Lovelight." Everyone got a turn to sing and solo as the Christmas Jam stomped its way through another year.

The arena was nothing but smiles as the house lights came up. The holiday season, the charity, the camaraderie between the musicians - it all added up to a wonderful feeling in the cool mountain air - a Christmas Jam kind of feeling. It was now 3:30 in the morning. The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam had gone on for 8 ½ hours - almost long enough to get us through till next year.

Paul Kerr
JamBase | North Carolina
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[Published on: 12/24/02]

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