16th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam :: 12.18.04 :: Asheville Civic Center :: Asheville, NC

It's so long. It's just so long. The music starts at 7 pm, and by 1 am people are dropping like flies. By 3 am it's getting seedy, and when things wrap up at 4:15 in the morning it looks like a Hollywood set of a war zone - people slumped over in exhaustion, all danced out with dazed looks. It's a feeling of survival, triumph, and perseverance. At a festival you can take a break and walk around, but this is constant. You're inside an arena, surrounded by big speakers and bright lights. It's a genuine rock spectacle. Full energy, times 9 hours plus. It's just so long. It's like getting your ass kicked for charity.

Haynes handing off the Keys to New Homes
Warren Haynes started the Christmas Jam in his hometown of Asheville, NC back in 1988, before his name was known far and wide. After donating to several worthy charities, the Jam settled on working exclusively with Habitat for Humanity, an outfit dedicated to building houses for needy families around the world. The Asheville chapter was the first in the state, and two days before this year's Jam, Haynes presented two families with keys to their new homes built with last year's profits. This year marked the 16th Christmas Jam, with the show once again selling out its allotment of 7200 tickets far ahead of time. The organizers are dedicated to donating as much money as possible, with even the musicians appearing free of charge (they receive only a small travel stipend). Many artists gathered the night before for an annual private party at a local club, warming up for the main Jam by playing deep into the night, and the show was broadcast on local radio. This year also featured the first appearance of Phish's Chris Kuroda on lights, improvising surreal and elegant ornamental optics to accompany the free-form musical adventure.

The night began with a welcome from Asheville Mayor Charles Worley: "We love Warren in Asheville. I've given him the key to the city, and I've proclaimed a special day for him. It's really hard to figure out what else we can do for Warren. He does so much for this community. You guys are doing something for this community as well by being here tonight because the proceeds from this do go to Habitat for Humanity." Haynes then took the mic and thanked everyone for being there. "Everybody making this possible, it's pretty amazing what we've been able to do through the years, and without everybody here that would not be possible and I want to say thank you very much." He then introduced his wife (and manager) to the crowd as well as his dad Edward Haynes and former Gov't Mule bassist Allen Woody's father Doug Woody.

Warren Haynes Christmas Jam :: Asheville, NC
Picking up his acoustic guitar, Haynes began the night with heartfelt solo versions of "Ballerina" from Van Morrison's classic Astral Weeks album followed by "Beautifully Broken," originally recorded on Gov't Mule's The Deep End. One rather unique feature of the Christmas Jam is the unknown schedule. Of course the bands are announced ahead of time, but the order in which they'll play is either undetermined or simply unrevealed. Guessing which act is about to appear is an integral part of intermission conversation. However, very few predicted that the stage would explode next with the funky fireball known as Galactic.

Ben Ellman of Galactic
Warren Haynes Xmas Jam
The New Orleans groove ambassadors erupted through the sound system with "Clockstopper," with saxophonist Ben Ellman and drummer Stanton Moore sounding especially robust and energized. Moore was literally jumping out of his seat to pound and wail on the drums while Ellman screamed and howled through a myriad of saturated saxophone sound effects. As intense as the opening song was, they tripled the intensity with "Garbage Truck." Ellman positively launched himself into another universe on this one, blanketing layers of thick sax over each other in an escalating frenzy of raw energy. He switched to harmonica to explore the upper registers as Moore sank into a labyrinthine depth of pounding groove.

"Ladies and gentlemen, John Popper." The harmonica-wielding frontman for Blues Traveler was making his first of numerous appearances throughout the evening, joining Galactic for the perpetual motion machine known as "Doublewide." Robert Mercurio's bass joined with Moore's drums to raise and lower the tempo in jocular juxtapositions as Popper and Ellman wailed away in a duo of (literally) breathtaking proportions. Galactic always enjoys welcoming special guests to the stage and were joined next by renowned jazz tenor saxophonist Ron Holloway and a guitarist named Warren Haynes. Haynes usually sits in with all the bands at the Christmas Jam for at least one tune, and on "Crazyhorse Mongoose" he added a shimmering solo that lit up the song like a searchlight. The guests stuck around for the set-closing "Africa," which featured Ivan Neville unleashing a furious attack playing three keyboards at once with just his left hand. Fresh off their first instrumental tour in years, Galactic sounded tighter than ever, and this set, though very early in the evening, remained many fans' musical highlight of the entire evening.

Jorma, Mitterhoff, Scott, Nance, Schools, Haynes, Musselwhite
One of the great treats of the Christmas Jam is watching musicians play together who don't normally interact. And so it came to pass that we witnessed a strange and beautiful musical creation that can only be titled Jorma Kaukonen & Friends. The legendary Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist strapped on his electric guitar and welcomed one hell of a rock and roll band to the stage with him: Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin, Dave Schools from Widespread Panic on bass, Matt Abts from Gov't Mule on drums, and Yonrico Scott from the Derek Trucks Band on percussion. They kicked and roared through forty-five minutes of pure, honest roots rock music. Opening with "Hit Single #1," the set continued with "I Wish You Would" and "Come Back Baby" before Abts was replaced by Todd Nance, Schools' rhythm section and Panic partner, on drums. Haynes came out to join in the fun as they ripped through the dark groove of "Bowlegged Woman, Knock Kneed Man." Everyone stayed on stage as esteemed blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite joined in for the twelve-bar symphony of "Baby What You Want Me to Do."

Musselwhite & Barrere (Little Feat)
After Kaukonen's set, Haynes got back on the mic to introduce the next act. He left out a few words (forgive him, he gets excited too) but I think you'll get the gist of it. "When I was growing up in a little town called Asheville, North Carolina, one of my favorite bands in the world, and still one of my favorite bands in the world, please help me introduce F-E-A-T! Please welcome Little Feat!" The drums tapped out the opening to their quintessential "Fat Man in the Bathtub" and their signature brand of off-center laid-back funk burst upon us. The first Little Feat album was released in 1971, and eight years later frontman Lowell George passed away. In 1988, the band reunited with a new singer, and they've been going strong ever since, releasing 11 albums in the last 16 years.

Eight minutes into the opening track the song morphed into an upbeat reggae revelry which soon led straight into Bob Marley's immortal "Get Up, Stand Up." The song built to anthemic climaxes before crashing into a drum solo with a quick tease of the Grateful Dead's "Fire on the Mountain" before heading back into "Fat Man." Next up was a slow bluesy version of Bob Dylan's "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry" featuring Musselwhite on a devastating harmonica solo which nearly matched singer Shaun Murphy's otherworldly vocal blues barrage. Little Feat's next song was one of the strangest and most sublime pieces of the night, a four-minute instrumental jazz improv version of the Dead's "Dark Star" featuring Haynes, Ivan Neville, Ron Holloway and Fred Tackett on trumpet. They slinked and twisted through the melody like spies on a secret mission before leading straight into their classic "Dixie Chicken." This song featured a blistering keyboard solo from Neville alongside an ethereal piano break from Bill Payne. Haynes and Holloway remained on stage through the set-closing "Spanish Moon."

Freed, Popper, McCain :: Haynes Xmas Jam
The next set must, I suppose, be referred to as the proverbial All-Star Jam since the lineup was continuously changing throughout the six songs. Songwriter and guitarist Edwin McCain fronted the first two songs with Audley Freed from The Black Crowes on guitar and Danny Louis from Gov't Mule on keyboards. They opened with "Gramercy Bar Hotel" before John Popper joined in to lead them in a version of Blues Traveler's poignant "Alone." The next two songs featured blues guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart and Charlie Musselwhite in a duo of raw emotion and power. They played "When Can I Change My Clothes" by old Memphis bluesman Bukka White and an original by Hart called "Big Mama's Door," which was the title track to his first album. The final two songs saw Popper and Freed joined by Col. Bruce Hampton from the CodeTalkers and Kevn Kinney from Drivin' n' Cryin'. They ran through "Fixin' to Die," another blues chestnut from Bukka White which Hampton recorded with the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Hampton departed and left the trio to wrap things up with "Country Song," which they dedicated to the soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Vernon Reid & John Popper
Living Colour burst upon the scene in 1988 with the album Vivid and has released five more albums in the years since. Genre-bending guitarist Vernon Reid and hair-raising singer Corey Glover immediately rekindled their ferocious energy from the hit song "Cult of Personality" to open the set. They rolled on with "Middle Man" and "Glamour Boys" before Popper came out to join them for "Funny Vibe." He chugged away behind their massive metal-machine sound as the tempo swelled and ebbed behind him. Galactic pulled this trick of speeding up and slowing down on him too, but the mighty harmonica maestro could not be tricked or thrown off his bronco. Living Colour ran through "Sacred Ground," "Open Letter (to a Landlord)," and "Flying" before Popper and Ivan Neville returned to tear through the gritty metalfunk sound of "Elvis is Dead."

The guests departed while the band played "Love Rears it's Ugly Head," and then Popper and Haynes came out for a set-closing romp through Jimi Hendrix's funky workout "Crosstown Traffic." Haynes engulfed this solo like the secret metalhead you know he is, and played enough notes to possibly impress even Vernon Reid. Popper played it smart by coming in soft and mellow. If he was going to compete with these fanciful fingerers he would have to bide his time, play his cards right, lull them into a false confidence, and then spring upon them with all the super powers his Invincible Vest of Harmonicas gives him. Suffice it to say he once again ruled the stage.

Art Neville :: Warren Haynes Christmas Jam
The Neville Brothers have a long and storied history. The four brothers – Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril Neville – began recording individually as early as the mid-1950s, but they didn't record as the Neville Brothers until their 1978 debut album. Art had also been a founding member of the Meters, who began releasing groundbreaking funk records in 1969. In recent years, the band has expanded to include members of the next generation of Neville's. Renowned for their lush harmonies and R&B leanings, they opened their Christmas Jam set true to form with "Can't Stop the Funk." The groove got leaner and meaner for "Ball of Confusion" before they broke into the eternally danceable proto-funk of "Fiyo on the Bayou."

Warren Haynes at his Christmas Jam
They followed with "Walk in the Shadow of Life" before Haynes came out to play along to the slow soulful melody of "Change is Gonna Come." This song contained some of the most delicate moments of the evening. The saxophone soaring over the soft shifts and subtly sonorous sensations lent a particularly sentimental mood to the proceedings. The exquisite harmonies continued with the uplifting reggae gospel of "Rivers of Babylon." The band is incredibly versatile and mutates between styles with ease, as their emergence into an electrifying jazz fusion outfit for "Healing Chant" deftly revealed. The adroitly funky "Yellow Moon" featured a blistering sax and guitar duel while Stanton Moore joined in on percussion. Haynes joined him to lend a fiery solo to "Carry the Torch," after which the musicians all gathered round to sing "Happy Birthday Poppa Funk" to Art Neville. They brought him a cake with candles, led the audience in song, and imparted some hearty handshakes and hugs. They concluded their majestic set with a luxurious vocal and keyboard duo between Aaron and Art on "Amazing Grace."

(left) Musselwhite & Alvin Youngblood Hart :: (right) Matt Abts
At this point, there was only one band left to play, and only one man to lead it. Warren Haynes brought his band Gov't Mule to the stage, featuring Danny Louis on keyboards, Andy Hess on bass, and Haynes' longtime cohort Matt Abts on the monumental drums. The woman behind me was rather impressed with the kit. I quote verbatim: "Look at that drum set there! Holy shit!" Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule road manager Kirk West introduced the band thusly: "Friends seen and unseen, we're living in a dangerous world these days. We got to look around. We got to take care of each other. We got to put a hand on each other's shoulder. We got to pull together. We got to build houses for people. We got to pull it. We got to make it. I give you Gov't Mule."

Warren Haynes Christmas Jam
The band tore through a rousing rendition of the hopeful paean "Soulshine," before moving on to the dirty funk of "Bad Man Walking" and "Lola Leave Your Light On." The set continued with the slow burn of "About to Rage" and the propelling motion of "Slackjaw Jezebel." They welcomed Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica for the slow bluesy changes of "Champagne and Reefer" and were joined by Ron Holloway on a ruthless sax solo amidst the rock onslaught of "Blind Man in the Dark" to wrap up the set. Next, they invited Ivan Neville, Kevn Kinney and guitarist Mike Barnes to join them for the encore. Warren belted out "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" by soul singer William Bell with just the swelling keyboards behind his wholehearted vocals. To wrap up the evening, the full band and their guests launched into Neil Young's timeless classic "Rockin' in the Free World." It was now somewhere around 4:15 in the morning. The Christmas Jam had wrapped up another amazingly successful year, and all that was left was for someone to gather the courage to tell Haynes it was time to stop playing. Well, maybe we should just let him keep going. He'll quit once he gets tired, right? Hey Warren, just turn off the lights when you leave, ok?

Words by: Paul Kerr
Images by:
JamBase | North Carolina
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[Published on: 1/4/05]

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