Photos & Review: Warren Haynes Christmas Jam Filled With Memorable Moments

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Words and Images by: Stu Kelly

Warren Haynes Christmas Jam :: 12.12.15 :: US Cellular Center :: Asheville, NC

Read Stu’s review after the gallery.

The 2015 Christmas Jam went off without a hitch as Warren Haynes hosted a diverse lineup of musicians who treated a sold-out crowd to everything from bluegrass, to outlaw country, Southern rock ‘n’ roll and more. This year’s Jam sold-out quickly, especially compared to last year. It was evident fans were yearning to get to the marathon event under way as the crowd wrapped around the building well before doors were scheduled to open. Asheville is the perfect place for an event like Christmas Jam. It’s truly fitting a live music event benefits charity spawned in the city of Asheville because Asheville lives on it’s own pulse of music. It seems as if everyone I talked to was involved in music one way or another. There’s something special in the crisp Appalachian air in Asheville and it feels like there’s limitless possibilities among every peaking mountain range.

The vibe couldn’t have been better inside the venue as Christmas lights hung from the ceiling above the soundboard and stretched out over the stage. More lights flanked the stage hanging from the balcony and as the crowd entered both the floor and the seating area upstairs filled up quickly. Charlottesville’s Love Canon was tapped again to kick off the festivities and the bluegrass band opened up with Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing.” Love Canon specializes in putting a bluegrass twist on classic ‘80s numbers and you could tell the band has a sense of humor when they covered the Beverly Hills Cop theme. Love Canon periodically returned to stage to keep the music going during changeovers. Host Warren Haynes came out next armed with his solo acoustic guitar in what has been an unofficial “welcome of the ceremonies” for years now. Haynes came out and played George Harrison’s “Give Me Peace (Give Me Love)” before announcing Hot Tuna. The rock ‘n’ roll veterans took the stage and didn’t waste any time opening up with “Been So Long” as they were full of energy. This was a special set because it was an all-electric trio set, as opposed to their stripped down acoustic sets. Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen were in full swing strutting around the stage pumping energy into the crowd.

Love Canon returned and continued with some choice covers including Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold,” but what happened next is something truly special in the spirit of Christmas Jam when Love Canon played a cover of Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is.” Hornsby, who was scheduled to play his set after Love Canon, joined the bluegrass band on stage when he heard his own song being played, surprising the crowd by adding his signature vocals. Hornsby’s set was especially rare because the piano virtuoso never once played a note of music on the keys. Instead, Hornsby stuck to an Appalachian dulcimer – a fretted string instrument of the zither family. The body extends the neck of the instrument and other variants can be linked to a banjo as well. It was nice to see Hornsby in a unique setting like this.

[Love Canon w/ Bruce Hornsby – The Way It Is | Captured by rohbear]

One of the most anticipated bands of this year’s Christmas Jam was undoubtedly the Tedeschi Trucks Band. The largest crowd of the evening congregated for the entirety of their set and the jam band professionals made the most of their performance, which lasted just under an hour. It wasn’t long before Warren Haynes came out, which was his first sit-in of the evening, as he joined TTB for Derek & The Dominos’ “Keep On Growing.” Derek Trucks and Haynes were especially vibrant and the natural chemistry between these two was shining especially bright. It’s always good to see the pair of guitarists side by side armed with their respective Gibsons. After The Allman Brothers retired in 2014, it’s rare we see these two on stage outside of major music festivals or one-off moments like this. TTB powered through their set highlighted by “Don’t Know What it Means” and “Bird On A Wire.” The band stepped up and delivered a chilling rendition of the Beatles’ staple “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Susan Tedeschi has one of the most beautiful voices touring the jam band circuit and her range is absolutely unparalleled. Susan really showcases her showmanship as a bandleader when she puts down her guitar and moves around the stage curling up to the microphone. 2016 is set to be a big year for the Tedeschi Trucks Band as they prepare to release a new album and tour extensively to support it.

One of the most surprising sets from the weekend was from Dawes with Duane Betts, son of Dickey Betts. Dawes laid down a rich and succulent blend of outlaw country and Southern rock. The band kept the crowd invested during their set but the real surprise came when they played a perfect cover of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” The take on this complex composition was an ambitious swing but the band knocked this one out of the park. Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke made their Christmas Jam debut and the Southern rockers kept the party in a full swing. The band has a grittier sound and it definitely translated well to this demographic. Blackberry Smoke helped make a name for themselves after getting a chance to open for ZZ Top, much like The Black Crowes did early in their career. There were many highlights in their set but everything was taken to another level when Warren came out and covered “Deep Elem Blues” with the band.

Love Canon continued to provide excellent changeover music including a take on Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right,” “Crazy Train,” “Danger Zone” and Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” among many others. The Doobie Brothers absolutely commanded the stage as the band plays and sings just as well as they ever have. Opening up with “Jesus Is Just Alright” was the perfect way to ignite a huge sing along with the crowd. The energy was soaring through the room and the band was just getting started. Warren Haynes eventually came out for takes on “Don’t Start Me Talkin'” and “Long Train Running.” The Doobie Brothers played plenty of highlights including “Rockin’ Down The Highway,” “Black Water” and eventually closing their set with “Listen To The Music.” The Doobie Brothers were full of energy and fit in perfectly on the Christmas Jam bill.

Warren Haynes closed out this year’s Jam with the Ashes & Dust Band composed of Jeff Sipe and ChessBoxer. Haynes switched things up in his set and played a variety of exciting covers. Opening up with The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica,” Haynes built the momentum right out of the gates. “Patchwork Quilt,” a song Warren penned for the Phil Lesh & Friends’ studio album There And Back Again, surfaced next. This song tells the sad story of when Haynes got the news of Jerry Garcia’s passing while on tour at Jones Beach. The Ashes & Dust Band kicked into Little Feat’s “Skin It Back,” with Mike Barnes, which erupted a wave of energy through the crowd. Haynes and company took another swing at an Allman Brothers original “Instrumental Illness” off the band’s last studio album Hittin’ The Note (which was Derek Trucks’ only contribution to an ABB studio album).

Many speculated Trucks would make a guest appearance and we would see Haynes and his old bandmate share the stage once again. However, it’s likely TTB left immediately following their set given the band’s rigorous touring schedule. Pushing through his set, it was only a matter of time before Haynes lit into “Soulshine,” and it found a unique placement in the middle of the set. The following segment of music was some of the most surprising of the evening when Haynes and company played Radiohead’s “Karma Police” > “Paranoid Android Jam” > “Karma Police Reprise” > “Blue Sky,” the latter of which featured Duane Betts taking lead on his father’s beloved song.

There’s something intrinsically beautiful about Christmas Jam and especially the city of Asheville. Warren Haynes continues to give back to the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity through this miraculous event. The guitar guru is constantly finding new ways to push himself as a touring musician and with juggling The Allman Brothers Band for so many years, founding his own side projects like Gov’t Mule, The Warren Haynes Band and now the Ashes & Dust Band, there’s a reason so many people call Warren Haynes the hardest working man in the jam band community. Christmas Jam is just one of the many incredible projects that Mr. Haynes provides for us to be a part of.