Review & Photos | Warren Haynes Christmas Jam | Asheville

Words and Images by: Stu Kelly

Warren Haynes Christmas Jam :: 12.13.14 :: US Cellular Center :: Asheville, NC

Read Stu’s review after the gallery.

The 26th annual Christmas Jam was an absolutely beautiful event featuring some of the most well-rounded and versatile musicians touring the circuit. There were so many different genres packed into one evening, all of them with the fearless approach to traverse through musical parts unknown in search of something higher. All while unifying a loving fan base for a good cause. Christmas Jam is the brainchild of Warren Haynes and is a charitable event supporting the Habitat for Humanity. Supporting the idea of random sit-ins, unique collaborations and a diverse lineup, this marathon event of live music has grown to become a celebration not to be missed.

This year’s Christmas Jam featured the debut of two unique ensembles -the Christmas Jam Band featuring Warren, bassist Oteil Burbridge, Danny Louis on keys, Jack Pearson on guitar and original Marshall Tucker Band drummer Paul Riddle, as well as the debut of Billy & The Kids featuring Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Tea Leaf Green bassist Reed Mathis, Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits on keyboards and Tom Hamilton on guitar. The night was full of memorable moments but Billy and The Kids stole the evening as they closed out the event with a powerful set full of fresh and innovative music at 3 a.m.

In order to appreciate the magic of Christmas Jam, one must first pay homage to Asheville to fully understand the charismatic nature flowing through the air. Asheville is a cultural melting pot of musicians, artists and like-minded free thinkers as it’s not uncommon to see random bluegrass ensembles on every other street corner. Something as simple as a banjo and a fiddle can congregate a group of music lovers that appreciate the simplicity behind such a sacred genre. The musical history in the Appalachian region runs as vast through the Blue Ridge Mountains, as this was the area that first gave birth to the genre of bluegrass before it even had a proper name.

Music began just after seven as the Love Canyon Rangers were tapped to kick off the festivities with their upbeat bluegrass twang. This was a special hybrid of a band consisting of Love Canon with Mike Guggino and Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers. The toe-tappin’ and heavy hitting bluegrass was a great way to get the evening in full swing as the crowd was still funneling in and gearing up for the rest of the night. The band took a nice turn when they decided to cover the Stanley Brothers’ “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” a song that’s not only a classic staple to bluegrass fans but as also been popularized in the jam band community by The String Cheese Incident.

After the bluegrass ensemble laid their last note to rest, Warren Haynes graced the stage for the first time with an official welcome to the Christmas Jam. Haynes showed up sporting his sunburst acoustic guitar and played a mellow version of “Soulshine” with Caleb Johnson backing him up on vocals. The 23-year-old fellow Asheville native and former American Idol winner was vibrant and all smiles to be sharing the moment with Warren. The duo powered through the traditional number and set the crowd up perfectly for The Revivalists. Hailing from New Orleans, The Revivalists are blossoming into a rich live act with a unique fusion of funk, rock and soul. David Shaw is a natural front man and has a distinctive vocal range that fits the band’s sound perfectly. The group’s energy separates their live show from average artists as Shaw jumped off the stage, climbed up on the rail and sang into the audience. Warren Haynes joined the group for a nice version of “soul Fight” and The Revivalists closed out their set with a powerful cover of “Baba O’Riley.”

Love Canon returned to entertain the audience during the production change over and kept the crowd moving. The bluegrass ensemble powered through about five numbers but hit a peak when they covered “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel. Hard Working Americans then took the stage to the largest crowd of the evening so far and delivered an outstanding set full of high energy rockers. A relatively new band that released a self-titled album of reinterpreted covers; The Hard Working Americans are still very much a unique driving force. Todd Snider was obviously in search of something genuine and atypical when he formed the band and it’s paid off. Powering through recognizable numbers like “Blackland Farmer,” “Run A Mile,” “Another Train” and “Stomp and Holler,” the band took little time to hit their stride. Love Canon returned again for the change over and played an interesting albeit short set that included a take on Mozart’s “Symphony #40.”

Jason Isbell took the stage shortly after Love Canon’s set and delivered his signature country music with a rock and roll twist. Isbell powered through his set after opening up with “Stockholm” and kept the energy consistent. The highlight came when the band covered the Candi Stanton original “Heart on a String.” The crowd was more than just invested in Isbell and his set as he fit well with the Christmas Jam atmosphere. If Jason ever gets tired of entertaining arena-sized crowds that respond well to his sound, at least he knows that the producers of The Voice will always be there to offer an invitation to compete on reality television.

The Christmas Jam Band took the stage next and moved through Marshall Tucker Band songs such as “Take the Highway,” “Southern Woman,” (featuring Craig Sorrells and Mike Barnes) before performing “Can’t You See,” which turned into a singalong. In years past at Christmas Jam, Gov’t Mule has usually closed out the festivities but this year was different with Billy & The Kids closing out the show. Gov’t Mule played a set focused on Neil Young covers featuring a plethora of guests. Nobody was more involved than Jackie Greene who sat in on banjo and electric guitar, provided vocals and even played “After the Gold Rush” solo with Danny Louis. The band played many recognizable Young covers including “Cinnamon Girl,” “Old Man,” and “Down By the River,” but the highlight came when Jackie Greene, Jason Isbell and Neal Casal joined in on “Helpless” and traded off singing the verses. Love Canon returned for what would be their final set before Billy & The Kids.

Bill Kreutzmann has been a pioneer in 2014. When Bob Weir had to cancel his obligations at this years Lockn’ Festival (which was supposed to include a set from Furthur as well as multiple Bob Weir & Ratdog performances), Kreutzmann played a major role in forming the Locknstep Allstars, a band that ended up headlining one of the nights. At Gathering of the Vibes, Kreutzmann proved his versatility by playing alongside his former Grateful Dead band mate, Mickey Hart, with The Disco Biscuits. At the Christmas Jam, Warren Haynes walked out on stage and gave Billy’s new band a proper introduction before the band ripped into a set focused on traditional Grateful Dead numbers.

Opening up with “Shakedown Street” > “Tennessee Jed,” the band was all smiles and with only two songs under their belt, the band held the audience in the palm of their hand. Continuing with the theme of the Grateful Dead, Billy & The Kids pushed on with “Crazy Fingers” > “Bertha” and finally “Deal” where Reed Mathis provided the lead vocals. The largest twist of the evening came when Tom Hamilton ripped into the opening riff of “Chalk Dust Torture” by Phish. The same very stage where Phish played five years earlier was now being utilized in celebration of their music once again. As the jam was set to take off Col. Bruce Hampton joined Billy & The Kids on stage for an incredible version of “Turn On Your Lovelight” before a “Chalk Dust” reprise.

Billy & The Kids went back to the vast Grateful Dead repertoire with nice versions of “Estimated Prophet” > “Me & My Uncle,” featuring some deep improvisation and ambient space-like jamming. Warren Haynes joined the super group on stage for beautiful renditions of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” > “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” before a brass section composed of Craig Sorrells, Michael Giradot and Rob Ingraham helped out on The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” putting the 2014 Christmas Jam in the books. This monumental event is one of the most anticipated annual events for Asheville locals and music fans alike. Warren Haynes continues to give back to the community he loves with this incredible showcase of talent and celebration.

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