Warren Haynes is Santa Claus, at least as far as I am concerned. Not only does he throw the best Christmas Party I have ever attended, but the eight hour-plus music event is for a great cause, Habitat for Humanity.
The 17th installment of the yearly charity concert in scenic Asheville, NC began with Haynes performing a stirring version of “Soulshine” solo acoustic before Edwin McCain and Haynes played a mesmerizing rendition of the Seal song “Crazy.” Kevn Kinney joined McCain and Haynes for a few more acoustic tunes to close out the opening set and the night of jamming was launched to the ecstatic sold out Asheville Civic Center audience that came far and wide for what has become a tradition of holiday good will and memorable music. The Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood, Brad Morgan and Jason Isbell joined forces with Dave Schools for a high-energy set that saw appearances by Marty Stewart on mandolin, Audley Freed on guitar, and Warren Haynes on slide guitar.
After a short set change, spirits soared during an emotional performance by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, which ended with an inspirational gospel song “Lift Him Up, That’s all.” John Scofield and Friends with John Medeski on keyboards, Stanton Moore on drums and Andy Hess on bass absolutely ripped it up with some intense instrumental jazz songs, “Boozer”, “Gonzo,” “Cryin’ Time” and “Hottentot.” And the set was punctuated with Haynes and Scofield shredding it up with Ron Holloway on sax and Ivan Neville on keys for Ray Charles’ “The Night Time is the Right Time” and Grateful Dead favorite “Turn on Your Love Light.”
Ray LaMontagne began the third set solo acoustic before Marty Stuart returned to the stage in a segment that included Haynes, Schools, Matt Abts and Danny Lewis. This portion had Stuart performing solo, including a tribute to Johnny Cash, before the full band unleashed a string of songs that culminated with an excellent version of The Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman.”
Hot Tuna co-founders Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady with more recent members Barry Mitterhoff, and Erik Diaz hit their stride early with “Can’t Get Satisfied.” While the instrumental classic, “Embryonic Journey,” provided an interesting interlude between the more wide-open rock songs “Bowlegged Women” and “Come Back Baby.” The fourth set came to a big finish when Haynes came out and ripped it up with Hot Tuna for “Rock Me Baby.” Jorma and Jack jamming with Warren, certainly worth the journey to Asheville, was something I will remember for a long time.
The second to last set featured a line-up I was looking forward to immensely, hearing Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon mixing it up with Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzman. Anastasio and Gordon sounded fantastic with the sweet rhythm of Kreutzman. “Cumberland Blues” started the set and Kreutzman propelled the power trio into the Dead zone. Other highlights included Nirvana’s “On a Plane” and Ivan Neville returning to the party to add some keyboard magic to three songs, “Waves,” Hendrix’s “Angel” and “Loose Lucy.”
The Main Event of the evening though, the final band, was Christmas Jam host Warren Haynes’ very own Govt. Mule and they came out on fire. An instrumental version of “Lively Up Yourself” with Medeski joining Danny Lewis on keyboards, “32-20 Blues” that featured Ron Holloway on sax and Ivan Neville on keyboards were easy highlights. And Mike Barnes joined the band for a strong cover of Temple of the Dogs’ “Hunger Strike” that saw a “Dear Mr. Fantasy” interlude. “Thorazine Shuffle” contained a spirited keyboard solo by Danny Lewis, before Trey Anastasio, Dave Schools, Marty Stewart and Bill Kreutzman came out for the encore and blew everyone away with the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider.”
Combining outstanding music with the giving spirit of the holiday season, The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam is an event that is win-win all the way. If you are not lucky enough to live in the proximity of Asheville, NC, this show is certainly worth the pilgrimage to the city that turns into a musical holy land each year.
Photos by Adam Foley