Although this year’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam spans two days and a number of events (read Jake Frankel’s story here), there’s still more. The Pre-Jam. The exclusive event, held at The Orange Peel, is open only by VIPs, donors to WNCW Radio and the friends and family of Haynes the other Christmas Jam artists. One name on the exclusive list: Free Radio. The local hip-hop band is fronted by Austin Haynes and Johnny Reynolds — and Austin’s surname is no coincidence. In advance of the show, he talks to Xpress about Free Radio’s new as-yet-to-be-named backing band, what it means to represent Asheville at the Christmas Jam, and why sharing a stage with his uncle is such a big deal.
Mountain Xpress: How did Free Radio get to play the Pre-Jam this year?
Austin Hayes: We set it as a big goal after the formation of our young band (which is so new it doesn’t even have a name yet). To attract a wider audience, we decided it would be smart to put a band together. We wanted a band that could jam and be funky, while Johnny (the other member of Free Radio) and I could shine as the emcees and stars of the show. What we ended up with, after a few tryouts, was a group of motivated individuals who proved to be much more than what we had hoped for! The first show we played was with the Secret B-Sides at the LAB as the only local acts officially on the Mountain Oasis line up. The second show we did was a sold-out show at The Boone Saloon with Free The Optimus. Our third and by far most personally anticipated show is the Pre-Jam for the 25th annual Christmas Jam. Booking the show was not easy! Yes, they are my family and we love each other dearly, but as busy as they stay, they can be very hard to get in touch with. After couple of months filled with many emails, many phone calls and text messages, Warren and his management finally confirmed us for the Pre-Jam.
Is this is the first time you and Warren Haynes, your uncle, will share a stage? Will he sit in with Free Radio, by any chance? If you could jam with him on a song, what would it be?
We have actually shared the same stage before, though we did not play together. My old group, The Ville Boyz, played the [U.S. Cellular Center] at the 15th annual Christmas Jam. As for me revealing if Warren is going to sit in with us this year at the Pre Jam, that is something [the audience] will just have to find out.
Even though you and Warren perform different genres of music, in what ways has he been a mentor to you?
As a musician and a person, I’ve picked up a tremendous amount of knowledge from Warren. Though I don’t personally play an instrument, in the way a coach who has never professionally played the sport can teach a team of professional athletes how to play their sport better, I have learned to be the leader of my band and co-owner of my band’s management company, Immersed In Intent Productions LLC. This came from years of exposure to my uncle’s and aunt’s musical/professional environment and work ethic. From when I was a young kid, until now, I’ve seen every part of Warren’s profession — how great he is to his fans, his rehearsals, sound checks, all the way to the finishing of the songs on stage and the roaring cheers they [earn]. For me or any other person who has any musical aspiration at all, these are extremely valuable experiences to study and hold onto forever. I was very fortunately blessed to have been immersed in those situations since before I ever even had a choice in the matter, and for that I will always be extremely grateful.
Do you feel pressure to represent the Asheville music scene? What does it mean to you to play the Pre-Jam?
It means quite a lot to us, but we will not be the only local players at the Pre-Jam as we have invited members of Empire Strikes Brass to be a part of the bulk of our set. We fully recognize that there are many talented, overly colorful bands in this town who are destined for great things and we are huge fans of what Asheville’s local music scene has become. So with that said, we couldn’t be more happy to be the small piece of Asheville’s scene shining at the Pre-Jam.
Tell us about the band that you’ve put together for this show — who’s in it and what do they play?
My band (who will have their own name shortly) is a very talented collective, and more importantly the most driven individuals I think I’ve ever worked with.
Free Radio consists of myself and Johnny Reynolds on lead vocals and our band is:
• On guitar and vocals is Matt Anderson (The Campaign 1984)
• On keys is Martin Snoddy (Deadstock Season)
• On Drums is Jacob Ariola (Timo’s house blues night drummer)
• On Bass is Professor T (local producer and Engineer)
• And on lead and background vocals is Mrs. Jeheanna Sharpe (Sunshine)
With Empire Strikes Brass:
• Paul Birch Juhl – saxophone
• Kyle Snuffer- trombone
• Alex Bradley – trumpet
I’m guessing the Christmas Jam audience is different from your typical crowd. How do you think they’ll respond to your music?
Let me put it like this: Free Radio with our live band is a hefty portion of lively, lyrically conscious hip-hop with a variety of home-cooked sides featuring flavors of funk, soul, rock, R&B, reggae, Latin and more. We are all natural entertainers and are great at what we do. And along with having the help of Empire Strikes Brass’ horn section, we are more than confident that the Christmas Jam audience is going to be absolutely blown away.
If you could perform with anyone on the Christmas Jam lineup, who would it be?
Let’s take the whole thing one step at a time. First things first, if we could play with anyone at the Jam, being that has never yet happened, I’m going to answer that playing with Warren would be a long time dream come true and history in the making. As far as knowing if that’s going to happen, we’ll all just have to see.
Photo of Free Radio at DIG Fest by Nick King