Warren Haynes lives in New York City. Although he’s certainly not a typical New Yorker—his Southern drawl and mountain-bred charm are dead giveaways—it does seem a little odd that we only get to see this hometown hero perform locally a mere once a year.
But Haynes’ old buddy and Asheville guitar mainstay Mike Barnes, who has played pretty much every Christmas Jam in its 19-year run, sees Haynes’ NYC residency as a wise professional choice—one that certainly can’t hurt the constantly evolving Xmas Jam lineup. He notes with a laugh, “you’re not gonna meet much of anybody [musically famous] in Asheville.”
And while it’s probably true that you won’t bump into Peter Frampton in the produce aisle at the Fresh Market, nor spy Jackson Browne at local drum circles, there’s a chance that you might just catch one of these notable performers wandering around town this week. And we have Haynes to thank for that: He’s lured these all-star performers back home to single-A Asheville for a World Series-sized charity gig.
Of course there’s a good reason for all of this annual hubbub: the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. The nonprofit has built entire neighborhoods from Jam proceeds, and still credits Haynes and the Jam as their single largest funding source. Recent Christmas Jam proceeds pay for about two houses per year, a stat that may increase with this year’s expanded Jam offerings.
Jam-related events—such as the increasingly popular Pre-Jam, movie screenings and art openings —show that there’s plenty to keep experienced fans coming back every year. (Which isn’t much of a problem, anyway. At this point, you could probably throw a few question marks on the lineup poster at Thanksgiving, and the show would still sell out before December.)
This year’s Jam features many seasoned veterans (such as Dave Schools, Kevn Kinney and Col. Bruce Hampton), a few new faces (including Mike Farris and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals) and a trio of headliners (Peter Frampton, Bruce Hornsby, Jackson Browne) who would easily sell out the Asheville Civic Center on their own.
But enough from us. This year, we’re giving the stars of the Christmas Jam a chance to offer their own perspectives on the show.
Warren Haynes, musician and Christmas Jam founder, on the big picture
Let’s start with New Orleans. I mean, rebuilding New Orleans is such an important thing. We were able to earmark money for one of the houses from last year’s Jam to be built in the Musician’s Village in New Orleans.
I was just there recently and met the new owners of the house, and met a lot of the people in the Musician’s Village, people that are working hard to rebuild the city. There’s so far to go, just in New Orleans alone, not to mention the whole rest of the Gulf Coast.
My point being that musicians tend to see the importance of giving back; in some cases musicians and artists maybe see that importance a little bit more because they feel blessed to do what they do for a living. And so when it takes a day or two out of your life—doing what you love and doing what you do everyday anyway—and turning that into building houses for people who can’t afford houses, it’s a beautiful thing.
Dave Schools, of Widespread Panic and Stockholm Syndrome, on being an Xmas Jam regular:
It’s a great way to remind everyone in the midst of all the commercialism of Christmas advertising what the true spirit is. And it’s just such a win-win, because not only does it open up the gates of giving and good will, but it’s also such a great chance for musicians to hang out together, in a great town like Asheville, with a moderator like Haynes.
I’m excited to see people like Jackson Browne and Peter Frampton. But really, if you go to a couple of these things, and start to look between the lines, it’s the surprises: Like Marty Stuart coming out and playing Byrds songs with us backing him up, and it just blows everyone away. And it wasn’t necessarily planned. Things like that really make me happy as a participant.
Mike Farris, formerly of Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, on joining up:
Through the years [Haynes and I] wrote some together, and toured with the Allman Brothers together, toured with the Mule—I don’t know, at least four times—across the country. I think [the Christmas Jam] is just a testament to Warren’s heart and just his relentless ability to do what he does, and finding something that means something to him, and sticking with it. And you know, sooner or later, the world comes around to it, if not immediately. Everybody will take notice and jump on. That’s what’s happened with him as an artist and the Christmas Jam as well.
Peter Frampton, guitar legend, on why he got involved:
It was a combination of many things: A charity that you believe in wholeheartedly is a great reason to do it, and if you are playing with friends. It’s got so much credibility because all of those great musicians show up to help out, that it’s become this sort of musicians’ get-together. It’s like a sand pit. You never know what’s going to happen. [I’m looking forward to] getting together with all of those people. I’ve always found that when no one’s benefiting apart from the cause that we are there for, it’s a different vibe completely. I do enjoy it when we are all there giving our time and services to something we always believe in. It adds, it always does. Anytime I’ve done a charity show, it’s always been special because people are doing it for the right reasons.
G. Love, of G. Love and Special Sauce, on Warren Haynes:
Can I tell you the story of the first time I met Warren Haynes? It was at an outdoor music center in Philly. In high school, we used to go party there. There was a fence, and then a lawn behind the fence, and that’s where we’d go. We’d get drunk and jump the fence to get into the concert. It was the Allman Brothers and Blues Traveler. I jumped the fence and got up to the third row for Blues Traveler, and then I went back to [the gate] to tell my friends I made it to the third row. But since I didn’t have a ticket stub, I ended up getting kicked out. So, I jumped the fence again and made it the second row for the Allman Brothers. Someone left, so I got their ticket stub, and then I was in. I was 16 and I was such a big fan. I didn’t really know who Warren was, but I was a huge fan of the Allman Brothers. At the end of the show they were shaking hands with people in the audience. I got to shake hands with Gregg [Allman] and Warren. I always tell Warren that story.
Warren reached out and invited us [to the Christmas Jam] this year. We were with [them] on the Widespread Panic tour in ‘98. I’ve gotten the chance to jam with Warren over the years.
I really do enjoy playing benefits, so I was happy to get invited to play for a good cause.
Grace Potter, of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, on the benefit-concert scene:
We were touring with Warren and the guys for about two months through October and November. When we booked it, we basically booked a few shows way ahead of time. Early in the summer we played a couple shows with them in New York City and Boston, and at the same time we got offered this big tour with them. And they were like, “And while we’re at it, we do this thing called Christmas Jam. It’s a benefit and all.” I was just so excited to be part of something like that.
I’ve actually been a longtime supporter of the Ovarian Cancer Coalition, and I’ve played a lot of concerts, mostly up in Vermont. There’s also a Rock for A Cure [to raise money for] Parkinson’s. We’re going to be donating proceeds from the ticket sales of our big New Year’s shows in Vermont to that.
We’re just sort of tapping into that now, because as a young band, starting out, I was really eager to jump in and do anything we could, to play benefits and stuff. But the reality is that you have to make ends meet at some point. But we’ve done a lot of stuff—a lot of stuff with Earthfest and the Green Apple Festival in New York City. There’s so many different things to be a supporter of, and I always try to be informed about them.
Jason Isbell, formerly of Drive-By Truckers, on his second year:
Obviously it’s for a good cause, but I also get a lot of enjoyment out of spending a couple days with some of my favorite musicians. It’s a bit of a class reunion in a really cool town. I’m also looking forward to showing off my new band. They’re great players and most of the folks at the Jam haven’t heard them before.
Mike Barnes, Jam regular and long-time Warren Haynes pal, on the history of the event:
It’s an honor to keep on doing it, and we kind of started it together back in the days at the Brass Tap [where Warren and Barnes kept a regular jam gig on Monday nights], then later on at 45 Cherry, then it went to Sonny’s [Bistro], then it went to Be Here Now, then it went to Thomas Wolfe, then the Civic Center. And now it’s this huge thing, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.
Col. Bruce Hampton, jam-band legend, on Haynes and the Jam:
I’m honored to [play each year]. I feel like I’ve known Warren since the ‘60s, even though I met him back in the ‘80s when he was doing the early Allman Brothers stuff, and he was 20-whatever. I felt like, “Man, don’t I know you?”
[Stuart Gaines is a freelance writer and former Xpress music columnist. A&E Reporter Alli Marshall can be reached at email@example.com. Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]
who: The 19th annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam
what: A star-studded jam session to benefit the Asheville Chapter of Habitat for Humanity
when: Asheville Civic Center arena
where: Saturday, Dec. 15 (Sold out, and expect to pay as much as $175 per ticket on the street. www.xmasjam.com for news, including film screening times, Pre-Jam info and more)