The view from the stage

Roughly 7,000 tickets — poof! — gone in less than four days. On sale the morning of Dec. 2; sold out by the same time Dec. 5.

If you haven’t yet committed your 37 bucks to the Asheville Civic Center box office or to Ticketmaster, your chances for getting yourself packed among the music-drunk sardines at the 2003 Warren Haynes Christmas Jam — this year’s hottest show in town — are about, well, nil.

You can still pray for some unscrupulous show-night scalper with a letcha-have-it-for-a-mint miracle ticket, but know that your faith in God may be severely tested. Consider the guy who trekked here from Illinois last year knowing the 2002 Jam was already tapped out, only to have it proven to him all night, as he languished outside on the pavement, getting his cold ears rubbed in the loud, warm din throbbing from within.

For those of us pacing Haywood Street in that poor schmo’s shivering shoes this year, there’s thankfully an even bigger consolation prize on the horizon, surpassing even the second double-CD in the Christmas Jam concert series (see accompanying sidebar “Mule-Digger Nuggets”): A savvy local video-production company is assembling an all-access DVD package documenting the 2003 show (see sidebar “There’s Jam on Your Lens”).

And like the Christmas Jam itself, these mementos will benefit Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity (see sidebar “A Hand Up for Humanity”).

Still, Warren Haynes genuinely feels lousy that many are left out in the often-literal cold. But there are just no bigger venues left in Asheville, he noted by phone last week from his management’s New York City office.

The Christmas Jam, an anachronistically inexpensive hot ticket of music impresarios mingling for upwards of six hours in each other’s magic, has evolved these last few years into the discerning concert junkie’s wet dream. Asheville may host the 15th-annual show, reap the financial rewards from it, and even be able to proudly claim its namesake as our own native son — but we no longer really own it.

Hayne’s big benefit — to be held this year on Saturday, Dec. 20 in the Civic Center arena, beginning at 7 p.m. — is now a destination event from far beyond these Blue Ridge Mountains. The Christmas Jam is routinely name-dropped in Rolling Stone, while The Times of London has dubbed it among the top-20 annual concert events. (Soon enough, the Brits will want to knight Warren. You watch.)

Yet in practical terms, its performers receive but a pittance (a small travel per diem and digs while in town), donating their time at the same time that most other working stiffs are planning time off with family.

What, then, does taking part mean for the players themselves? What’s this show like from up there on the stage?

Warren Haynes

In recent pictures, the guitar hero looks increasingly like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. What a perfect irony for a guy with the outsized heart of the Tin Man.

Last year, Asheville Mayor Charles Worley presented Warren with the key to the city, an honor not long ago also bestowed upon Andie McDowell. And no disrespect meant toward the WNC-transplant actress with the milk mustache, but former homeboy Warren truly deserves it.

“I think what’s most important to the community is the example he sets for people,” the mayor commented recently. “That we are, in one way or another, all dependent upon each other.”

The presentation ceremony itself caught Warren off guard.

“I’m not really one for that kind of stuff,” the guitarist reveals. “But it really hit me harder than I expected, being up there in front of all those people, and seeing all the smiles in the audience, and my dad [Edward] standing next to me.

“It was a very emotional thing.”

Hardly something he can put a price on.

Though he can, at least in broad terms, give a financial rundown of what it costs to put on the Jam these days.

“Between the flights and the hotel rooms and people’s expenses,” Warren offers, “it turns out to be tens and tens and tens of thousands of dollars.”

A wee bit more, in other words, than back when the show started in a now-defunct Cherry Street bar, when Warren and his Asheville-musician pals turned their desire to hang out together while home for the holidays into a night of performance, with whatever proceeds going to charity.

It’s the same basic concept, Warren says, behind the third-annual Hometown Holiday Jam being held at The Orange Peel on Monday, Dec. 22.

“I encourage everyone to go to that [show] as well,” he adds.

Yet even with the months of hassles now intrinsic to staging his star-studded Jam, it’s still a hoot to do, Warren insists.

“I’m pretty adrenalized that whole day,” he reveals. “It starts early for me, and goes to the next morning. And when you walk onstage, you forget everything else anyway.

“For me, part of what’s so fun about the whole event is seeing people performing together for the first time,” Warren continues. “A lot of people are paired up who either just met or knew each other by reputation, or who always wanted to play together. And they’re doing it in front of a sold-out audience, and the music that’s coming out is beautiful.

“That’s a tremendous payoff.”

Dave Schools (of Widespread Panic)

This will be the affable bass player’s fourth Christmas Jam in a row, though it’s the first for any of his Widespread Panic bandmates (John Bell, Todd Nance).

Dave Schools’ own inaugural Christmas Jam was in 2000. The Allman Brothers played that night, and Col. Bruce Hampton was reunited with the Aquarium Rescue Unit for the first time after upwards of five years.

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