Attending Warren Haynes Presents: Christmas Jam can be a daunting proposition.
Whether standing on the Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville floor or seated somewhere around the arena, concertgoers are in for a long night: at least seven hours of near-constant music, typically wrapping up a little after 2 a.m.
To accommodate those who prefer less of a commitment on Saturday, Dec. 9, and further enhance the weekend overall, Jam By Day, which launched in 2007, spotlights additional artists while supporting Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity and BeLoved Asheville — the two beneficiaries of Christmas Jam. As in years past, the gathering’s three participating venues — Asheville Music Hall, The One Stop and Jack of the Wood — will feature live performances throughout the day, leading up to the main event later that evening.
“It was originally started as a way to provide more programming around the event and give it a ‘town takeover’ feel for the weekend,” says J. Bau of Hard Head Management, which produces Christmas Jam and Jam By Day. “We knew that a lot of people traveled into town and wanted to give them more entertainment than just the actual Jam event on Saturday night or the Pre-Jam on Friday [at The Orange Peel], which is very limited capacity.”
The first year at Asheville Music Hall, back when the venue was called Stella Blue, Haynes’ band Gov’t Mule played a surprise pop-in show with the legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell filling in for Danny Louis on keys.
Like Christmas Jam itself, the event has evolved over its run. But as those who’ve been involved since its inception can attest, the core mission has remained consistent.
For those about to rock
The 2023 edition of Jam By Day features a wealth of area talent. But that wasn’t always the case.
“It used to be mostly artists from out of town,” says former local Frank Bloom.
Now living in Raleigh, the longtime Asheville-based percussionist and events manager was one of the few locals to play the inaugural Jam By Day at Stella Blue. After his set, he helped the stage manager with some technical issues and in 2008 was brought on as an official member of the production team. Over the years, his role expanded to what he describes as a “stage/production director” capacity, booking acts that are now almost exclusively Asheville-based artists.
“Josh Blake, [Yo Mama’s Big Fat] Booty Band, Toubab Krewe — locals can carry the daytime,” Bloom says of notable past Jam By Day alumni. “[Asheville Music Hall] is slammed at noon. It illustrated the power of the local scene.”
One of Bloom’s favorite Jam By Day moments involved watching The Lee Boys, The Revivalists and the Booty Band crammed into the Stella Blue green room — which he describes as being “about the size of a Subaru Outback” — while figuring out songs to team up on.
And it’s that spirit of collaboration that Andrew Scotchie plans to tap into during his set this year at The One Stop. The Asheville-based guitarist/vocalist grew up going to Christmas Jam with his father and sees Jam By Day as a nod to Christmas Jam’s humble roots. Haynes first held the event at 45 Cherry, a small local club that’s now the site of a parking lot for AT&T employees across from the Asheville Skatepark. Dubbed “The Christmas Jam: Musician’s X-Mas Reunion,” the inaugural show took place Dec. 22, 1988.
“Jam By Day is a good sampler platter of everything that we do in this town,” Scotchie says. “Everything from bluegrass to singer-songwriter, to hard rock, funk, jazz, blues — you name it. We have it all here.”
‘Everyone is so attentive’
Two blocks down Patton Avenue, Jack of the Wood likewise attracts a full house, albeit for an almost polar opposite experience. Kevn Kinney of Southern rock band Drivin N Cryin hosted the venue’s portion of Jam By Day from 2007-17, during which it was unofficially known as “The Kevn Kinney Jam.” His lineups consistently featured more locals than the Stella Blue/Asheville Music Hall bill, including Asheville-based singer-songwriter Leigh Glass.
A fixture since the inaugural event, Glass recalls the first decade being almost exclusively amplified ensembles performing on the venue’s modest stage. In 2018, Kinney asked her to take over hosting duties, and before the 2019 edition, the two friends devised a way to offer a more complementary experience to the rock bands at Asheville Music Hall and The One Stop.
“We were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if this was a songwriter’s feature?’ Glass recalls. “If people want to go get their faces melted, they can just walk up the street. But then they can also come to Jack in the Wood and have this experience of storytelling and songwriters going in the round.”
Inspired by The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, where artists sit in a circle and are surrounded by the audience, Glass kept the performances on the Jack of the Wood stage and selected groups of three or four singer-songwriters. Curating the lineup constantly proves challenging for Glass, who cites Asheville’s wealth of talent and being “friends with every musician in town” as major hurdles. But the pool of gifted artists also results in the fun responsibility of pairing singer-songwriters who are complementary without being too much alike.
Sometimes that involves poaching talent from Bloom. In 2022, Glass asked her counterpart if she could “borrow” Ashley Heath for the Jack of the Wood event. The Black Mountain-based rocker and her band The Heathens played two previous Jam By Days at The One Stop, but she was happy to try something new. The experience was so rewarding that Heath is participating again this year.
“I love doing the full band, high-energy stuff. But I just wanted to mix it up and meet all of the songwriters,” Heath says. “The room is packed all day long — everyone is so attentive.”
The reason for the season
Glass’ top priority for Jam By Day is raising money for Habitat for Humanity and BeLoved Asheville. But she also wants to encourage the most welcoming and enriching musical experience possible for attendees and artists alike.
“These songwriters are volunteering their time for this cause, which is kind of a big deal for them,” Glass says. “That’s a Saturday in December. There are usually a lot of great gigs to be had on that weekend, so there’s a lot of songwriters turning down some pay, which they do wholeheartedly.”
Participating artists also receive a ticket to Christmas Jam, which has raised more than $2.8 million for Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, building over 50 homes and helping to pay development and infrastructure costs of entire Habitat neighborhoods. Housing insecurity nonprofit BeLoved Asheville was brought on last year as an additional beneficiary.
Bloom notes that the “family reunion” aspect of seeing old friends is a big reason he keeps returning to Christmas Jam each year. However, the tangible nature of Habitat for Humanity’s work also provides assurance that all the hours of volunteering are worth the effort.
“You can drive into neighborhoods and see the houses — music built these houses,” he says. “It’s a huge testament to Warren [Haynes]. He could do this in any market, but he comes home every year.”