Lockn’ 2014 photo by Dean Budnick

This weekend, Warren Haynes will host his annual all-star Christmas Jam in his home town of Asheville, NC, a gig that has raised millions of dollars for Habitat for Humanity over the last 26 years. The lineup will include Country Music Hall of Famer and guitar hot shot Vince Gill, Jason Isbell, former Allman Brothers Band alumnus Oteil Burbridge and Jack Pearson, original Marshall Tucker Band drummer Paul Riddle, The Revivalists, Caleb Johnson, the Hard Working Americans and the versatile Love Canon. The Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann will also be on the bill with his side project Billy and the Kids featuring Aron Magner, Reed Mathis, Tom Hamilton and special guests.

As with every year, Haynes will come out and play with virtually every act, leading up to his own early morning jam with Gov’t Mule. It is not unusual for the show to last from 7pm to 4am. Considering that it brings the world to his hometown and the money raised over the weekend goes to a great charity, the Christmas Jam is a labor of love for Haynes.

“I’ve been talking to Vince for the last two or three years about it happening at some point and I’m glad this year is going to work out,” says Haynes. “He is wonderful. Vince is a terrific guitar player and an amazing singer and so much more versatile than most people probably know. We all get known for what it is we do the most, but that cat can do anything. He is an extremely special musician and I’m really excited that he is going to be coming there. And, we’ve been talking about doing something together at the Jam.”

Another musician that Haynes is looking forward to collaborating with is Jason Isbell, who hit his musical high this past year with his amazing album Southeastern.

“Jason and I go way back,” says Haynes. “We did a lot of touring together several years back with the Mule and his band. I love what he does. I think he is a wonderful singer and songwriter and a wonderful guitar player and I’m really happy for his success. He’s a breath of fresh air in this modern world. I’m psyched to have The Revivalists on the bill as well. They are really taking off and really doing great. I love that band. They have been on the road with us as well and we had wonderful time.”

For Haynes, of course, it is a special moment when he can return to Asheville at another time of the year to personally hand over the keys of a Habitat for Humanity-built house to a needy family who now has a decent home.

“Having the opportunity to grow the Christmas Jam and see it get bigger and raise the kind of money we’ve been raising, especially recently, and building houses like this, it’s a wonderful feeling,” says Haynes. “I love the fact that we have this opportunity, just taking something like musicians donating their time and playing music, which is what we do every day anyway, and turning it into houses being built for families that need that. It is a wonderful thing. Hopefully, people that see this from a distance or that participate in the event will see how easy it is to give back in your own way. I’ve seen a lot of situations where people have come to the Jam, had a great time and turned around and started some sort of charity event of their own. It is nice to see. On the one hand, it is a lot of work. But, on the other hand, it‘s not. It’s doing what you love to do and the fact that we can turn that into houses being built is incredible.”

Unfortunately, one regular at the Christmas Jam will not be there this year as Haynes’ long-time guitar tech and friend Brian Farmer died this past August. I last saw Farmer a month before he passed away when I went to a Gov’t Mule show in Charlotte, NC. As I began to walk out of the venue after the concert, I turned around to see Farmer handing out the printed setlists to the audience members at the foot of the stage. Because of that and his keen sense of humor, Farmer was a fan favorite.

“Brian had a great way of dealing with the fans and he always made everybody feel really good and he took the time to communicate and make some sort of connection,” says Haynes. “I’m hearing more and more stories of people that barely knew him but still have a nice story to tell about their encounter with him. He had a very bizarre sense of humor, coming from a kind of thespian background. I think he was a frustrated actor inside. Just his wacky every day stuff was hilarious.”

Farmer was also the guitar tech for Johnny Cash for eight years before hooking up with Haynes.

“We talked about Johnny from time to time,” remembers Haynes. “Brian and I had dinner together the night when Johnny died and he took it really hard. Of course, it was quite an honor to work with a legend like that and he had a lot of funny stories. I met Johnny a long time ago, but it wasn’t through Brian. It was intimidating for me even though Johnny wasn’t one of those people that was intentionally intimidating, but he just was because everybody revered him so much.”

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