photo: Jay Blakesberg


For more than thirty years, the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam has been an annual benefit for Habitat For Humanity along with Beloved Asheville. Following a three year hiatus, Warren Haynes brought the jam back in a robust way to a sold-out crowd.  It was eight hours of nonstop smothered-and-covered southern jams capped off with a jazzy Grateful Dead twist.  

I was instantly hooked as a child when I first heard southern rock music. Xmas jam immediately teleported me back to that feeling of childhood freedom and fun. Appreciation and attribution should be given to mastermind Warren Haynes for bringing together an interesting concoction of musical greatness. Haynes remains a vital figure in music, both as a leader of his own band and as a curator and steward for future generations. A lot is distilled in him musically that will hopefully be around for decades.

The night opened with a peaceful acoustic set with Scott Metzger and Katie Jacoby. Veterans Dinosaur Jr. followed with loud grunge that incorporated great guitar work with a hint of twang. Brothers Osborne performed a great set of blended rock and honky tonk music that got the crowd going with their anthemic song “Headstone.” 

The event started to really heat up when Gov’t Mule took the stage. They remain titans of industry and their set was one of the best of the night. Mule began to peak when they brought out guests Mike Barnes (guitar), Jeff Stipe (drums), and George Porter Jr (bass). Along with Rob Barraco they launched into a funky “Sailing Shoes” that had Haynes using his slide and wah in harmony. The climactic point of the set was a cover of “Almost Cut My Hair” that featured an intense violin solo from Katie Jacoby that ascended and ascended. With the help of John Osborne of Brothers Osborne on guitar, Mule closed out their set with a wonderful cover of the Allman Brothers Band “Blue Sky.”

Tyler Childers was a crowd favorite and received huge ovations for playing his familiar “Universal Sound” and “Lady May.” To hear Childers’ records and see him live are two different things. There’s no mistaking he is country, but he has a future in the jam world. The Childers band is filled with musical talent that can stretch past a country mile. A real treat was Haynes joining him for an outstanding and stirring cover of CDB’s “Trudy”. 

Phil Lesh took the stage at 1:22am with his friends:  Warren Haynes (guitar). John Scofield (guitar), Rob Barraco (keys and organ), and John Molo (drums). Despite the familiarity of the Grateful Dead catalog, the band had a resolute depth that blended the jazzier elements in a special way. They consistently pushed musical boundaries and drew near a chaotic edge during a jazzy and spooky “Mason’s Children”. The jazzy feel continued adeptly in “Shakedown Street”, “Eyes of the World”, and a cover of Mile Davis’ “So What”. It was marvelous. 

Warren Haynes Xmas Jam is a premier event that hopefully will continue for many more years.  Hats off to all the road crews, production teams, and Harrah’s Creek staff for pulling it off so gracefully. My only gripe is how my body feels. Maybe less could be more for Xmas Jam or maybe I just need to train harder.