Photo by Allison Murphy

Before we made it to the Asheville Civic Center, we caught a few bands during the Christmas Jam by Day. We stopped at the Emerald Lounge for a great set by a Nashville group named The Last Straw, and also saw Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Artemis Pyle play a few songs as well. It was a grand ole time in typical southern fashion, and afterwards we strolled up the hill for the Xmas Jam.

Umphrey’s McGee was on stage when we walked into the area marked off for VIPs giving us plenty of breathing, standing and dancing room. Their light show, as always, is amazing, the bass line was low with a heavy drum beat during the second song “1348,” and then John Bell (Widespread Panic) showed up to play “Ain’t No Sunshine”, one of my favorite Bill Withers’ song. Bell sounded incredible and the song was brilliantly funky.

The electricity in the air was palpable as we anticipated the debut of The Warren Haynes Band. Ruthie Foster welcomed us and introduced “A Special Little Taste of the Warren Haynes Band.” She also said something about welcoming friends and family and it sure felt like family around me, even though this was my first Christmas Jam ever.

The Warren Haynes Band then came on with all cylinders firing. The first song, “Man in Motion,” featured Warren’s unmistakable twang on the guitar and some extra depth from the DDBB horns. The crowd was psyched and intent on discovering what Warren’s new style would be and how his band would sound. It turned out to be full of soul, dance, funk, blues: a southern rock mesh of beautiful sounds. With the second song I was able to start to see the personalities of the group take form with Warren’s singing, Ruthie’s beautiful voice, Ivan Neville on keys sparkling, accenting where needed, (oh yeah and Warren shredding). “Sneakin’ Sally” was killer and Ron Holloway and his sax made it all that dirtier with Ivan’s keys hitting the right spots along with the relentless drum and bass beat by Terrence Higgins and Ron Johnson, respectively. Beautiful.

There was a part of this set where I watched Ruthie and Warren sing/play together. Ruthie was singing her part, and Warren responded by wailing on his guitar. Ruthie would scat with her voice, backing Warren in crescendo. If you’ve ever been to an Allman Brothers show and watched Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks banter together on their guitars, it felt like I was watching Ruthie play Derek’s guitar part by singing, and Warren responded back with his guitar. It was fascinating, and wonderful to see and hear. This preview of The Warren Haynes Band was a tease. I wanted more. I wanted to hear a lot more. I hear there is a CD coming out. I’ll be first on line.

After set break, we all get settled in for The Steve Miller Band. Steve’s voice dropped a few octaves from what I remember, but it was still incredibly strong and clear, and technically perfect. His band is tight, his newest member, singer Sonny Charles, is amazingly soulful with a great stage presence. Miller dedicated a song to Les Paul, “Nature Boy” with Carlos Reyes on harp. The Civic Center went silent, with just Miller’s voice and a beautiful harp filling the room. Then Warren came out for a few songs and it was a full on Jam.

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