Warren Haynes - Xmas Jam
Asheville Civic Center
December 17, 2005 � Asheville North Carolina
Photography and Review by David Oppenheimer
� 2006 David Oppenheimer - All Rights Reserved


Warren Haynes' 17th Annual Christmas Jam - December 17th, 2005

With a heart of gold, Warren Haynes has put together an event that combines the spirit of giving and the festivities of one huge party that brings smiles to those who attend as well as those who have a home thanks to the benefiting charity, Habitat for Humanity. Warren Haynes started what was to become his annual benefit Xmas Jam concert some 17 years ago. Despite Warren's multiple projects, the week before Christmas each year brings him back to his home town of Asheville, North Carolina with his family, friends and fans to throw what has become widely known as one of the greatest annual musical events. What was once a local event held in Asheville clubs, over the years, as the Xmas Jam increased in size, it has moved to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and is now held at the largest venue in the city, the Asheville Civic Center. Even so, the 7000 seat event sells out quickly each year and has hundreds outside hoping for extras. In what has become known as the Xmas Pre-Jam, Warren throws a private party the night before the Xmas Jam for the performers and friends. The show was broadcast online by the nearby public radio station at WNCW.org.

The last several years that I have attended the Xmas Jam I've seen many first-time combinations of musicians together on-stage in what always seems to spur blasts of creativity, leaving the few in chairs on the edge of there seats as the music keeps rounding another bend. The entire place is general admission with no chairs on the floor, which is great. This year the ever-changing line-up included the acoustic talents of Dr. Ralph Stanley, Marty Stuart, the electric/acoustic legends Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy of Hot Tuna, the electric bassist of Widespread Panic - Dave Schools, Phish's Mike Gordon, the percussion wizardry of Bill Kreutzmann, not to mention Stanton Moore and Trey Anastasio. Guitar virtuoso John Scofield and keyboardist John Medeski also shared their talents at the show. Warren Haynes often shared the stage with most of musicians at one point or another. Warren's production has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Habitat for Humanity over the years and is currently raising about $100,000 per year. Warren's talent and generosity earned him the 'Key to the City', which was presented to him at the Xmas Jam several years ago. With free reign, Warren mixes quality with quantity continually presenting top-notch acts stretching over a 7 to 8+ hour period running to around 3:30 in the morning. A small vending lot set up before and after the show in its traditional place in a tiny parking-lot across the street. The afternoon in Asheville was cold which kept many in bars and restaurants till show-time. At the show everyone seemed to be having a blast including the staff and police on-site. The food and beer booths seemed to serve right up to 2am's last call.

Warren started the show after welcoming the audience, Edwin McCain, a Xmas Jam regular, soon joined Warren - both on acoustic, the duet became a trio once Kevin Kenney joined on acoustic guitar as well. The show continued with Panic's Dave Schools joining with The Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood and crew.

Between sets, Asheville's newly elected mayor, Terry Bellamy greeted the crowd as a proud Warren Haynes stood between the mayor and his wife, Stefani Scamardo. The stage was next graced by 'mountain music' legend, Dr. Ralph Stanley. The veteran musician in his 59th year performing shared a short set on vocals and banjo backed by his equally sharp dressed players on guitar and mandolin.

Next up on the stage was an All-Star concoction consisting of John Scofield, Andy Hess, Stanton Moore and John Medeski. The performance was top notch with Stanton's never letting up high-energy, John Scofield' intricate jams, and John Medeski's talents were evident with his timing and tuning as he dealt his sounds to the crowd often with his eyes closed. As throughout the evening, Warren joined this All-Star creation along with the versatile Ron Holloway on saxophone. The crowd was next served a taste of Electric Hot Tuna with Warren once again joining Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady's group. The stage crews had their work cut out for them switching instruments, wiring, effects and other equipment between most of the performances. There seemed to be a dozen or so working diligently between sets.

Far from over, after Hot Tuna they brought Bill Kreutzmann's drum set forward. Next up was the All-Star band combining the Grateful Dead's Bill Kreutzmann and Phish's Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio. Breaking ground, the trio, calling themselves 'SerialPod' opened their first public show with Cumberland Blues. Covering songs from both 'mother bands' and a couple of others including Jimi Hendrix's 'Angle' -- they sounded incredible. Trey didn't disappoint the crowd with his electric improvs, Mike Gordon played somewhat reserved but steady and funky when he added effects to his bass. Bill Kreutzmann amazed the crowd with his relentless energy roaring over his drum set at 7 miles a minute. Ivan Neville and Marty Stuart joined SerialPod at one point as did Warren once again. If these guys do this again, I hardly need to say-this is a must see. After another choreographed shuffle by the stage crew Gov't Mule jammed till about 3:30am treating fans with a high-energy rocking set with many of the evening's artists sitting in throughout the set. Matt Abts worked up a sweat impressing the crowd throwing down on the drums. The rest of the band followed suit (See photo gallery to see setlist and guest performers with Mule).

The day after the show, I ended up on the same flight Warren's assistant, 'Farmer'. I asked him what Warren has planned for the next year. He replied that Warren is interested in doing more solo and acoustic performances. He reasoned that by the crowds' reactions to Warren's acoustic sets between sets while performing with The Dead last summer that such a venture would be well received. Indeed, Warren's acoustic performances between his sets with The Dead kept me entertained way beyond a point that I could call it an intermission act. Considering the length of the sets Warren played before and after with The Dead along with his solo performances, and his endeavors as member of Phil Lesh & Friends, The Allman Brothers Band, his band Gov't Mule and various other projects has earned Warren the title "The Hardest Working Man in Show-business" in the eyes of many. Farmer described how he has assembled pick-ups and switches to some Warren's acoustic guitars so he can go from an acoustic to electric sound with the flip of a switch furthering that it just involved drilling a hole, a couple of wires, the pick-ups and a switch.

Thanks Warren and all parties responsible for once again throwing one of the fattest parties of the year that spanned 8 � hours of All-Star entertainment and contributing over $100,000 to the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity.

David Oppenheimer - Performance Impressions

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