Warren Haynes’ 30th Christmas Jam: 15 Best Things We Saw

via Rolling Stone

From Eric Church’s rousing set to Dave Grohl sitting in with host Warren Haynes, the highlights of the Asheville, North Carolina, summit

On Thursday, in the frozen depths of the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, Warren Haynes steadily held up a wall of a home as the support beams were nailed down.

Though an exact number couldn’t be found at the moment, the rock guitarist estimated it was somewhere north of 40 homes he’s been responsible for building from funds gathered through his annual Christmas Jam. A fundraiser for the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, the bash has raised more than $2.3 million.

This weekend, the all-star concert marked its 30th anniversary with special guests like Eric Church, Dave Grohl, Grace Potter and Phish’s Mike Gordon helping sell out the U.S. Cellular Center (capacity: 8,600) in downtown Asheville.

“Each year, it seems to get better and more organized, more people are getting involved,” Haynes tells Rolling Stone of the Christmas Jam. “Nobody could ever had predicted it would grow into what it has become. We started out as something fun to do for local musicians, and to see where it is today — well, it’s quite astounding.”

Right around Christmas 1988, Haynes and some buddies took the stage at the now-defunct 45 Cherry, a small rock club in Asheville. At the time, Haynes was a 28-year-old guitar prodigy, still a year away from being asked to join the Allman Brothers Band when they reunited. It was also six years before he formed rock juggernaut Gov’t Mule, which will celebrate 25 years together in 2019.

A native son of Asheville, Haynes gathered the musicians as a way to spend time with folks usually on the road touring or in the studio recording most of the year. They ended up making some decent tip money that night and decided to give it to a local charity — a gesture that stills holds true today.

“The first one we did for a hurricane relief fund. I remember we made $1,700 dollars. We thought we won the damn lottery,” says guitarist Jeff Anders, who played alongside Haynes at the inaugural Christmas Jam.

“There’s something about making music with none of the ordinary pressures of the music business being there. It kind of brings us back to why we all started playing music in the first place,” says Haynes. “Ten or 15 years ago, I was calling as many people as possible trying to get them here. And now? I still do that, but there are so many people calling us to be part of Christmas Jam — and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Here are the 15 best things we saw at this weekend’s Christmas Jam.

Best Excuse to Light One Up: Dark Side of the Mule

Just after midnight on Friday night, Gov’t Mule rolled into a rendition of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Featuring an array of backup singers and Ron Holloway on saxophone, the rock act bookended the iconic album with other Floyd classics (“Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Have a Cigar” and “Wish You Were Here,” among them). The beauty of the tribute resided in Haynes & Co. allowing the entire collaboration to breathe on its own — the band never once seemed rushed as each second ticked away, which was not only in line with the album itself, but with the intent of the night: to remind the crowd of what a live show can be.

Best Didn’t See That Coming: Dave Grohl & Gov’t Mule

Leading up to the last performance of the weekend, a collage of audio clips themed around “revolution” echoed throughout the arena, culminating with the sounds of late poet Gil Scott-Heron shouting “The revolution will not be televised.” By the time Haynes strapped on his Gibson, Grohl was right behind him, plugging in and approaching the microphone. The quartet launched into Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” catapulting the audience into euphoric melodic madness, with Haynes and Grohl trading riffs while drummer Matt Abts thundered away.

Best Way to Lend a Hand: Habitat’s Raising of the Walls

Like the saying goes, “Before the Jam, Lend a Hand.” More than two dozen volunteers and music fans gathered on a small hillside outside of Asheville to raise the walls for the Scott family on Thursday, the newest recipients of a home from the Christmas Jam and the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity. Even Haynes himself helped out, offering a few words of gratitude and encouragement. “[Meeting the families] is something that connects all the dots,” he says. “It makes it a little closer to home and brings the whole concept of why we’re doing this a little more front and center.”

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