Front Row Focus | Festival Review: Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 27 (December 2015)

Festival Review: Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 27 (December 2015)

December 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

FESTIVAL:  Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 27

VENUE:  US Cellular Center - Asheville, NC

DATE:  December 12, 2015

Review By:  Bob Forte

Photos By:  David Simchock

Warren Haynes - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, NC)Warren Haynes - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Entering its 27th year the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam has literally become Asheville, North Carolina’s musical equivalent to Black Friday. Much like the biggest shopping holiday of the year the Christmas Jam regularly features long lines wrapped around a building, a frenzied level of crowd anticipation and an incredibly satisfying payoff minus the looming credit card debt hangover.

This year’s event once again served to benefit the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, a charity near and dear to Haynes himself, and one that has been associated with the Christmas Jam for many years running. To date the Christmas Jam has raised more than $1.8 million with proceeds primarily being used to acquire land for Habitat neighborhoods as well as to build residences for families in need of safe and affordable housing.

Lights began to brighten the U.S. Cellular Center’s darkened stage around 6:45pm as Charlottesville, Virginia natives Love Canon kicked off the night’s festivities. The band’s initial 20-minute set featured bluegrass-infused covers of 80’s classics such as Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” as well as Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science”. 

The first song on the night to get a heightened crowd reaction, however, was a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Good Ole’ Boys”. The audience’s gleeful reverberation to this particular tune quickly reminded all those in attendance not from the region that the Christmas Jam was being hosted in a mountain town well south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Love Canon - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, NC)Love Canon - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Throughout the evening Love Canon would continue to serve as a between-acts filler with a few notable highlights including Bruce Hornsby joining in on a rendition of his own classic, “The Way It Is”, and Haynes himself jumping up on stage with the band to tackle a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”.    

Like many Christmas Jams of past, an acoustic solo number by Haynes marked the official start to the music marathon. This year the guitar legend treated fans to a gentle interpretation of George Harrison’s Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth”), a song the former Beatle had performed at every one of his rare solo performances prior to his death in 2001.

Electric Hot Tuna - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville,Electric Hot Tuna - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville,© Copyright David J. Simchock Electric Hot Tuna, the blues and rock Jefferson Airplane off-shoot comprised of bassist Jack Casady, guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and drummer Justin Guip, were the first main act to take to the Christmas Jam stage this year. The band was clearly in high spirts as they brought an abundance of energy throughout the entirety of their performance. The 71-year old Casady seemed especially enthused as he emphatically bounced from stage end to stage end throughout their 30-minute set which included tunes such as “Been So Long”, “99 Years Blues” and the set closer, “Hit Single #1”.   

During Hot Tuna’s early evening slot a large proportion of the crowd was still beginning to make their way into the arena and thus what could have been a performance that helped to ignite the Christmas Jam’s flame, unfortunately came off a bit hollow to no fault of the band themselves. A better choice to kick off the evening’s main performances may have been the subdued set offered up Bruce Hornsby which followed. Most know Hornsby as a sublime keyboardist and vocalist as well as an artist who often surprises audiences with eclectic live shows. Eschewing his trademark piano for an Appalachian dulcimer, Hornsby offered up a collection of songs that primarily focused on folk oriented tracks from his upcoming release, Rehab Reunion

Whether you thought Hornsby’s approach to his performance was engaging probably boiled down to your personal taste in music.  I can appreciate the fact that Hornsby attempted to provide the crowd with something off-beat and unanticipated, however, once his half-hour set came to a close I felt as though this year’s Christmas Jam still had yet to find its legs.

Those legs would finally get a kick in the ass as the Tedeschi Trucks Band spread themselves across the arena's stage. The band, clearly one of the most eagerly-anticipated performers on the bill, delivered some of the first get-up-out-of-your-seat moments of the evening. Highlights of the TTB included an uplifting Joe Cocker-esque take on the Box Tops’ “The Letter”, which featured some of Susan Tedeschi’s soaring vocals, and Beatles cover and set closer “With A Little Help From My Friends” (also leaning toward Cocker's cover version). 

Tedeschi Trucks Band - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (AshevilTedeschi Trucks Band - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Ashevil© Copyright David J. Simchock

Haynes also joined the band for a rhapsodic take and a bit of a guitar hero battle with former Allman Brothers cohort Derek Trucks on Derek and the Dominos' “Keep On Growing”. There’s a bit of Allman Brothers Band connection to this song as Duane Allman actually played on the only Derek and the Dominos studio release, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, however, “Keep On Growing” was one of only three songs on the record Allman didn’t contribute guitar tracks to.  

Dawes - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, NC)Duane Betts of Dawes - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Initially I found it to be somewhat of a head scratcher that organizers of this year’s Christmas Jam would choose to slot folk-rock outfit Dawes behind the much more well known and, to be honest, fiery Tedeschi Trucks Band. This thought proved to be somewhat misguided as Dawes, featuring Dickey Betts’ son Duane on lead guitar, delivered a truncated set that aligned much closer with guitar-driven jam band bluster versus the lyrically-driven Laurel Canyon sound the the band is more often associated with.

Nothing would speak more loudly to this directional shift than Dawes’ crowd-pleasing, albeit somewhat by-the-numbers take, on Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts I-V”. It would be remiss of me not to credit Dawes for altering the band’s usual live sound by electing to elevate a musician of Betts’ caliber to the forefront of their performance and for not being afraid to be defined by this transition. Although Betts is currently being billed as a touring member of the band, I seriously doubt I’m the only music fan that hopes his residence in Dawes becomes a more permanent one.

Based on the sheer number of Blackberry Smoke tee shirts I spotted as I roamed throughout the U.S. Cellular Center it certainly seemed the southern rock band’s performance was one that thousands in attendance paid the price of admittance to bare witness to. The band’s set included fan favorites such as “Six Ways To Sunday” and “Sleeping Dog”, which also bridged into a mid-song jam of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come”.  

Haynes would eventually join Blackberry Smoke on stage for an unbuttoned version of “Deep Elem Blues” that, although well received, made me wish he had combined forces with the band for a more upbeat rock guitar oriented number such as Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” or perhaps “Ramble On”.

Already past the midnight hour 70’s radio rock heroes The Doobie Brothers took to the stage next. I’d be lying if I didn’t share the fact that I thought the Doobie’s music may be a bit dated and somewhat out of place at the Christmas Jam. This notion fortunately ended up being a gross miscalculation on my part as the Doobie Brother’s time under the lights ended up being high energy driven and engaging from the first note to the last.

The band’s set list was packed with hits that included “Jesus Is Just Alright”, “China Grove” and “Rocking Down The Highway”.  Haynes would also make an appearance joining the Doobie’s for a surprising take on Sonny Boy Williamson’s blues classic, “Don’t’ Start Me Talkin’”, as well as a lively rendition of the Doobie’s own, “Long Train Runnin'”.

Doobie Brothers - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, NDoobie Brothers - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Asheville, N© Copyright David J. Simchock

Haynes eventually reemerged around 2:00am with his Ashes and Dust Band that includes founding Aquarium Rescue Unit drummer Jeff Sipe and three-piece string ensemble ChessBoxer for the Christmas Jam’s swan song set. 

Some stand-out moments here included the band’s take on Little Feat’s “Skin It Back” that local guitar hero and regular Christmas Jam guest Mike Barnes sat in on, as well as Duane Betts joining Haynes for a cover of the Allman Brothers classic Betts’ father Dickey originally penned, “Blue Sky”.

Ashes and Dust Band - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (AshevillAshes and Dust Band - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Ashevill© Copyright David J. Simchock I also have to give credit here to Haynes for continuing to challenge himself as an artist by choosing to interpret music outside of his typical genre.  A proof point to this thought was Haynes’ brilliant take on Radiohead’s “Karma Police” that also featured a transcendent jam into another track by the British alternative rockers, “Paranoid Android”.

Following over eight hours of continuous music bellowing throughout the bowels of the U.S. Cellular Center Haynes along with Barnes, regional horns player Craig Sorrells, and guitar legend in-the-making 19-year old Marcus King brought closure to the event with a New Orleans inspired take of Garth Brooks’ “Two Of A Kind, Workin’ On A Full House”.

The 27th edition of the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam ultimately delivered where it mattered most. The sold-out musical celebration delighted thousands of fans, the audience was treated to some extraordinary performances and musical collaborations and, most importantly, a deserving charity in Habitat for Humanity will once again be able to make this holiday season a special one for many deserving families.

Ashes and Dust Band - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (AshevillAshes and Dust Band - Warren Haynes Christmas Jam 2015 (Ashevill© Copyright David J. Simchock







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