Wind and rain pelted Asheville, N.C. for the 19th Annual Warren Haynes' Christmas Jam, but fans were lined up around the Asheville Civic Center in droves hours before the scheduled start time of the star-studded benefit concert for Habitat for Humanity.
Warren Haynes started the show by pouring on the "Soulshine" that instantly warmed the last of the chill from the cold dank weather. The Haynes' standard shined brightly with Bruce Hornsby on piano, Danny Louis on keyboards, and a choir aptly named the Habitat Ensemble. Vocalist Mike Farris joined the lush sounding group for a stirring version of "Trouble of the World."
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals laid down thick blues and fiery rock during their set. I had to cut my three-song photo-op short for a rare opportunity to shoot a group photograph of one my favorite bands, Stockholm Syndrome. After the shoot, I slid back into the euphoric crowd as the band was playing "Stop the Bus," an ode to their ill-fated tour bus. I love their album Nothing but the Water, and the band ripped the introductory version of the title track before guitarist Mike Barnes joined the band for "Watching You."
Jerry Joseph and Dave Schools created Stockholm Syndrome a few years back during a Widespread Panic time-out and the album they put out, Holy Happy Hour, is one of my favorites. When I caught the Jerry Joseph Band this summer at B.B. King's in NYC at a post-Panic gig and Dave Schools joined him onstage, a large contingent of the crowd were screaming for the Stockholm scorcher "Empire One." They did not play it that night but unleashed an incredibly high-energy version of the song at Christmas Jam. Guitarist Eric McFadden blew me away. The only player from the original Stockholm lineup not at the Jam was keyboardist Danny Oziuk, who was replaced by another Danny, Gov't Mule's Danny Louis. After the upbeat and a little offbeat "Bouncing Very Well," Warren Haynes joined the group for the only cover tune the band recorded on their album, The Manford Mann's Earth Band classic, "Couldn't Get it Right."
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician Jackson Browne began his set at the grand piano for a mesmerizing version of "The Rebel Jesus." Bernie Worrell and Wally Ingram joined him for a tasty Dylan cover, "Desolation Row" and the powerful anti-war song "Drums of War." Bruce Hornsby took to the grand piano for Browne's 1997 release "The Next Voice You Hear" before Warren Haynes came out for the only big Jackson Browne hit of the set, "Lives in the Balance." Browne closed out the set with Little Steven Van Zandt's "I am a Patriot."
Warren Haynes' announced the next set as "Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers…and me." "Long Valley Road" kicked off the set that saw a slew of guests that included Ron Holloway on sax for "White Wheel Limo," Jackson Browne for "End of Innocence" and Bernie Worrell on keys for "Rainbow's Cadillac." Other highlights of Hornsby's set included a cool treatment of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" and a "Little Drummer Boy" tease."
After a humorous musical interlude by Kevin Kinney, G. Love brought out local Asheville musician Fiddle Dave Muhlerhaler to begin a high-energy, genre-bending set. Jason Isbell added stirring guitar to "Superhero Brother" and "Can't Get Back to Jersey" before Mule bassist Andy Hess and Bernie Worrell joined the lone Special Sauce member, drummer Housemann, and plowed through "Cold Beverages" and "X-Mas Blues." Warren Haynes joined this lineup for the set closer, "Peace, Love and Happiness."
The much-anticipated set by Peter Frampton came next. Gone is the long curly hair of the Seventies, but the now close-cropped white-haired artist still shreds with amazing tenacity and energy. Guitarist Audley Freed, Danny Louis, and Andy Hess anchored the British rocker and they cruised through "Four Day Creep" and "Shotgun." Haynes joined his Gov't Mule band mates for a great version of "I Don't Need No Doctor" that had Haynes and Frampton going toe-to-toe for an incredible guitar duel. A big highlight of the set was Frampton's signature song, "Do You Feel Like I Do," complete with guitar-generated voice box the artist made famous on the huge Frampton Comes Alive album. The set closed out with a brilliant version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
This is Warren Haynes' big gig in his hometown and his band Gov't Mule put the exclamation point on the epic show. The emotion poured out of Haynes during a powerful version of "Beautifully Broken." The band played "I'm a Ram" before a pair of high-energy tunes from the High and Mighty album, "Streamline Woman" and "Mr. High and Mighty," then Haynes welcomed Col. Bruce Hampton, Jason Isbell, and Bernie Worrell to the stage for "Fixin' to Die." Peter Frampton returned for some more explosive jams during "I Believe to My Soul." I love the riffs in "32/20 Blues," and the song was enriched further with Ron Holloway on sax and Mike Barnes on guitar. Audley Freed reemerged for the encore, "Goin' Out West," which closed out the almost eight-hour concert.
Any fan of a great jam should try to make the trek to Asheville for this annual charity event. Warren Haynes and wife Stefani Scarmado are already making plans to make the twentieth edition of the yearly event bigger than ever. If you plan on going, you had better jump on it early as this killer show sells out every year and with the twentieth anniversary concert sure to be huge, tickets will likely go fast.