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Christmas Jam jolts Asheville with hot blues-rock and more

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12/12/2011 - Christmas Jam jolts Asheville with hot blues-rock and more
by Tony Kiss - Asheville Citizen Times

Warren Haynes opens the Christmas Jam at the Asheville Civic Center Saturday. John Coutlakis/special 12-10-11

Warren Haynes opens the Christmas Jam at the Asheville Civic Center Saturday. John Coutlakis/special 12-10-11 / John Coutlakis/Special/jcoutlakis@citizen-times.c

ASHEVILLE -- The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam has always had its share of die-hard fans, some who travel great distances and do whatever it takes to get the best spots to watch the show.

 And so it was really no surprise that some gathered outside the Asheville Civic Center early Saturday hours before the sold-out concert started. 

 John Reiches and June Streisand of New Rochelle N.Y., were at the Civic Center by 9 a.m. Saturday. "We went from New Rochelle to Florida on vacation and then came here for the show," he said. "I like to get a good place on the (front) railing," he said. To complete their jam experience, they also attended Friday night's pre-jam concert at at The Orange Peel. Since the pre-jam was open only to supporters of public radio station WNCW-FM, they made a contribution to get tickets. "I was glad we did that," he said. 

 "I love Warren," said Streisand. "We have been all over the country to see him." In January, they head to Jamaica to join Haynes and Gov't Mule on the Island Exodus cruise. "It's called retirement," she said. "That's how we can be so dedicated." 

 Todd Dalton of Charlotte was also waiting near the Civic Center entrance. "I like to be up front," he said. "They open the doors, they do the (security) search and then you run (for the stage,)" he said. "Mule fans are some of the best people on the planet. We call ourselves 'famuley.'" Dalton said he's has seen Haynes play probably 65-70 times." 

Saja Stark arrived at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for her first Christmas Jam. "I want to get really good pictures," she said. "This is totally worth it."

They were among 7,000 plus rockers who rolled into Asheville Saturday for the sold-out jam, one of the city's biggest annual music events. The show featured a long and scorching night of blues, rock and more by Haynes and the Music, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, Los Lobos, Bela Fleck and more.

The show began just after 7 p.m. with a solo acoustic guitar tune by Haynes, who greeted the crowd with a "Hey, how are you guys doing?" That gave way to the Christmas Jam Family Band, a lineup that included Kevn Kinney, Mike Barnes and Jackie Green. Haynes promised the crowd "a long show" and that is traditionally the case, with the jam usually continuing into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

The scene mixed holiday cheer with rock festival sensibilities. Some fans wore Santa hats, others donned reindeer horns, and one dude was spotted in a full-blown Santa suit. Many lined up to buy $2 wristbands required to purchase $6 draft beers. Others purchased official jam memorabilia including a $60 hooded sweatshirt, or a green and white Warren Haynes Drive street sign.

Concert proceeds go to the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity for the construction of affordable housing. Not counting this year's box office, the jam has donated $950,000 to Habitat which has built 17 houses with the money.

Haynes, an Asheville native and Grammy-winning blues guitar star who also plays with the Allman Brothers Band, began the jam in 1988 at the old 45 Cherry nightclub, long demolished, which stood across Interstate 240 from the Civic Center. In the show's early days, it was strictly a hometown affair, pulling a few hundred fans for a show featuring Asheville rock stars.

As Haynes career grew larger, he began inviting national stars to the jam, and it eventually moved into the Civic Center arena where it almost always sells out.

The concert also also become an economic engine, pulling big crowds downtown. On Saturday afternoon, such spots as the Lexington Avenue Brewery and the Asheville Music Hall were packed for Jam by Day concerts and big crowds also crunched into the Bier Garden on Haywood Street, just down from the show.

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