Blog :: 12-2013

After 25-plus years, Christmas Jam rocks on


From: Asheville SCENE

Tony Kiss - Asheville Citizen Times


Warren Haynes will again host his popular Christmas Jam which is expanding to two nights this year in honor of its 25 year run. / John Coutlakis/

Warren Haynes will again host his popular Christmas Jam which is expanding to two nights this year in honor of its 25 year run. / John Coutlakis/

ASHEVILLE -- In a year that saw the demise of such long-running entertainment events as the Bele Chere festival, the iconic Warren Haynes Christmas Jam is stronger than ever.

Every ticket is sold for this year's two-night jam, Friday-Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center arena. That's about 7,200 admissions each night. Hundreds more will crowd three local music rooms for Jam by Day shows, for which tickets are still available. It all benefits Habitat for Humanity, which has received $1.3 million from the concerts.

As usual, Haynes and unannounced guests will also play the annual pre-jam radio concert on WNCW-FM, starting at 6 p.m Thursday broadcast from The Orange Peel.

The main arena concerts are loaded with A-list talent from Phil Lesh to Widespread Panic, Gregg Allman, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, John Scofield and many more. "I feel really confident that this is the strongest lineup that we have had," said Haynes, a Grammy-winning blues rock guitarist who grew up here. Haynes will perform with his blues rock band Gov't Mule.

"It's a great opportunity to raise money for the cause," he said.

Haynes will be home early this week to attend a Thursday christening of the 2013 Christmas Jam House at Habitat's Swannanoa neighborhood and to celebrate volunteers who have worked at the site.

The Jam's gift to Habitat "has not only built houses, it has changed lives," Habitat spokesman Ariane Kjellquist said. "Home ownership positively impacts the current generation as well as future generations, and Habitat is eternally grateful" for the support, she said.

The jam -- which expands to two nights this year in honor of its 25th anniversary -- actually began Dec. 22, 1988, at the old 45 Cherry nightclub on Cherry Street, where local rockers gathered to play and celebrate the season. The Christmas Jam, as the show was called then, featured such local acts as Crystal Zoo and the McBad Brothers.

"We were trying to get everyone together and play music and hang out at the only time when all the musicians were in town," Haynes said. "It was a very unpretentious event."

Guitarist Rick Phillips was part of the debut jam. "I didn't know who would show up that night," he said. "But everyone found out about it." He has continued the original tradition with the Hometown Holiday Jam, which will be presented Wednesday at The Orange Peel.

Mike Barnes also played that first jam and has appeared at almost every Haynes since and also performs at the Hometown Holiday Jam. Barnes and Haynes are lifelong friends.

"Man, that was so long ago," he said. "I would have never imagined where Warren's career would take him, or that (the jam) would be as big as it is now. I just knew that we would always get together around Christmas to play. I'm blessed and flattered that he has asked me to be part of it every year."

The jam quickly outgrew 45 Cherry, then moved to a spot on Lexington Avenue, then to the Be Here Now music hall on Biltmore Avenue, then to Thomas Wolfe Auditorium and finally the arena.

Haynes has brushed aside suggestions that it move to a bigger city and a larger venue, preferring to keep this an Asheville event.

Producing the Christmas Jam involves preparation for much of the year. Haynes reaches out to musicians he has met about playing and schedules are juggled to make it all work.

The days of the concerts "are the busiest days of the year for me," Haynes said. "They start early and go late. But it's all cool, it's all part of the overall experience. I enjoy the opportunity to do it."


Asheville jobless rate hits 5-year-low

By:  Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen-Times


The Asheville metro boasted the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 5.6 percent in October -- the region's best showing in five years.

The metro area posted 5.8 percent unemployment in September, a drop from 7.0 percent for the area a year ago, according to datareleased Thursday by the N.C. Commerce Department.

The four-county area of Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties has added 4,500 jobs in the past year, with the labor market growing at a 2.6 percent annualized clip.

"That's well above our normal historic rate of about 1.5 percent," said Tom Tveidt, an independent analyst with SYNEVA Economics.

The region's workforce reached 178,000 in October, just 400 jobs shy of the peak in October 2007, before the Great Recession.

The Asheville area leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants and hotels, added the bulk of those new jobs, with an estimated 2,200 positions in the past 12 months, growing at a 9.2 percent annual rate.

The tourism industry has reached a record as part of the local economy with 26,000 positions. Retail still leads in the metro with 34,600 workers, closely followed by the 33,800 workers in health care. Manufacturing, which still pays the highest wages on average, remained flat at about 18,000 workers.

Polk County boasted Western North Carolina's lowest jobless rate at 5.2 percent in October. At 5.5 percent, Buncombe and Henderson county shared in some the state's lowest jobless figures. Chatham County had the state's lowest rate at 4.7 percent.

Graham and Swain counties saw unemployment rates actually go up from September to October. Graham's jobless rate was 11.5 percent, up from 11.4 percent, while Swain's unemployment went from 8.3 percent to 9.3 percent.

Statewide, North Carolina saw unemployment drop to 8 percent in October, the lowest rate of joblessness in five years.

The local jobs reports for September and October were delayed with this fall's federal government shutdown, which delayed research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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