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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."


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