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The Shape I’m In

Warren Haynes Interview

Warren Haynes—Asheville native, guitar legend, member of the Allman Brothers Band and his own Gov’t Mule—is the catalyst behind what has become the hottest ticket on the Asheville music scene: the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam. Having graduated from small local clubs like Be Here Now to the expanse of the Asheville Civic Center, the Christmas Jam has become an annual meeting of some of the biggest names in music. Past participants include Dave Matthews, Ralph Stanley, Trey Anastasio, and Robert Randolph. This year’s eclectic line up is guaranteed to turn heads; joining Haynes will be folk hero Jackson Browne, piano legend Bruce Hornsby, guitar wiz Peter Frampton, up and coming girl rocker Grace Potter, Kevin Kinney, and many more. BRO caught up with Haynes during a stop on his recent Gov’t Mule tour to discuss this month’s festivities.

BRO: The Christmas Jam is approaching its 20th year. Did you imagine that it would become such a phenomenon when you started out?

WH: No, absolutely not. We started it as an opportunity for local musicians to get together and jam. The initial thought was that it would be just for fun, because most of the locals would be gone and missing each other throughout the year. The one time that everybody seemed to be around was around Christmas time. We would go into a small club, charge a small admission price, and whatever money we made would be donated to a charity. Each year grew a little bit more, and we were eventually turning people away. I can remember coming out of Be Here Now and people were lined up around the block trying to get in. The next step ended up being the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, and the first year there we almost sold it out. The second year we turned away 2000 people. At that point we moved it to the Civic Center. It’s really been an organic thing that, in a good way, got out of control.

BRO: The line-up is always full of music’s heavyweights. Does it take a lot of convincing to come down and hang out in Asheville?

WH: It gets easier every year because the event is building its own reputation. Now people know about it and want to be a part of it. The charity aspect is very appealing. Musicians, especially within the circle we run in, like to give back. We feel blessed that we can play music for a living.

BRO: Looking back, do any particularly memorable performances jump out at you?

WH: Dave Matthews’ performance last year was great. The two songs he performed with Gov’t Mule were really exceptional. The Phil Lesh and Friends show was great. We put a band behind Bob Weir one year and that was really cool. What started out as myself and Gregg Allman playing together and eventually turned into the entire Allman Brothers Band, who one by one said they wanted to be there, was really cool. There have been so many amazing performances; it is hard to even have time to recall them all.

BRO: How did you get Habitat for Humanity involved?

WH: In the beginning, we would just pick a charity and give them the small amount of money we raised. We donated money to homeless people, Vietnam Veterans, AIDS victims, just a lot of really great causes. When we stumbled on Habitat, it just made sense. Everything clicked and all the money seemed to be going to where it was supposed to go.

All the artists we talked to were in support of Habitat. We just stayed with them and it’s turned into a really good relationship.

BRO: This year involves the first ever Before the Jam, Lend a Hand Volunteer Week. That looks pretty cool.

WH: We’re just calling on people to get involved in the actual building of the houses. It is amazing how many people are willing to lend a hand. Once you reach out to people and they know the opportunity exists, and you couple that with the fact that everyone needs to be conscious of gradual change, we can speed up that change.

BRO: Are we going to find you out there bending any nails?

WH: It’s a possibility, but I don’t know if I’m the world’s greatest carpenter.

Join Warren and a host of friends at the Asheville Civic Center Arena on December 15th for the 19th Annual Christmas Jam. —Dave Stallard

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