By Caleb Calhoun
The 2016 edition of Christmas Jam started a little slowly, or, maybe to say it better, calmly. Holly Bowling, one of the brightest star of the evening, played an invocation of “That’s it for the Other One,” something we perhaps should have taken as a sign of the heat that would be coming from the stage in just a few short hours. After a pair of solo-songs by legend and Christmas Jam figurehead Warren Haynes, Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss took the stage to kick off the first full set of music.
The venue was already packed but the crowd at this point was composed, in large part, of families. Many parents had brought their young children and Johnson and Krauss played a beautiful, family friendly set, accentuated by a moving version of “Nothing at All.”
Bowling played beautifully through the set break and the vibe of the crowd was changing. George Porter Jr. was up next and the air was heavy with anticipation. Folks were ready to dance.
Porter came out strong in bluesy, dark New Orleans fashion. By the time Weir slipped out onto the stage alongside him, he already had us in the palm of his hand. The two stuck with a Big Easy vibe, playing a soulful version of “Sugaree” that must have lasted at least 11 minutes. From there, they lit into a foot-stomping romp of “Aiko Aiko,” bringing just about everyone to their feet and eliciting a collective “Hey Now” echo 8,000 voices strong.
After another set break during which Holly Bowling made it seem sacrilegious to leave for a beer, Michael McDonald and his buttery smooth voice took the stage. Jean jackets and bob haircuts seemed to materialize out of nowhere. This was late- a late-80’s rocker crowd, for sure.
As McDonald finished, it was a safe bet that this would be a long set break. It was nearing 10 p.m. and it was time for the second part of the evening to commence. Bob Weir was on deck, with shenanigans planned that we never could have dreamed of.
And come to think of it, where was Holly Bowling?
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.
You can reach him at Caleb.firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Facebook.com/GonzoNC.