By Caleb Calhoun
Since it’s inception 27 years ago, Christmas Jam has found it’s way into the heart and soul of Asheville’s holiday festivities. Headlined and championed by Gov’t Mule frontman Warren Haynes, the mini-festival has consistently drawn some of the biggest names in music to our little mountain metropolis over the years. In the process, it has put roofs over the heads of more than 40 deserving local families through its support of the Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity.
With yet another all-star lineup that includes Haynes, Bob Weir (The Grateful Dead, Ratdog, Dead and Company) Michael McDonald (formerly of The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan), Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, and George Porter Jr. among others, the US Cellular Center will be packed with talent once again this weekend.
The Jam crew is also giving us a little something special this year. Nearly 40 years to the month that The Band performed their last concert (Nov 25, 1976) Warren Haynes’ supergroup, The Last Waltz Band, will be playing songs from that show. While they do plan to take their act on the road in January, this will be only the second time that they have performed together, the first being a pair of shows that sold out almost instantly during Jazzfest in New Orleans this year.
The exact lineup is unknown but it has been announced that the group will definitely include Haynes, Michael McDonald, bassist Don Was, Jamey Johnson, drummer Terence Higgins, and keyboardist John Medeski. In addition, the original Last Waltz in ’76 featured horn arrangements from New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, making it seem inevitable that George Porter Jr. and Branford Marsalis will at some point share the stage as well.
Those who have seen Martin Scorsese’s documentary of the ’76 show (by the same name) will know that Christmas Jam is perhaps the most perfect vehicle ever invented for this act. The original Last Waltz was beyond a star-studded affair. With appearances by musicians such as Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Dr. John, Van Morrison and others, the precedent is set for gratuitous guest appearances. What better opportunity could there be than a concert where Weir, Krauss, McDonald, Duane Trucks, Jeff Sipe, Holly Bowling, Marcus King, and Steve Kimock are waiting in the wings.
Yet, amongst all the revelry and around all of the fun, it’s important to remember the true reason for this extravaganza. This party isn’t about the musicians getting to play and hang out together. It isn’t about the fans leaving it all on the dance floor. It’s not about the tickets sold or the merch moved.
It’s about providing safe, comfortable housing health for families that can’t afford it without the assistance provided by our local Habitat chapter.
So when you get thirsty, buy another beer. We’re going to party like Sunday isn’t coming and we’re going to do it for a good cause. Could we ask for anything more?
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.