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Published: 2012/12/13
by Dean Budnick

Warren Haynes Talks Christmas Jam (A Look Back)

This year Christmas Jam is back to a one day event. Were the two days last year just a bit too overwhelming?

We always knew two days was going to be overwhelming (laughs). I only did two days for the 20th , knowing we would go back to one day. I wanted the 20th to be a big blowout and it was and I’m really proud of it but I couldn’t imagine doing that every year. It was so much work for everyone involved and it was a wonderful experience and a great way to celebrate the 20th anniversary but the whole time we knew that one day was the way to go.

This year you also have an official house band, the Xmas Jam Band. What are the origins of that?

Well we’ve kind of done this in the past but we’ve never given it a name. It’s a way of getting great musicians together that will back up several different singers or artists. Audley Freed, who’s been a friend for a long long time, has been one of the people spearheading that and he’s doing a really wonderful job. His friend Fred Eltringham is the drummer for the Wallflowers, he came last year and was part of it. And Robert Kearns, who is an old Christmas jam staple and is currently the bass player for Lynyrd Skynrd, is part of it as well.

Then we have this band that we’re putting together behind William Bell, which is going to do a slot of its own. That will be George Porter, Eric Krasno, Adam Deitch and Nigel Hall. So that’s another thing that’s going to be tremendous. This is going to be one of the years that reminds me of the some of the earlier years, when there were a lot of musicians coming together for the first time that are going to create some of the most exciting music of the night, which is truly in the Christmas jam spirit.

If you close your eyes and look back at past Christmas Jams, what is the first moment that pops into your head?

If I had to choose one it would be Ralph Stanley’s performance. Originally his management said he was just going to do one song. Then it was two, then it was three and then I think he did like five. Then he played the banjo which he had not planned to play and had not played in years. It was the only Christmas Jam moment I can remember where every musician was on stage watching. I remember standing next to Jorma and Jack Casady and Casady told me, “I saw the Stanley brothers in 1954…” It was wonderful because every musician on that stage was there to watch Ralph Stanley and nobody was going to miss it. And that’s kind of the way I feel about William Bell’s performance this year.

Then there a couple of the musical moments that I was involved with. One was “All Along The Watchtower” with Gov’t Mule, Dave Matthews and Branford Marsalis. That was completely magical. We did this jazz version that I’m sure Dave Matthews fans were not expecting. Then of course there’s the Allman Brothers doing “Mountain Jam” and Oteil [Burbridge] giving his bass to John Paul Jones as we segued into “Dazed And Confused” and back into “Mountain Jam.” That’s the kind of stuff that happens at Christmas Jam and nowhere else.

You’ve released a couple compilations of those cool Christmas Jam moments. Do you have additional plans there?

Eventually all of them from the past 10 years are going to be out on CD or DVD. The earlier ones we didn’t film, so they’ll only be available on CD but the past 6 or 7 years we’ve been filming. So eventually DVDs or CDs of all the shows from the past 10 years or so will be available. And we’ve been working on some of them as we speak.

Last question. In addition to the Christmas Jam proper there are a series of daytime events. I’m sure you’re swamped on the day of the show but are you ever able to check out some of those?

It’s hard for me because I have so much going on, but a couple years ago Gov’t Mule did a surprise slot at Stella Blue and last year Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi showed up unannounced and that kind of thing happens all the time. I want to check out as much of it is as I can but it’s impossible to see it all.

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