Christmas Jam held in Asheville, N.C. in 2022
Josh Brick

Brothers Osborne, Tyler Childers + More Perform at Asheville's 2022 Christmas Jam [Photos]

Following a four year hiatus that saw it take a one year "pause" in 2019 and an unplanned two year break in the couple years after due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the streets of downtown Asheville, North Carolina were again abuzz this past weekend for local guitar hero Warren Haynes' annual Christmas Jam.

Taking place at the Harrah's Cherokee Center (formerly the Asheville Civic Center and U.S. Cellular Center) since 2001 after hopping between various venues in town after its inception in 1988, the event has become as much of a holiday tradition in Western North Carolina as mistletoe, egg nog or going to see The Nutcracker. Add in the Jam's philanthropic arm (its partnered with Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity to build over 40 houses and raise over $2.7 million since 1998) and its knack for surprise guests and collaborations, and it's easy to see why the event has been a holiday staple in the area for over 30 years. 

This year's 31st edition of the event was no exception as the worlds of country and jam music collided with former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, Tyler Childers, Brothers Osborne and Dinosaur Jr., among others. However, it was the hometown hero Haynes who was most often in the spotlight, whether it be introducing the night's various acts to playing with them and fronting his own group, Gov't Mule.

Performing on the main stage between sets from Brothers Osborne and Childers, Gov't Mule began as the power trio of Haynes, Matt Abts (drums) and Jorgen Carlsson (bass) in a nod to its early years with songs "Mule" and "Temporary Saint" from the band's self-titled 1995 debut. From there on the revolving door of special guests commenced, first with Dark Star Orchestra pianist Rob Barraco to make a foursome on "Banks Of The Deep End." 

Gov't Mule, Warren Haynes, Christmas Jam

Josh Brick

With Barraco staying on for the remaining songs, former Black Crowes guitarist and frequent Christmas Jam guest Audley Freed took the stage for a cover of the Crowes' "Sometimes Salvation" and Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City." Haynes then brought out fellow Ashevillian Mike Barnes, former Aquarium Rescue Unit and Leftover Salmon drummer Jeff Sipe and The Meters' bassist George Porter Jr. on funkified covers of Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes" and The Meters' "Hey Pocky A-Way." Joe Russo's Almost Dead guitarist Scott Metzger and The Who violinist Katie Jacoby—both frequent guests and side stage performers throughout the night—then came on for a rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Almost Cut My Hair" before yielding to Brothers Osborne co-founder John Osborne for The Allman Brothers Band's "Blue Sky."

Warren Haynes, Phil Lesh, Christmas Jam

Josh Brick

Additionally, Haynes also joined Phil Lesh & Friends for the entirety of their set alongside revered jam and jazz guitarist John Scofield, Barraco and drummer John Molo. Amongst a setlist of choice cuts from The Grateful Dead like "Brown-Eyed Women," "Shakedown Street" and "Eyes Of The World" were strung-out epics such as The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus" and Miles Davis' "So What," each with Lesh, 82, showing exceptional vocal range and stage presence for his age.

Haynes also made several single song sit-ins during the over six hour-long show including with Brothers Osborne (during a mini side stage set) on The Allman Brothers Band's "Sweet Melissa" and with Tyler Childers on the Charlie Daniels Band's "Trudy."

Warren Haynes, Tyler Childers, Christmas Jam

Josh Brick

Speaking of Childers, the Kentucky bred country star received one of the night's biggest ovations upon his return to Asheville and the Harrah's Cherokee Center for the first time since bringing his co-headlining tour with Sturgill Simpson there in February 2020. 

Beginning with "Country Squire," Childers catalog spanning set saw performances of "Honky Tonk Flame," "Universal Sound" and a solo "Lady May" set closer from 2017's Purgatory along with "Way Of The Triune God" and "Heart You've Been Tendin' from his latest gospel-fueled effort Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven? Besides "Trudy," covers of Kenny Rogers' "Tulsa Turnaround" and Charley Crockett's Bob Dylan adaptation "Turkey Tom," the latter of which he introduced as one of his newborn son's favorite songs to hear him sing when he's having a tantrum, made appearances as well.

The night's other bonafide country act, Brothers Osborne, also was a big hit with the Christmas Jam crowd with their dynamic blend of country and rock. T.J. Osborne commented throughout the band's performances about his glee of not only getting to attend his first Christmas Jam, but to play it as well as the band tore through songs like "Skeletons," "Headstone," "Dead Man's Curve" and Shane McAnally co-write "Stay A Little Longer."

Brothers Osborne, Christmas Jam

Josh Brick

The band later performed a mini side stage set between Gov't Mule and Childers that saw T.J. Osborne don a Santa Claus outfit and included the aforementioned cover of "Sweet Melissa" along with Willie Nelson's Johnny Bush-penned hit "Whiskey River" and The Band's "The Shape I'm in" that featured a sit-in from Freed.

An equally important element of Christmas Jam are its Friday night Pre-Jam concert at downtown Asheville venue The Orange Peel that featured Haynes and other special guests in addition to Jam By Day festivities beginning at noon on Saturday at multiple venues. Full bands ranging from the jam sounds of the Mike Barnes Band and Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats took over the Asheville Music Hall as bluegrass and other bands such as Bobby Miller & The Virginia Daredevils and Abby Bryant & The Echoes bopped down below at The One Stop.

Warren Haynes, Christmas Jam

Josh Brick

Meanwhile, a more intimate vibe could be felt down the road at cozy bar, restaurant and venue Jack Of The Wood, where five singer-songwriter rounds rotated on and off the stage throughout the afternoon. Among the performers, songwriters like Cam Stack and Justin Clyde Williams impressed with their humble lyrics and witty banter. Other highlights included the Chris Stapleton-esque vocal gymnastics of Aaron "Woody" Wood, the vibrant songwriting of Ed Jurdi, a founding member of The Band Of Heathens that previewed new music with songs like "Stormy Weather."

The epic Christmas Jam comeback was one that was well worth the four year wait, but thankfully fans won't have to wait that long for it to take place again. Haynes has already hinted that the event will return again in 2023.

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