Image 3. Underhill Rose performs at Jack of the Wood on Friday, Dec. 14.
It all began as a gathering of local musicians who wanted to help Asheville community charities. Now, most know the event simply as Christmas Jam. Presented by Asheville's prodigal son, Warren Haynes, the ever-developing festival is now in its 24th year, and encompasses three days of concerts, art shows and, of course, jams.
This annual Habitat For Humanity benefit concert has become a convergence of music's biggest names, including Sheryl Crow and String Cheese Incident this year. And there are a few other acts that might be familiar for different reasons — they live here. The Jam By Day segment has become a kind of local showcase.
“We've been trying to figure out ways of bringing the local and regional aspect back to the overall picture,” Haynes says. “One of the ways is by having the [Jam] By Day stuff and the other events that are going on. The Asheville area has so much amazing music these days, it's kind of cool to tap into some of that.”
Kevn Kinney will mine that talent at this year's All Star Acoustic Jam, a two-night songwriter circle at Jack of the Wood beginning at noon on Friday, Dec. 14 and Saturday, Dec. 15. “This time around, I just wanted local acts. People who live in and around the area,” Kinney tells Xpress from his home. “I want this to be their thing.”
Kinney, a New York-based singer/songwriter and member of Drivin' n' Cryin,’ has been a part of Christmas Jam for about 20 years. Kinney hopes to infuse the smaller Acoustic Jam with the same free-flowing, creative and spontaneous vibe for which the main event is so well known.
Each act will perform three to four songs with Kinney as impresario. “This lineup is a great opportunity for someone who's not familiar with the Asheville folk or singer/songwriter scene to get caught up real quick,” says Kinney.
Currently, the Friday schedule includes Shane Pruitt, Pierce Edens, Lyric, David Earl, Josh Blake, Erika Ferraby, Leigh Glass, Moses Atwood, Underhill Rose and Ray Sisk.
Asheville country/soul trio Underhill Rose was added to the lineup just recently, on Dec. 1. This will be the band's first Christmas Jam-related event. "We're honored and can't wait to get on stage with so many great local acts," says the band’s upright bassist and singer Salley Williamson. "We'll definitely pull out some of our new material."
Jack of the Wood won't be the only place keeping it local. Beginning at noon on Dec. 15, the Emerald Lounge on Lexington Avenue will host Velvet Truckstop, Jeff Santiago and Delicious, along with Simo and New York-based The Folkadelics.
Santiago, an Asheville singer/songwriter, values Haynes’ inclusion of locals, and sees the guitarist as a strong model for community arts. “Warren Haynes is an example of what one can build through their music, not only for a great career but for a way to give back to the community from which he came,” Santiago says. “Local musicians, I believe, take great pride in being part of this vibrant Asheville music scene,” Santiago says. “I think Warren is paving a path for locals by getting us involved. And we're able to offer something to the event as a whole.”
Today's Christmas Jam may be an almost stadium-scale symposium of marquee names, but at root, it is a local benefit. According to the festival's website, "Christmas Jam started 24 years ago as an opportunity for local musicians to jam at the one time of year they were all in town at the same time.” The stage lights may be brighter, but they still shine on Asheville's vibrant music community.
Concert proceeds go to Habitat For Humanity, building the community by helping construct homes in Asheville. “Habitat became appealing because, for me, I can see where the money is going,” says Haynes. “I can look at the houses and say, ‘this is what we've accomplished with all of the help of these amazing musicians and artists, this is what we've done.’"
As usual, the Xmas Jam is sold out. But for the first time in its decades-long history, the event will be broadcast on live-music station AXS TV. Check your provider for the channel number.
If you didn’t get tickets, don’t despair. The Jam by Day events at Asheville Music Hall, Emerald Lounge and Jack of the Wood offer a chance to get in on the action. Act fast, though, because no advance tickets will be sold for those events. We recommend you come early to the venues.
Also, stay tuned to WNCW 88.7 FM on Friday night and catch the pre-Jam event broadcast live from The Orange Peel. The event is for VIP ticket holders and features musicians from the Jam.