This weekend, in the midst of Asheville’s 15th worst snowstorm on record, Warren Haynes’ customary Christmas Jam was held at the U.S. Cellular Center. Headliners like Gov’t Mule and Trey Anastasio Band drew a sold-out crowd, but it was Haynes’ unannounced three-song acoustic performance with Trey Anastasio that set all forms of social media ablaze. In a thrilling collaboration, the two frontmen took things slow and tugged at the audience’s heartstrings, playing Phish ballad “Miss You,” then the classic Allmans tune “Melissa” before welcoming pianist Holly Bowling to the stage for a reflective, three-piece rendition of the Dead’s “Morning Dew.”
Interestingly, the Haynes/Anastasio version of “Melissa” was not the first of the evening. Earlier, Haynes’ used the Allmans classic as an opener when he briefly sat-in with ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro. Shimabukuro followed that up with a few solo songs including The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Later, Margo Price and Blackberry Smoke did a fine job of keeping the snowy evening full of sunny southern jams. And after a successful summer collaborating Bob Weir, The Avett Brothers opted for a stripped down lineup consisting of only official members Seth and Scott Avett, Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon, instead of the full touring band. They played standby tracks like “Laundry Room,” “Paranoia in B Flat” before joining Warren Haynes in his subsequent solo set for “If We Make It Through December” and “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
The North Carolina crowd may have full of southern rock aficionados, but the Phish fans in attendance anxiously awaited Trey Anastasio and his Classic TAB band, marking their first reunion since 2008. The lineup consisted of group co-founders Anastasio and drummer Russ Lawton, bassist Tony Markellis as well as longtime core member Ray Paczkowski on the keys. The band kept things light opening with “Gotta Jibboo,” and later busted out Marc Ribot’s “Aqui Como Alla,” a song TAB covered regularly in the late ‘90s/early aughts, but hadn’t played since 2001, oddly enough, in North Carolina. Trey and his band ended their set with customary closer “First Tube.”
As expected, there were endless collaborations in the 29th installment of the Christmas Jam, most notably during the Les Bros set. Originally billed to include former ABB members Jaimoe and Jack Pearson, the Les Bros roster was altered in their absence. Haynes was joined by Marc Quiñones, Lamar Williams Jr., Bruce Katz, Paul Riddle and Mule bassist Jorgen Carlsson. (Some fans may recall drummer Paul subbed-in for Jaimoe in the mid ‘90s, including on their Grammy-winning version of “Jessica.”) Skilled improvisor Mike Barnes added additional guitar on the Allman’s standby “In Memory Elizabeth Reed” as well as “Southbound” which also featured Brandon “Taz” Niederauer on guitar and Craig Sorrels on trumpet. Blackberry Smoke’s Charlie Starr then joined in for “Blue Sky” and Marcus King lended a hand on “Dreams” as well as the finale of “Whipping Post.”
Gov’t Mule closed out the evening with Ann Wilson, marking their second collaboration since their initial meeting at the Lockn’ Festival this summer. Wilson had no trouble singing Led Zeppelin bangers like “Black Dog” and “Immigrant Song,” and later dove into the Heart classic “Magic Man,” her voice sounding as good as when she recorded it in 1975. As the clock ticked into the early morning hours, Gov’t Mule closed out this year’s Christmas Jam with the self-referential, 1995 track “Mule.” And despite some hazardous weather, it was one hell of a Christmas Party.