12.02.14 Warren Haynes Talks Christmas Jam, New Year’s and 20 Years of Gov’t Mule
Warren Haynes has had a busy year to say the least. The 54-year-old guitarist has spent much of 2014 celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his band Gov’t Mule with a tour that has crisscrossed the U.S. and hit the UK, Europe, Australia and Japan. In between touring with Mule, Haynes also managed to close the book on another little band he’s been a part of for decades, the Allman Brothers, with a run of shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York that concluded with the legendary band’s final show on October 28th.
Even after the unfortunate and unexpected passing of his longtime guitar tech Brian Farmer in August, Haynes has stayed busy and will continue that way right up to New Year’s Eve when he returns to the Beacon Theatre for a two-night run with Gov’t Mule. On December 13th he will be throwing the 26th edition of his annual Christmas Jam in his hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, an all star charity concert benefiting the local Habitat for Humanity. This year’s eclectic lineup features acts like Jason Isbell, Hard Working Americans, Vince Gill, and the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann among many others.
Recently Warren Haynes took a break from his busy schedule to chat about the Christmas Jam, Gov’t Mule’s upcoming archival releases, their plans for New Year’s, and what he has in the pipeline for what promises to be yet another highly productive year.
This year is the 26th annual Christmas Jam in Asheville. What role did you play in putting together this year’s lineup and how did you choose the acts?
Every year we have a team of people that work together in coordinating the lineup. We start at least six months in advance making phone calls, because it’s mostly through personal relationships how the lineup gets put together. It’s a very sensitive time of year, so we know that even though we start early some people’s schedules are going to change. Someone who thinks they might be available might become unavailable so it’s constantly changing right up until the last minute.
With so many artists and plenty of sit-ins and major collaborations going down, how do rehearsals work for the jam?
The night before the actual Christmas Jam, which is at the Asheville Civic Center on Saturday we take over the Orange Peel – which is a thousand seat club – and we do a live radio broadcast for WNCW, the public station. It’s very loose and representative of the spirit of the Christmas Jam. Most artists and musicians come a day early and are part of the Orange Peel show as well, and a lot of ideas for collaborations come from hanging out there. Of course, we have a rehearsal area set up at the Civic Center, but a lot of them just take place impromptu with no rehearsal and that’s part of the beauty of it I think.
That’s crazy to hear just because there are so many different artists. How much of your personal taste goes into the lineup?
I think pretty much every lineup reflects my personal taste, which is extremely varied. I listen to all genres of music and I think my vision of the concept of the Christmas Jam as well as the people that help put it all together, I think we all feel that it has a better flow if it has a lot of different musical directions. It’s such a long show that if it were all bands and artists that were similar than it would probably start to get a little too much the same. The fact that it has as much variety as it does keeps it fresh and flowing throughout the long evening.
How long does the show typically run for?
It starts at 7PM and the latest we’ve gone is 4:20 in the morning. We try not to go that late but it has built up some sort of reputation for being a late nighter, but I don’t like to keep people up that late if we can avoid it.
Mule has a handful of archival releases coming for the 20th anniversary. There are obviously tons of shows and recordings to choose from. How did you narrow it down?
Well we wanted to do something fun to celebrate the 20th anniversary. Several of these shows have been in the can for a long time and we’ve always wanted to find the right time to release them. The SCO-MULE record we’ve been sitting on since the late 90s. The New Year’s show that we’re calling Dub Side of the Mule was one of those marathon shows that went over four hours, over an hour with Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals and special appearances by Gregg Allman and John Popper. That was a really magical night. And obviously what we’re calling Dark Side of the Mule was one of the Halloween shows where we do a thematic show, which we’ve done for close to a decade now. That year the theme was Pink Floyd music and we filmed that show because we incorporated a laser light show and quad surround sound and three female background singers – two of which actually toured with Pink Floyd – and our friend Ron Holloway playing saxophone. The other one, which we’re calling Stoned Side of the Mule, we’re doing for Record Store Day and it’s vinyl only. That’s from our Halloween show where we did ninety minutes of Rolling Stones music, and we’re breaking it up into two volumes.