Christmas came early to Asheville, NC on Saturday with the highly anticipated return of Christmas Jam. The 2022 edition of Christmas Jam saw Asheville native Warren Haynes deliver a diverse lineup including Phil Lesh & FriendsTyler Childers, Haynes’ own Gov’t MuleBrothers OsborneDinosaur Jr., and more to the Arena for a marathon evening that stretched past 2 a.m. the following morning.

“We’re back, yes we are,” Haynes said following a brief pallette-cleansing acoustic set from Scott Metzger and Katie Jacoby that opened the show. “I’m sure we all feel the same way. I’m really glad to be back here. Not sure what we call this one, cause the last one was the 30th then we skipped a few.”

While, by definition, Christmas Jam is a jam-focused event, there were outliers at either end of the spectrum for the 31st edition of the benefit for Asheville Area Habitat For Humanity and BeLoved Asheville. On one end there was the heavy-hitting alternative power trio Dinosaur Jr. who kicked off the evening proper with a truncated 30-minute performance. J. MascisLou Barlow, and Murph wasted no time as they rifled through ’90s favorites like “Get Me” and “Start Choppin'”, with the band’s spastically gyrating enthusiasts outing themselves on the floor among the stoic Tyler Childers fans.

On the other end of the spectrum was Nashville country outfit Brothers Osborne. Straddling the line between country and Southern rock, the roaring live band led by brothers John and T.J. Osborne connected thematically to later performers Gov’t Mule and Tyler Childers, highlighting the diverse musical connections that Haynes has made a focal point of Christmas Jam.

While the previous artists had been forcibly squeezed—by necessity—into 30–45 minute sets, Gov’t Mule’s performance midway through the evening was the first time that a band seemed to get comfortable on stage. Perhaps considering it was Warren’s party, the guitarist along with his bandmates Matt Abts and Jorgen Carlsson stretched out with trio takes on “Mule” and “Temporary Saint” as keyboardist Danny Louis was forced to sit out the event.

Rob Barraco served as the first special guest of the evening, with the frequent Phil Lesh collaborator and Dark Star Orchestra member becoming a permanent fixture throughout the evening. Guests continued to pile onstage during Mule’s performance, with longtime Christmas Jam veteran Audley Freed joining in ahead of stints by George Porter Jr.Robert Kearns, Mike Barnes, and Asheville local Jeff Sipe.

During Mule’s performance, Haynes seemed generally fatigued at times, which—coupled with a lingering cough—supported pre-show rumors that the guitarist was suffering from the flu. After three years away, Haynes played through the pain like Michael Jordan in game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, with the 62-year-old guitarist at times leaning on his cavalcade of special guests for musical support. Regardless of the circumstances that brought it about, this gave many the opportunity to shine, including Katie Jacoby who set her violin ablaze with her solo on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young‘s “I Almost Cut My Hair”. In the end, however, Haynes still delivered as he closed Mule’s set with a triumphant “Blue Sky”.

Gov’t Mule, Scott Metzger, Katie Jacoby, Robert Kearns, Rob Barraco – “I Almost Cut My Hair” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) – 12/10/22

[Video: sgibson818]

Ever since returning from COVID lockdowns with his newfound sobriety, Tyler Childers has continued to redefine himself as both a recording artist and a live performer. Prior to putting out a three-part gospel album, Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven?, Childers scrubbed his setlists of many of his most popular songs like “Feathered Indians”, “Whitehouse Road”, and “Nose To The Grindstone”. In their place, he has substituted songs by Kenny RogersCharlie Daniels, and, in Asheville, Charley Crockett.

In one of his boldest new experiments, Childers manipulated sound as he introduced his band, with his words echoing off the arena’s back wall before he was even done saying them. While Childers loves to have a good bit of fun with both his tight backing band, The Food Stamps, and the audience, he was still sure to deliver favorites like a set-closing solo rendition of “Lady May” that brought the entire room together.

Tyler Childers – Band Intros, “Tom Turkey” (Charley Crockett) – 12/10/22

[Video: Holler Sounds]

After everyone had a chance to dry their eyes, the main event arrived with a performance from Phil Lesh & Friends. In his later years, the 82-year-old bassist has resisted touring and instead opted for residencies at The Capitol Theatre in New York and sparing gigs along the West Coast. Hence, it is a special treat to see him somewhere like Asheville, NC.

The energy the Grateful Dead bassist has saved served him well on Saturday as he led his Friends Haynes, Barraco (who replaced John Medeski on the original lineup), John Scofield, and John Molo through a marathon performance. Though Haynes seemed to waver at times during Mule’s set, he was fully present during the Phil & Friends set, effortlessly conversing with Scofield in musical dialogue.

Fittingly beginning with “In The Midnight Hour”, followed by the more obscure “Mason’s Children”, the ensemble delivered Grateful Dead favorites for the late-night lingerers like “Brown Eyed Women” and “Shakedown Street”. Once again, Barraco set himself apart as a breakout star, particularly when taking vocals on a swooning cover of The Beatles‘ “I Am The Walrus”.

Haynes took the spotlight for the destructively tender “Morning Dew” as the musicians showed no signs of stopping, moving into deeper improvisational waters with “Eyes of the World”, Miles Davis‘ “So What”, and a pairing of “Help On The Way” and “Slipknot!”. The musical centerpiece came late in the game with the Terrapin Station suite before Phil Lesh triumphantly closed the show with a singalong “Box of Rain” as the clock struck 2:30 a.m.

Phil Lesh & Friends – Arena – Asheville, NC – 12/10/22 – Full Audio

[Audio: JT/NY]

In all, Christmas Jam 2022 represented the cathartic return of one of the Western North Carolina music hub’s most hallowed traditions. After three years away, Haynes and company delivered musical stocking stuffers with the old guard of iconic musicians taking their place alongside the emerging stars that will carry the next generation. The lucky 7,000-something that attended this year’s sold-out Christmas party surely got everything on their lists. Now we all just need to be good until next year’s lineup is announced.

Check out some photos from Christmas Jam courtesy of photographers Michael Weintrob and Steve Atkins.

Gov’t Mule, Rob Barraco, Robert Kearns, John Osborne – “Blue Sky” (Allman Brothers Band) – 12/10/22

Warren Haynes, George Porter Jr., Jeff Sipe, Rob Barraco, Mike Barnes – “Sailin’ Shoes” (Little Feat) – 12/10/22

[Video: Richard Vining]

Warren Haynes, George Porter Jr., Jeff Sipe, Rob Barraco, Mike Barnes – “Hey Pocky A-Way” – 12/10/22

[Video: Richard Vining]

Tyler Childers, Warren Haynes – “Trudy” (Charlie Daniels Band) – 12/10/22

[Video: Holler Sounds]

Phil Lesh & Friends – “Brown Eyed Women” – 12/10/22

[Video: Cocktails]

Phil Lesh & Friends – “Morning Dew” (Bonnie Dobson) – 12/10/22

[Video: Richard Vining]

View Videos