Twenty-eight years is a long time for anything.
“It amazing to me that it’s still going on,” Warren Haynes said. “It’s getting bigger and better every year, and I don’t think we would have predicted that when we started it years ago.”
While on tour in 2015, Haynes phoned in from Warsaw, Poland, to speak at length about the Christmas Jam, the annual all-day rock-n-roll celebration in Asheville that raises money for the local Habitat for Humanity.
“Somewhere along the line it stopped being a local party and started becoming a national and international party,” Haynes chuckled.
Lead singer/guitarist of rock juggernaut Gov’t Mule, Haynes is known around the world for his solo work atop his endless years on the road as a member of the Allman Brother Band and the Dead. And with all of those renowned stages, acclaimed albums, and rock royalty collaboration, it all began in Western North Carolina for Haynes, who was born and raised in Asheville.
What started out as a small gathering one winter’s night in 1988 at the now-defunct 45 Cherry Club in downtown Asheville has now evolved into a standalone beacon of music, community, and charity each December at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“In the beginning, we gave to a different charity every year, and at some point one of the charities was Habitat,” Haynes said. “We really connected and it clicked. I was very impressed with the organization and decided to continue with them the next year, and then made it a permanent connection.”
Now in its 28th year, Christmas Jam has always been something of a passion and personal project for Haynes, whose musical showcase has led to 33 homes built in Buncombe County.
In 2015, the event handed over a donation of a half-million dollars to Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, the largest to-date from the Christmas Jam. With each home built, Haynes himself personally meets with the families to celebrate and share in their new chapter in life.
“It’s very emotional, and I think we connect more with the whole concept when we meet the families,” he said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to get to know some of these people and see how the Christmas Jam changed their lives for the better. We’re all in this together and we all need to work together.”
And with their latest endeavor, the Christmas Jam and Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity have broken ground on Hudson Hills (named after Haynes’ son), a subdivision in Buncombe that will eventually be the site of 25 homes and families upon completion.
“As an Ashevillian and Western North Carolinian, it’s important to me because this area helped shape who I am—as a person and as a musician,” Haynes said. “On some levels, it’s easier for musicians to give back because we just love doing what we do. But also, it’s important for musicians. Speaking for myself, I’ve been given an opportunity to do what I love every day, which is a huge leg up. For anybody who does something they love for their work, you have to feel lucky, and I do.”