If Warren Haynes had only ever played in the Allman Brothers band and The Grateful Dead, two of the biggest bands on the ‘live’ circuit, I believe he’d still be an iconic presence on the US music scene. Warren can be considered a cornerstone of US music and his signature guitar sound was an integral feature of the Allman’s sound and also of Govt Mule, a Southern rock jam band he helped start in the early nineties, as well as being an artist in his own right, for which he can point to a lengthy track record of well-received solo work across the scene. But as good as he is, he owes his success to many of the people he’s worked with down the years, several of whom make stellar contributions to the music at this event.
The performances on Vol20 were taken from the 30th anniversary shows in 2018. Warren Haynes began staging these concerts, which have since become a tradition in Ashville, NC, in 1988, with the idea being musicians giving something back to the community rather than just celebrating Christmas, and also raising funds, and since then something like $2.5 million has been raised for local causes.
This benefit concert is spread across 3CDs and features several iconic artists, such as Dave Grohl, Govt Mule, Grace Potter, Eric Church and Joe Bonamassa, amongst others, either performing their own songs or songs made famous by other artists. The beauty of many of these impromptu collaborations is there were usually no rehearsals beforehand; artists would team up and perform spontaneously, often with electrifying outcomes.
The first disc focuses mainly on country acts, with Mike Gordon giving a faithful rendition of Aerosmith’s ‘Sweet Emotion‘, and Eric Church performing his hit ‘Record Year’, before giving us fine versions of The Allman Brothers’ ‘Ain’t Wasting No More Time’ and also ‘The Weight‘.
Though if it’s rock with a bluesy tinge you’re after, disc two has plenty of it. Joe Bonamassa kicks off with ‘Spanish Boots’ and follows this with blues classic ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’, with Joe performing some superlative guitar licks. Govt Mule rock up with their own ‘Revolution Come, Revolution Go’ and ‘Million Miles From Yesterday’, both powerful rock outs featuring special guest Dave Grohl, before Grohl himself steps up to the plate to perform Play, a 36-minute piece with lots of stop-start and fast-slow playing which, towards the end, becomes more of an endurance test. The side finishes with a 14-minute version of Neil Young’s classic ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’, which evolves into a lengthy jam. Neil & Crazy Horse often extended this song onstage but it never ran this long.
Disc three sees several acoustic performances, with Haynes performing largely stripped-down versions of ‘Captured’ and then, joined by Grace Potter, a sterling reimagining of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gold Dust Woman’. Haynes is further joined by Grohl for ‘Times Like These’ and Grohl gives us a solo rendition of The Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’. The set finishes with Govt Mule performing three tracks from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side .. ‘Us And Them’, ‘Any Colour You Like’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’, with the three together running for twenty-seven minutes, with the first two tracks being lengthened with extended guitar workouts.
Very often the original ‘feel’ of the original songs performed here wasn’t captured but, given many of these performances were impromptu, it’d be unduly churlish to be too critical because many good causes benefit from an evening of top-notch musicians giving their all.
Warren Haynes deserves credit for instigating these evenings and keeping them going all these years.
Xmas Benefit Concert Vol 20 is out now.