Warren Haynes Presents:
The Benefit Concert Volume 1 & 2

Various Artists

When he isn’t on the road with the Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule, or any number of other projects and one-offs, Warren Haynes likes to help those in his own backyard. For the past 18 years, the guitarist has sponsored an annual Christmas jam in Asheville, North Carolina — his hometown. It’s a star-studded event that raises funds for local charities. To parlay Haynes' fundraising efforts, two new double CD sets from the 1999 and 2000 jams have recently been released. Suffice to say, Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Concert, Vol. 1 & 2 are heavy slabs of talent, brimming over with promise and hope, and boasting a diversified selection of big and small names, alike.

Volume 1 is taken from the 11th annual jam on December 22, 1999. It features Haynes, Allen Woody, and Matt Abts — collectively known as Gov't Mule — along with Edwin McCain, Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band. Loads of other musicians also show up to participate, including guitarists Col. Bruce Hampton, Jimmy Herring, and Mike Barnes. After McCain (with some accompaniment from Haynes) plays a brisk acoustic set, guitar wunderkind Derek Trucks and his indelible band take command, dipping their loving cup into a rapturous mixture of reggae, jazz, blues, country, and whatever else they can conjure. Tedeschi, Hampton, and Herring join the group for a stirring “Turn On Your Love Light.” McCain, Herring, and Tedeschi all return to the stage at various points before the disc finishes up.

Gov't Mule dominates the second disc. Hampton, Barnes, and keyboardist Johnny Neel join in for a colorful rendition of the classic “Spoonful.” Blues legend Little Milton comes out for a sprite “When The Blues Come Knockin’” before all the players assemble for a rousing reading of Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too.”

Volume 2 comprises the 12th annual jam on December 21, 2000. Kicking things up a notch or two, Haynes is joined by alt-country group the Bottle Rockets, the Chris Duarte Band, Aquarium Rescue Unit featuring Col. Bruce Hampton, the Allman Brothers Band, and various guests including John Popper (Blues Traveler), Paul Riddle (Marshall Tucker Band), Audley Freed (Black Crowes), and Mike Barnes.

Haynes opens the show with an acoustic guitar and a pair of poignant compositions, “I’ll Be One” and “In My Life.” The Chris Duarte Band follows with a sizzling blues-tinged number called “Badness,” and a smoking take of Jimi Hendrix’s “Who Knows,” featuring Barnes and Freed. The Bottle Rockets keep the fire burning with “Nancy Sinatra” and “Stuck In A Rut” before the anticipated reunion of Aquarium Rescue Unit, whose rummaging, eclectic style provides the perfect launching pad for random flights of furious jamming.

This show would mark one of Gov't Mule's first appearances since the passing of bassist Allen Woody on August 26, 2000. The revamped Mule (with Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools on bass) capably finish out the first disc with “Goin’ Out West” and “Mountains Win Again.”

Kevin Kinney and Tramp would later dedicate “A Good Country Mile” to Woody, but the rest of the night belonged to Haynes, who rambles with everyone from John Popper to Gregg Allman to the Allman Brothers Band. Of particular note is a stunning interpretation of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” that features some slick vocal harmonies from Haynes, Kinney, Popper, and Edwin McCain. The Allman Brothers Band (and various friends) then dive into a killer four-song set of “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Soulshine” and “Statesboro Blues.”

Just looking at the 2006 roster featuring Branford Marsalis, Dave Matthews, Taj Mahal, Harry Connick Jr., and American Idol Taylor Hicks, one can imagine how many arenas the Christmas jam could fill. But these musicians, like so many are others, don't do it for money or accolades; they simply want to team up with Haynes in healing a small part of the world with the gift of music.

~ Shawn Perry

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