Eric Clapton had never been on stage with the Allman Brothers prior to 2009.

"People may find that hard to believe, but it had never happened," Warren Haynes tells UCR, regarding the meeting, which finally took place on March 19, 2009 at the Beacon Theatre in New York. It's just one incredible moment of many for the longtime guitarist whose own band, Gov't Mule, is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2024.

Whether working with the Allmans or the Mule -- or even on his own for someone else's project, Haynes has witnessed plenty of historical summits. A number of them have happened at his annual charity benefit, Christmas Jam in Asheville, N.C., which is marking its 35th year. The latest installment is happening this weekend with a flurry of special guests including Slash and Myles Kennedy, Billy Gibbons and Clutch.

It's typically a lengthy experience, a concert extravaganza that runs in the neighborhood of seven or eight hours at minimum. Spontaneity is a big part of the game, so while there are things that are planned, there are also other moments that just happen.

Today (Dec. 8) Haynes is also releasing The Benefit Concert Volume 20, an expansive collection of performances from the 30th anniversary Christmas Jam in 2018. All proceeds from the release, which is available in a number of different formats, are being donated to Habitat for Humanity.

The Benefit Concert Volume 20 collects highlights from the special two-day event, which found Haynes welcoming friends like Mike Gordon of Phish, guitarist Joe Bonamassa, Grace Potter, Jamey Johnson and Eric Church. Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl also made a notable appearance, performing his instrumental epic "Play" for the first time ever, expanding the composition into a 36-minute opus. To date, it remains the only time that Grohl has played it live.

Haynes recently joined UCR via Zoom to discuss a number of topics, including the jam with Clapton -- and what's ahead for Gov't Mule's 30th anniversary.

One of your guests at the Christmas Jam this year is Slash. What's your favorite experience you've had with him over the years?
Well, we’ve known each other for a long time, but we’re usually just hanging in passing. This year was the first time we’ve actually played together. Myself, Slash and Billy Gibbons and Paul Rodgers did this Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute for the CMT Video Awards in Austin. That was the first time that Slash and I had played together. It may be the first time he and Billy had played together. I’m not sure. Gibbons and I have played together many, many times through the years. But it was such a blast, doing this Skynyrd tribute with the three of us as the three guitar players, each having his own kind of sound and personality, it was really fun. Slash and I had been talking for years about him coming to Christmas Jam. I brought it up and he said, “You know, I think it might actually work out this year. That would be awesome.” I’m kind of psyched to see where it’s all going to go.

Getting to be a part of that Skynyrd tribute, you've got various parts of the DNA of that band in your sound, so it's nice to get a moment to honor an important influence like that.
It was beautiful -- and also, having Paul Rodgers there, who is one of my all-time favorite singers. There’s a full circle closure part of that whole thing, because Paul goes way back with the Skynyrd guys. All of the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd were huge fans of Free. They always talked about how they saw Free when [the band] came to America for the first time. You can hear it in their music. Skynyrd, obviously were huge fans of that music and they became great friends through the years. It was right after Gary Rossington had passed, so it was a very emotional time and a great memory for me.

READ MORE: See Slash and Billy Gibbons Lead All-Star Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute

Beyond you being a fellow musician and player, what do you love about what Billy Gibbons brings to the guitar?
I’ve always been a huge fan. You know, Billy is always holding more cards than he’s playing. He’s always capable of more than he gives you. He’s understanded, not quite to the extent as say, David Gilmour. But it’s in a similar way, where every note is perfect and what he plays, you don’t envision anything else in that space other than what he played. He’s just the master of playing the right shit. His tone is always impeccable. I’ve been a fan from the very beginning, but I think the first time I heard “Blue Jean Blues,” I was like, “Wow.” His blues playing is just top shelf, as is everything he does. But we’ve been friends for a long, long time. We played together many times, but I catch myself sometimes going, “Well, I copped this from Gibbons, I copped that from Gibbons.” [Laughs] He’s a big influence.

This new album showcases a bunch of great highlights from the 30th anniversary of the Christmas Jam. One of the things that happened was that Dave Grohl performed his composition "Play" for the first time. Did you know he was planning to do that?
Yeah, that was something we’d been talking about for a few months in advance. I’d been reaching out for a few years in a row about him possibly coming to Christmas Jam. When it looked like he could do it, it made perfect sense for him to bring “Play” to the Christmas Jam, because he’d never done it live. He’d only done the recording where he played all of the instruments himself. It was a perfect opportunity for him to do something [like that]. You know, “Play” was a charity project and Christmas Jam is a charity project, so I think in his mind, it was the perfect reason [to do it there], the perfect storm. And since we’re talking about the perfect storm, we got snowed in.

Watch Dave Grohl Perform 'Play'

We have an afterparty after the main event and it was turning into this brutal snowstorm. We got the word that nobody was going to be able to fly out, that the snowstorm had hit and we were all stranded. The first thing Dave said was, “Okay, we need to find a club and do a gig!” [Laughs] We went back to the Orange Peel and did a Snow Jam, where it was just impromptu. Everybody came and we just jammed. There was no time for rehearsal and there were a lot of cover songs being played. But we played to a small crowd of people. It was great and it was his idea.

That's such a cool addendum to that particular weekend.
Yeah and it being the 30th anniversary, it all just kind of makes the whole overall story that much cooler. It’s not the first time that we ever got snowed in, but it is the first time that we turned it into that kind of party. [Laughs] Artimus Pyle, the original drummer for Lynyrd Skynyrd, showed up. We played “Simple Man” with Dave playing guitar and Artimus playing drums. They’d never met and it was just a really special moment that happened. Those things, you can’t plan, you know.

You've shared the stage with so many legends. It still floors me that Eric Clapton didn't play with the Allmans until 2009 at the Beacon. A few years later, he was reunited with Duane Allman's classic 1957 Les Paul Goldtop when you all performed together again at the Crossroads Guitar Festival. What were those experiences like for you? 
Well, we’ll start with the Beacon. Eric sat in with us two nights at the Beacon. I think one night we played six or seven songs and one night, we played seven or eight songs. It was just fantastic. He played great, he sang great. It was history. It was the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton playing together on stage for the first time. People may find that hard to believe, but it had never happened. It happened because [the 2009 Beacon residency] was all dedicated to Duane Allman. We rehearsed on stage at the Beacon the first day and we got finished with all of the stuff that we had discussed in advance that we were going to play. Eric said, “Is there anything else we should think about?” We’re all looking around and he said, “What about ‘Little Wing’?” We all looked at each other and said, “Well, we’ve never played it, but we know it. Yeah, sure, we can do it.” So we did an impromptu rehearsal and played it that night and it was fantastic.

Watch the Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton Perform 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed'


That was one of my best memories from that whole experience. But hearing him solo on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” was amazing. He’d kind of reached a point where I think he thought he was done with his solo and was going to kind of end it. But the rhythm section had other plans. [Laughs] They just kept going, so he was kind of forced to switch into gear six and it was amazing. It was a special thing for all of us to witness. Now, [as far as] the story about Duane’s guitar [and] Crossroads, the person that had Duane’s guitar brought it to the gig. Derek and I had both played it before, but we were messing around with it. He said, “You know, Eric probably hasn’t seen this guitar in ages. Why don’t we go show it to him?” We walked back to Eric’s dressing room and as soon as we walked in the door, Eric looked up and said, “Is that a replica of Duane’s old guitar?” Derek said, “No, this is Duane’s guitar.” He was like, “Oh my God, I haven’t seen that guitar since we did ‘Layla’.” It was just incredible to witness that. He spotted it from across the room. And it is a very visually unique guitar, but he could see from 20 or 30 feet away that that was what it was.

READ MORE: How Eric Clapton Opened His Heart and Made a Masterpiece

What's ahead for Gov't Mule in 2024?
Well, in the past six months or so, we’ve hired Kevin Scott as our new bass player and he’s doing an amazing job. Kevin had subbed for Jorgen Carlsson when he had COVID last year. He did an amazing job then and we said to ourselves, “Wow, this guy is fantastic, if we ever needed a bass player, he would be the guy to call.” Not knowing that we would ever need a bass player, but then as it turned out, Jorgen left the band. Our first thought was, “Let’s call Kevin.” He’s really just an amazing player in his own right, but he also loves Allen Woody’s playing and Jorgen’s playing and Andy Hess’ playing. He’s come into this as a fan of Gov’t Mule, but he’s bringing his own thing and it’s really worked out incredibly well. I’m looking forward to next year, which will be the 30th anniversary of the band. We’re going to explore the vaults and see what kind of recorded music we have that we can make available and try to do some special shows. I’m very excited about it.

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Gallery Credit: Allison Rapp