Conners, Peter. 2013. JAMerica: The History of the Jam Band and Festival Scene, from the Grateful Dead to Phish, from H.O.R.D.E to Bonnaroo, and Beyond. Boston: Da Capo Press.
Defining the jam band – not “throwback hippie music” (ix) or “noodlers”. “At the core of all jam bands is a dedication to improvisation as a chance to create a unique, spontaneous, artistic/musical event shared between the band and artist” (x). Highly dependent on the interactions between audience and artists. Necessary traits – “dedication to creating a singular musical event shared by band and audience generally driven by improvisational moments” (x); “emphasis on live performance over recorded works” (xi)– including the encouragement of taping; “conscious effort by the band to connect with a grassroots following of fans” (xi)
“The difference in the jam scene [with the connection of bands and audience] is that the fans become a vitally important part of experiencing the band; symbols, rituals, slang, and esoteric history become tickets to fully understanding the band itself” – usually using band-related groupings or identity markers that designate band allegiances or fandom belonging (such as Spreadheads, Phishheads, etc.)(xi) -jam bands as often playing festivals, even creating festivals that the organizing band themselves headline – “Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York; Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama; All Good Music Festival in Thornville, Ohio; Gathering of the Vibes in Bridgeport, Connecticut; High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California – far too many to compile here, including the floating Jam Cruise” (xii).
Upstate New York as ground zero for jam scene in early nineties, using Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic, etc. as models for a blossoming culture – though, a page later, argues that jam has never been associated with a single geographic area – bands, instead, work with geographies offered, instead of geographies dictating bands. Music industry has not been primary to jam scene’s success, save for previous generations’ distribution measures – electronic modes of communication has greatly promoted the dissociation between corporations and jam. Source inspiration from 1960s counterculture bands, particularly Grateful Dead. HORDE (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) in July 1991 – Spin Doctors, the Radiators, the Authority, and TR3.
Late 80s NYC as experiencing a revival of folk and blues, after the punk, new wave, and rockabilly surges – pressing into hippie roots. Most musicians worked in bands that crossed over in memberships, playing multiple live gigs a day, with coveted venues like Wetlands or the Nightingale acting as loci for emerging second-generation jam groups – bringing older crowds, college-aged folks, drug-using (and accusedly, drug-introducing) teenagers, R&Bers, Wall Street businessmen who were into buying cocaine… supposedly the site for culture emerging from jam – jambands.com, Jammy awards, Relix magazine (kx^ content analysis of gender representation) – Wetlands worked to integrate social justice venture and entrepreneurship – environmental activism into music arena – petitions, funding of organizations by venue
Dean Budnick^ Relix executive editor (regarding playing after-hours shows in NYC clubs at beginning of era): “It was quite extraordinary – those of us who were inside felt like we were part of a secret society, which, quite frankly, we were, drawn into a potent sound of thriving music outside the mainstream” (15).
Music scene as geographically divided – bluegrass in the south, jam in the north?
David Graham^ band manager of Blues Traveler, concert promoter for HORDE (on brainstorming HORDE, based on Grateful Dead shows): “I would explain to him the kind of shows we did out west: camping shows. We had shows like where you would camp for three days and then, “Oh, by the way, it’s time to go see the Grateful Dead.” Walk out of your tent and go see the band. It was that kind of a spirit of a show – not necessarily camping overnight events, but sort of like that event experience that I think inspired John [Popper] to come up with the idea, galvanizing this younger group of bands and taking them on the road, and being more than just another show, which isn’t easy” (19).
John Popper ^harmonica, lead vocalist of Blues Traveler, co-founder of HORDE (on beginning the HORDE show series): “I told them my fantasy ‘cause I was big into Attila the Hun and nomadic tribes pillaging, I was big into that. I’m part Hungarian, so, you know, that’s a big thing with us. We pretend to be related to Attila the Hun. Even though we’re not. But still, we’re similar. It’s all in the perception” (21-22).
Stephen Perkins ^drummer, percussionist of Jane’s Addiction (on why festivals are better): “But it’s \great to see a package put together and especially if it’s an eclectic package where you have a band doing one thing and then two hours later a band sounds completely different doing it and it’s just as good and people are open to it” (22).
Dean Budnick^ Relix executive editor (on entering HORDE): “Stepping inside was another shock to the system in the best way possible. There were thousands of people quite literally showing their colors, decked out in tie-dyes and more commonly in the T-shirts of their favorite bands” (29).
The Great American HORDE: Relix Review of the first HORDE tour: “[Blues] Traveler guitarist Chan Kinchla continued, “We realized that in addition to the music, there’s a lot of people out there doing very interesting things that we’re hip to. We want to give them as much of a chance to express themselves as we have. One thing music can do is bring a lot of people together” (34).
Integration of influences from Black Sabbath, YES, Grateful Dead, Talking Heads, emergent grunge, jazz, Ray Charles, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis
Amy Skelton^ “Phish’s first fan” [from Phish: The Biography] (on the diversity of fans]: “It was kind of like a Phish show [in the later years], where you had serious hippies who were doing the whole tour and sleeping in their cars, and then you had kids coming out who were pretty clean cut and did well in school and obviously came from money”(44)
John Skehan ^mandolinist and vocalist in Railroad Earth (regarding popularity of festivals): “But as you pointed out before with the explosion of festivals over the past ten years or so, you have larger numbers of people out there that really shape their vacation time, their down time, around seeing live music, whether it is hopping on a tour for a week or going to a four-day-long festival, which, as you know, is quite an endurance mission. But they want to go to a place where they can intermingle with other people, see a wide variety of music, and come away with the sense that they have participated in something unique. They really do thrive off of that live experience as opposed to, let’s say, the casual concert goer who is going to go to the stadium or the dome once a year to hear his favorite band come through and do their album tour and then go home. There are people who thrive on this, and they plan their whole summer around it” (76).
Dean Budnick ^Relix executive editor (on defining jam): “The term, as it is commonly used today, references a rich palette of sounds and textures. These groups share a collective penchant for improvisation, a commitment to songcraft, and a propensity to cross genre boundaries, drawing from a range of traditions, including blues, bluegrass, funk, jazz, rock, psychedelia, and even techno” (80).
David Gans ^Grateful Dead radio host (on the counterculture immersion of Grateful Dead and compelling nature of jam): “One, the music itself was pretty goddamn interesting at that time, and also the culture around it was very intriguing and attractive in a funny kind of way. It was like belonging to a secret society; the people were into it were way into it and there was a lot of arcane stuff to learn and language. It was very compelling, and it was weirdly hierarchical and sort of addictive in a way to try to make your way into that scene, like any secret society. You knew something that other people didn’t know, and there was this tension between proselytizing it and keeping it for ourselves kind of thing, you know” (93).
Papa Mali ^guitarist and lead vocalist of 7 Walkers (regarding the inspiration of improvisation): “A musician growing up in New York City is gonna sound very different than a musician who grows up in Miami. You have to pull from your environment and what’s going on. I’m a California boy. I think a lot of LA music is below the waist, a lot about sex, where New York music is above the neck, more about thinking. Somewhere between is improvising, using your head and your balls. It’s gotta have sex appeal, sex drive – that’s how we move on as a race. But then again you have something to think about too. It’s not all about sex. I play great when I’m alone, but if I’m surrounded by girls dancing, I think I play a little better” (117-118).
Perry Farrell ^lead singer of Jane’s Addiction, founder of Lollapalooza (describing jam’s appeal): “We carry the torch because we were never really a big pop sensation; our thing was come dig our shinding, our show, and magic is gonna happen there. And that is not something you can go pick off a shelf. It’s not for everyone. This is something that is a ritual and that is primitive – it’s primal. It’s roots, or at least it realizes it without realizing it” (118).
Publicity set up from hotlines, webpages, word of mouth, internet pages, e-mail listservs
Jon Guttwillig^ guitarist of Disco Biscuits (on jam/festival setup): “And now, you look at Bonnaroo, which is big as Woodstock – maybe not as big as the original, but as big as the thirtieth anniversary – and a couple others that are that big, and you look at the huge sporting events. You have this world where instead of selling music, you’re selling culture to some degree. That’s not really my job, but it is a part of what you want to do. It’s part of reaching your customer on a good level, it’s a part of reaching your fans, it’s a part of connecting with your audience. You want to connect with them. You want them to not only take home, ‘Hey, that was a great party, I met a cool girl, blah blah blah.’ You want them to have a little moment of inspiration in there. Maybe they go home and have a little realization or something. You can’t force the realization; you just have to be like, ‘Hey, here’s the material, here’s the this kind of world, we’re trying to make it as nice as possible for you’” (126).
“Tribal” model versus “astroturfing” model of generating fan base – tribal model involving tape trade, e-mail lists, festival circuits (prescribing modes of jam authenticity) versus “There’s only so much you can do with hype. There’s a certain amount of astroturfing that you can do by… that’s phony grassroots marketing. […] So there have been bands – and I don’t want to get into specifics because it’s just badmouthing – but there have been bands that had backing of usually a grower – people with money to spare and good taste in music – who would underwrite them so they could go play festivals and play gigs for nothing, take every shit gig and go out and build an audience. And they would leaflet – you know, they did all that stuff you do. They would poster towns and hire people to be their fans basically, to promote them and create a social scene around the band, and then that’s how the band would rise up and build an audience and demonstrate. ‘cause there’s this huge catch-22 in the music business: you can’t get a booking agent until you can demonstrate a draw, and you can’t get good gigs to build a draw until you’ve got somebody to help you get ‘em” (129 – David Gans^host of Grateful Dead Hour radio sho, cohost of Tales from the Golden Road on SiriusXM Grateful Dead channel).
Rob Eaton^ guitarist and lead vocalist of Dark Star Orchestra (on immersion of show): “When you went to a Dead show, at the door you would check your sexual preferences, your political orientation, the color of your skin – none of that meant anything once you were inside. Everyone was equal, everyone was the same, and everyone was there for the same reason, which was the music” (137).
Dean Budnick ^founder of jambands.com, Jammys, and executive editor of Relix- attests to the shift in nature of Bonnaroo – first one featured “Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio, Phil Lesh and Friends with Bob Weir, the String Cheese Incident, moe., the Keller Williams Incident, the Disco Biscuits, Galactic, North Mississippi Allstarts, Robert Randolph and the Family Band” (143) –
Al Schnier ^guitarist and vocalist of moe. (on festival growth): “There’s a huge festival scene in the summertime in the United States now – more like Europe used to be – and that’s what we have in the US now, as opposed to the shed tours that we used to have, those amphitheater tours that based used to do in the eighties and nineties. Now it’s more like festival tour. You go out, and there’s festivals every weekend or several festivals every weekend depending on the region, depending where in the country you are. It’s kinda cool!”(147).
John Guttwillig ^guitarist of Disco Biscuits (about festival success): “Look at Camp Bisco – it’s the biggest electronic festival, outside of Coachella, in the country. We could do twenty-five thousand people this year. Coachella does like forty thousand, so here we have two electronic festivals doing somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty-five thousand people between the two of them. That’s Bonnaroo size! By the way, Bonnaroo is a jam band festival – we’re playing it this year, and we’ve played it five times already. It’s like all tese things that may band and a couple of friendly cohort bands are putting their energy into are succeeding. And the reason they’re succeeding is that everyone is invited. Everybody is allowed to come. You can come and do whatever you want! We had Nasty Nas on our stage at Camp Bisco. And Snoop Dogg! We feel like hip-hop is what made things more real. Before hip-hop it was like, okay, walk out on stage, sing the hook, flash your abs. […] And now that’s it’s over, people actually want real music. They’re actually paying for real music. And for a guy like me, who does not have washboard abs but writes a pretty decent song every once in a while, maybe a good guitar solo every once in a while, it’s like, hey, this thing can work out” (150).
Michael Travis ^drummer of STI, EOTO (on merging electronic music): “[Dubstep] is the new punk, in a lot of ways; it’s pretty amazing stuff. It’s the edge of the edge; it’s barely music. It’s this neo-tribal, overwhelming catharsis feeling. It’s the most gnarly, edgy music, but it’s majestic dark, not angry dark. It’s not the punk guys, like ‘My parents wronged me, now I’m gonna tell you about it and you’re gonna be angry too.’ It’s this vast, vast… it ecompasses everything in the dark that’s ever happened on the planet, and in doing so you’re also encompassing the light, because the dark comes below the light. […] And there’s this certain group of sixteen- to nineteen-year-olds that are just eating it alive. Dub-step deejays are commonly doing eight hundred to two thousand tickets around the country. Bassnectar, who is doing predominantly dub-step at this point, is doing six thousand tickets per night. It started in England, and it’s a very specific formula: 140 beats per minute, with a half-time snare, so there’s lots of double-time information, and then the bass tones have a big sign wave on the bottom, lots of stacks with a square wave, and maybe a synced saw wave about that. It’s these big, huge raking tones that sound like dinosaurs eating aliens” (173).
Fans describe jam bands – improvisational, communal, non-commercial, genre-leaping, multiplex, embracing of risk
Fans describe festivals – semi-religious, spiritual, “an immersive shared experience of musical and personal discovery” – Eugene E (209), freedom – “freedom from responsibility, freedom from electronic gadgets, freedom from worry” – Daisy H. (210) – eclecticism, a means to defy mainstream musical or social integration, community-oriented, familial, a “coming of age experience”, utopian, diverse,