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Jam bands are musical groups whose albums and live performances relate to a fan culture that originated with the 1960s group Grateful Dead and continued in the 1990s with Phish and similar bands. The performances of these bands often feature extended musical improvisation ("jams") over rhythmic groove and chord patterns and long sets of music that cross genre boundaries.

While the seminal group Grateful Dead were originally categorized as psychedelic rock, by the 1990s the term "jam band" was used for groups playing a variety of genres, including those outside of rock such as funk, progressive bluegrass, and jazz fusion. The term is also used for some groups playing blues, country music, folk music, world music, and electronica.


Origin and definition

The first known use of the term "jam band" was in 1937 in a glossary of terms stating "a 'jam band' depends entirely on improvisation, using no written music". Also in April 1937 Coleman Hawkins recorded with a band named "Coleman Hawkins and His All Star Jam Band".
The first modern use of the term "jam band" was likely in the early 1990s. However, the Grateful Dead fan culture and scene, from which the modern use derived, existed decades earlier. In the 1970s the Grateful Dead's fan base included a large core group which followed their tours from show to show. From following the Dead, fans developed a sense of community and loyalty. In the 1990s, bands such as Phish began to attract this fan base. The term "jam band" was first used by these fans to describe the Phish-type of bands.

Rolling Stone magazine asserted in a 2004 biography that Phish "was the living, breathing, noodling definition of the term" jam band, in that it became a "cultural phenomenon, followed across the country from summer shed to summer shed by thousands of new-generation hippies and hacky-sack enthusiasts, and spawning a new wave of bands oriented around group improvisation and superextended grooves." A similar term for jam band music used in the 1990s was "Bay Rock". It was coined by the founder of Relix magazine, Les Kippel, as a reference to the San Francisco Bay Areamarker music scene. In 1998 the website started which promoted the term "jam bands". Relix was sold in 2000. The new owners also bought, trademarked its name and began promoting the name as an official, approved term for all generations of Grateful Dead influenced, or related bands.

Also in the 1990s the number of music festivals increased. Jam band-favoring festivals by size and number included other "complementary" bands who were musically related in cross-genre styles, though not at first culturally related. was co-founded by writer Dean Budnick and webmaster Andy Gadiel. In Budnick's book Jambands, Gadiel explains that "during that time [his] tastes in music had evolved to include bands even beyond the highly addictive Phish." Although in 2007 the term may be used to describe nearly any cross-genre band, festival band, or improvisational band, the term retains adulation for Grateful Dead-like bands such as Phish. Gadiel states about the 1998 beginning of that the music was "...inspired by the Grateful Dead, kept current by Phish, and progressing all the time by new and innovative bands." He noted that the music "...had a link that would not only unite bands themselves but also a very large community around them."

By the late 1990s the number of types of bands and their fans had grown so that the term's use became quite broad as is exemplified by the definition written by Budnick which appeared in the program for the first annual Jammy Awards in 2000 (Budnick co-created the show with Wetlands Preserve owner Peter Shapiro).


By the late 1990s use of the term jam band also became ambiguous. An editorial at suggested that any band of which a primary band such as Phish and has done a cover be included as jam band. The example was including New York post-punk band Talking Heads after Phish performed the cover of Remain In Light. A broad sense of the term also became used retroactively in jam band circles for bands such as Cream who for decades were categorized as a "power-trio" and "psychedelic rock" and who when active were largely unrelated to the Grateful Dead. In his October 2000 column on the subject for, Dan Greenhaus attempted to explain the evolution of a jamband as such:
"At this point, what you sing about, what instruments you play, how often you tour and how old you are has become virtually irrelevant.
At this point, one thing is left and, ironically, after all these years, it’s the single most important place one should focus on; the approach to the music.
And the jamband or improvisational umbrella, essentially nothing more than a broad label for a diverse array of bands, is open wide enough to shelter several different types of bands, whether you are The Dave Matthews Band or RAQ."
The Jammy Awards have had members of non-jamming bands which were founded in the 1970s and were unrelated to the Grateful Dead perform at their show such as New Wave The B-52's. The Jammys have also awarded musicians from prior decades such as Frank Zappa.


Some artists such as Dave Matthews Band, and The Derek Trucks Band are known for resisting the jam band label. Dave Schools of Widespread Panic said in an interview, "We want to shake free of that name, jam band. The jam band thing used to be The Grateful Dead bands. We shook free of that as hard as we could back in 1989. Then Blues Traveler came on the scene. All together, we created the H.O.R.D.E. tour, which focused a lot of attention on jam bands. Then someone coined the term jam bands. I'd rather just be called retro. When you pigeonhole something, you limit its ability to grow and change." An example of a prior-era band that gained the label "jam band" through an active affiliation with the 1990s jam band culture is The Allman Brothers Band. However, Gregg Allman has been quoted as recently as 2003 by his fellow band member Butch Trucks in stating that rather than being a jam band The Allman Brothers are "a band that jams". Although Trucks suggests that this is only a difference of semantics the term has a recent history for which it is used exclusively. An example of this discernment is the acceptance of Les Claypool as jam band in the year 2000. Though famed from an entire decade with Primus (a band that jams) and solo works, it was in creating the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade with members of Ratdog and releasing Live Frogs Set 1 that as Budnick has stated "marked [Claypool's] entry into [the jamband] world." Budnick has been both editor in chief of and senior editor of Relix Magazine. He wrote Jam Bands (1998, ECW Press) and then an updated book Jambands (Backbeat Books, 2003) and is typically credited for "popularizing" the term "jam band".

1960s–mid 1980s and the rise of the Grateful Dead

The first notable jam band, and perhaps the most legendary, was the Grateful Dead. Hailing from San Francisco, California, and originally forming as The Warlocks in 1964, they soon changed their name to the Grateful Dead, and released their first LP The Grateful Dead in 1967. The Grateful Dead were pioneers not only in the genre, but revolutionary in the concert experience. They innovated the idea of long, free-flowing, improvised jams that would sometimes stretch to the 30 or 40 minute mark. Through the 1970s and 1980s, and into the 1990s, the Dead toured regularly. Phish formed informally in 1983, in Burlington, Vermont, at UVM. They solidifed their lineup in 1985, and began their career covering, not coincidentally, some Grateful Dead songs.


In the mid-1980s the bands Phish, Ozric Tentacles, Widespread Panic, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Aquarium Rescue Unit, began touring and playing jam band-style concerts. These groups' fame increased in the early 1990s. Widespread Panic began forming in Athens, GA when Michael Houser and John Bell began playing together. In 1986, after Todd Nance and Dave Schools joined the band, they played their first show as "Widespread Panic." Bands such as Blues Traveler, and the Spin Doctors also came from the same scene, playing jam-friendly venues and festivals. In some cases, their improvisations have taken a backseat to more polished material, which may be due to their crossover commercial successes, MTV videos, and mainstream radio airplay. Most notable in pre-jam band history was the obvious influence of the Grateful Dead. By the end of the decade, Phish had signed a recording contract with Elektra Records, and transformed from a New England/Northeast-based band into a national touring band (see: Colorado '88). While Widespread Panic may not have the commercial success,"With its fusion of southern rock, jazz, and blues, Widespread Panic has earned renown as one of America's best live bands. They have often appeared in Pollstar's "Concert Pulse" chart of the top fifty bands on the road, and they have performed more than 150 live dates a year."

Early 1990s–1995

In the early 1990s a new generation of bands was spurred on by the Grateful Dead's touring and the increased exposure of The Black Crowes, Phish, Widespread Panic and Aquarium Rescue Unit. Phish was building a large fan base at the time and innovating new concepts into their shows. This, combined with the early inception of the Internet in 1991, gave a way for fans to discuss the bands and their performances. Phish, along with the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, and even The Beatles, were one of their first bands to have a Usenet newsgroup. Phish, in awareness of this started trying out new theatrics at shows, such as the Big Ball Jam from 1992–1994, the Secret Language created in 1992 (03/06/92 - Portsmouth, NH), and the Audience Chess match, that lasted the entire 1995 tour. A rapidly expanding concert-going market in the early 1990s saw Phish playing mid-sized amphitheaters already in 1993 and 1994, with the band really starting to build momentum. The band also earned chances to play at various large venues, such as Madison Square Gardenmarker, by 1994's end. Many new bands were formed in the blooming scene. These were the first new bands to actually be called "jam bands", including ekoostik hookah, Dispatch, Gov't Mule, Leftover Salmon, moe., Rusted Root and String Cheese Incident. During the summer of 1995, Grateful Dead guitarist and frontman Jerry Garcia died, thereby ending the group's thirty years of activity. The surviving members of the Grateful Dead created a band called The Other Ones, and then officially became The Dead. During the same period, Phish rose to prominence, and bands such as String Cheese Incident and Blues Traveler became successful. Phish's rise in popularity in the mid 1990s may be attributed to the death of Jerry Garcia and the subsequent terminus of the Grateful Dead in 1995. This saw many stranded Deadheads with a chance to then move over to Phish scene, who was at the time the top touring jam band behind the Grateful Dead. Phish began a new chapter in their career after the demise of the Grateful Dead, as the band would see its popularity skyrocket, and hence be recognized mainstream, over the next five years.

1995–2004 and the rise of Phish

From 1995–2000, then again from 2003–2004, Phish dominated the scene in the same way the Grateful Dead did in the first 30 years of the genre, and would cement its spot as one of the top two jam bands of all time. By 1996 Phish was pulling in 70,000 fans at their yearly festivals, the first one being The Clifford Ball in August 1996. Also around the same time period (1996–2002) many of the jam bands who would come to prominence during Phish's five-year hiatus from 2004–2009 were starting to make names for themselves: moe., Disco Biscuits, Yonder Mountain String Band, String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Umphrey's McGee, Sound Tribe Sector 9. On New Year's Eve 1999, Phish performed a nine-hour non-stop set from 11 P.M. on December 31, 1999 until 8 A.M on January 1, 2000. The concert, attended by 85,000 people, was the largest paid concert held that night, outselling such acts as Eric Clapton, Elton John, and Aerosmith. Phish also during this period developed what is now the modern festival scene. The band perfected the technique of organizing and holding a 2–3 day festival, and paved the way for festivals such as Bonnaroo, Langerado, and All Good Music Festival. By 2002 other jam bands were starting to master the art of the self-festival, with acts such as moe. holding their annual moe.down, starting in 2000, and the Disco Biscuits holding Camp Bisco, starting in 1999, along with The Recipe who hosted The Recipe Family Cookout which ran for 11 consecutive years. Phish's last festival was held in 2009 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Titled "Festival 8", the event consisted of three shows over as many days, for a total of eight sets, including a Halloween "musical costume" during which Phish covered The Rolling Stones' "Exile On Main St."


After Coventry, many Phish fans found themselves in a predicament similar to that Deadheads faced almost a decade prior. With no more Phish to follow around, the hundreds of thousands of Phish fans began investing time in the other top jam band acts of the day. This gave rise to bands such as String Cheese Incident, Disco Biscuits, Umphrey's McGee, moe., Keller Williams, and others to step up and take a more prominent fan base. This also gave rise to new faces of the scene which was dominated by Phish. New guitar and drum heroes of the genre emerged with Chuck Garvey, John Gutwillig, Jake Cinniger, and others. Phish announced its return on October 1, 2008.

2004 found jam band Widespread Panic in their first-ever hiatus from touring but the band did release three records. After years of performing with the band, guitarist George McConnell left and was replaced later that year with Jimmy Herring of Col. Bruce Hampton and Aquarium Rescue Unit. The band was also inducted into to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame on September 20, 2004.

The current state (2009) of the Jam band scene is multi-genre. Genre mixing has always been welcome in the jam band community (see the Grateful Dead's bluegrass influence), but is now much more prevalent. It is now usual for jam bands to include folk rock, blues-rock, jazz fusion, rock and roll, psychedelic rock, southern rock, country rock, and bluegrass sounds. Today's Yonder Mountain String Band and String Cheese Incident are generally considered to be newgrass, however both groups find themselves playing across several genres. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are considered a traditional jazz band that "jams". Many jam bands today, such as Lotus, The Disco Biscuits, The Big Dirty, Pnuma Trio, EOTO, and Sound Tribe Sector 9 , also incorporate the electronic sound. Bands like moe., Assembly of Dust, The Heavy Pets, J.M.M.D., The Breakfast, and Jackie Greene bring together a classic rock sound mixed with a extended jamming sessions. Global rhythm bands include Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Members of the Grateful Dead have continued touring as The Dead. Solo projects by members from the Grateful Dead, such as Bob Weir & Ratdog, and Phil Lesh and Friends are also touring regularly.

Jam scene

The diverse genres and styles of the jam band scene are held together by a common musical approach: an emphasis on creative improvisation and live performance as opposed to structured, arranged live performances and planned studio recordings. Additionally, another common thread uniting all of the jam bands today is a common fan base of festival-goers and touring fans. The contemporary jam scene has grown to encompass bands from a great diversity of musical genres. A 2000-era genre of jam-band music uses live improvisation that mimics the sounds of DJs and electronica musicians and has been dubbed "trancefusion" (a fusion between trance music and rock and roll). Progressive bluegrass and progressive rock are also quite popular among fans of jam bands .

Hundreds of jam-based festivals and concerts are held throughout the United States every year. The Bonnaroo Music Festival held each June in Tennessee continues to provide an international forum for jam acts. It has introduced these bands to a wide audience via film, albums and television. Another notable jam-based events in the United States is the All Good Music Festival held at Marvins Mountaintop, in West Virginia. A fast growing, popular festival that is located in the beautiful Sherwood Forest in Rothbury, MI is the Rothbury Music Festival. Starting in 2008, it had a great start with many well known artists, and in 2009 it was even more impressive. As cited in the December/January 2006 issue of Relix magazine and a contemporaneous issue of the Village Voice, the term "post-jam" has come to define a group of more song-oriented live bands with roots in the jam scene. Perhaps more unified by their fans than their sound, post-jam acts appeal to a contingent of concert-goers who grew up on jam bands but who shifted their interests to groups like Wilco, Ghost Town Blues Band and Radiohead largely through the "festivalization" of this part of the music industry.


Jam bands often allow their fans to make tapes or recordings of their live shows, a practice which many other musical genres call "illegal bootlegging". The Grateful Dead encouraged this practice, which helped to create a thriving scene around the collecting and trading of recordings of Grateful Dead live performances. Most of the live shows on the Grateful Dead's 30 years of touring were recorded. It was probably the trading of recordings of Grateful Dead shows which built the band's fan base. The bands sold taper tickets for a taper's section which had a soundboard line-out for the tapers to record from. This type of encouragement has spread to nearly all of the jam bands. Some jam band enthusiasts argue that if a band does not allow fans to tape their live shows, this band is not actually a jam band in the Grateful Dead tradition.

Fans trade recordings and collect recordings of different live shows because improvisational jam bands play their songs differently at each performance. Fans can collect various versions of their favorite songs. They can keep track of how many times a specific song has been played, and thus increase the momentousness of a rare song being dusted off and played live, or played for the first time. Some bands play with this phenomena by throwing short little "teases" into their sets. Playing, for example, a few bars of a famous cover song or hinting at a popular jam and then either never getting around to playing the song, or coming back to it after an extended jam. The use of segues to blend strings of songs together is another mark of a jam band, and one which makes for treasured tapes.

Music downloading

By the 2000s, as internet downloading of MP3 music files became common, downloading of jam band songs became an extension of the cassette taping trend. Archived jam band downloads are available at various websites, the most prominent ones being etree and the Live Music Archive, which is part of the Internet Archivemarker.

More bands have been distributing their latest shows online. Bands such as Phish, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, Gov't Mule, ekoostik hookah, Umphrey's McGee, Lotus and The Disco Biscuits have been offering digital downloads within weeks of concerts. The Grateful Dead have begun to offer online, digital download only, live releases from their archives as well. While there is some obvious conflict of interest between the "free and open trading of shows" and artists packaging and selling the same shows for money, a dynamic equilibrium has been reached where die-hards trade and others are happy to pay for the convenience.

Some venues offer kiosks where fans may purchase a digital recording of the concert and download it to a USB flash drive or another portable digital storage device. Some bands, including The Allman Brothers, offer "Instant Lives", which are concert recordings made available for purchase on Compact Disc shortly after the show ends. Most major music festivals also offer digital live recordings at the event. Even though these shows are freely traded in digital format, "official" versions are still bought by fans for the graphics, liner notes, and packaging.

Venues and festivals

In the August 2006 issue of Guitar One on jam bands, the following places were referred to as the "best places to see jam music": Red Rocks Amphitheatremarker; Red Rocks Parkmarker, Denver, COmarker; Jam Cruise, Fort Lauderdale, FLmarker; The Gorge Amphitheatremarker, George, Washingtonmarker; High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy, CAmarker; Saratoga Perf. Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NYmarker; The Greek Theater, Berkeley, CAmarker; Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, TNmarker; The Warfield Theatermarker, San Francisco, CAmarker; The Barrymore Theater, Madison, WImarker; Higher Ground, Burlington, Vermontmarker, Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Garrettsville, Ohiomarker; and the Jam in the Dam in Amsterdammarker.

One way to see many jam bands in one place is by going to a jam band-oriented music festival. Some popular festivals that include jam bands are: Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee; Rothbury Festival in Rothbury, Michigan; Jambaloosa in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the aforementioned High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California; All Good in West Virginia; Some Kind of Jam, Kempton, PAmarker; Langerado in South Floridamarker; Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival; 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota; Camp Bisco in Mariaville, New York; Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado; Hookahville in Ohio; Schwagstock in Missouri; moe.down in Turin, New York; Vegoose in Nevada; and Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe Illinois.

See also


  1. The Grateful Dead Britannica Online, Retrieved September 17 2007
  2. Russel B. Nye. "A musician's word list" in American Speech Vol. 12, No. 1 (Feb., 1937), pp. 45-48.
  3. Peter Dempsey, 2002. Hawkins, Coleman: Hawk In the 30s (1933-1939), Naxos Direct.
  4. Prestige Records Discography: 1933-1948
  5. Jambands, Dean Budnick, Backbeat Books, 2003, pg 241
  6. Phish: Biography : Rolling Stone
  7. Jambands, Dean Budnick, Backbeat Books, 2003, pg 255 (use of the term "complementary")
  8. Jambands, Dean Budnick, Backbeat Books, 2003, pg 244
  9. Relix, all issues.
  10. Jambands, Dean Budnick, Backbeat Books, 2003, pg 243
  11. Alex Bereson A Night Oou With: Peter Shapiro; Death of a Deadhead Dive August 5, 2001, Retrieved February 2, 2009
  12. Ghosts of Jam Bands Past The Definition of a Jam Band Sister Mary Carmen, April 1999, Retrieved September 9 2007
  13. Cream 2005 Pat Buzby,, November 13, 2005, Retrieved September 10, 2007
  14. The Jamband Backlash: Where did Things Go Wrong? Dan Greenhaus,, Oct 2005
  15. Anastasio, Phish Win At Jammy Jam Jon Wiederhorn, MTV News, October 4th, 2002 Retrieved October 4 2007
  16. My Morning Jacket Lead Jammys Charley Rogulewski, Rolling Stone, Feb 24, 2006 Retrieved October 4 2007
  17. Bob Makin Widespread Panic: Against the Grain October 1999
  18. Jambands, Dean Budnick, Backbeat Books, 2003, pg XII
  19. Jambands, Dean Budnick, Backbeat Books, 2003, pp 248-9
  20. Jambands, Dean Budnick, Backbeat Books, 2003, pg IX
  24. Zwickel, Jonathan. "Sliptease", Village Voice, November 21st 2006
  25. One such event was The Grateful Dead's playing of "Unbroken Chain," a song bass-player Phil Lesh penned (and sang), and a fan-favorite from the Dead's much-loved From The Mars Hotel (1974) LP, in their final year together. The reemergence of their archetypal jam song "Dark Star" after years of absence from the repertoire is another such event.
  26. Fans will frequently wax rhapsodic about performances such as "that one show where Phish segued out of 'Fee', into 'Stash', into 'You Enjoy Myself', and then back into 'Stash' again."

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