NEW YORK — Contrary to my ex-girlfriend’s opinion, nine and a half hours is a long time to be doing anything. I can’t even remember the last time I got nine and a half hours of sleep. So while I was excited about the opportunity to cover the 2002 Jammy Awards, the task of soaking in what was sure to be a long night of music seemed exhausting.
And it was. From 8 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. on a Wednesday night, I was in New York City watching a seemingly endless stream of musicians perform everything from jazz to electronica to, of course, “Love Shack.”
Held at the gorgeous Roseland Ballroom, this year’s Jammys had the feel of a big, Y-chromosome family reunion. Everyone in the scene made an appearance: the fathers (Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead), the uncles (Phish, Blues Traveler), the brothers just returning from college (moe., Rusted Root), and even the little siblings tagging along for the ride (Particle, Robert Randolph). Most importantly, everyone was drunk and ready to have some fun. And like any good family reunion, people stuck around longer than expected.
But then again, who am I to complain? After all, the jamband scene prides itself in turning its songs and shows into aural marathons. Jam music can be influenced by any number of genres, from folk and bluegrass to rock and blues; but as any fan will tell you, a spirit of improvisation and exploration is a must — a spirit which usually leads to long winding jams.
Over the last two years, the jamband scene has had a great deal to celebrate. Instead of floundering due to uber-group Phish’s extended hiatus (a deterioration that many pundits predicted), the scene has flourished: groups like Phil and Friends and Widespread Panic consistently sell out amphitheaters across the nation, while bands ranging from moe. to String Cheese Incident have been able to upgrade their never-ending tours to some of the largest and most prestigious theaters around.
The celebratory mood made for some historic and groundbreaking collaborations: Phish’s Trey Anastasio and jazz great John Scofield sitting in with surprise guests The Allman Brothers, pop prince John Mayer trading blues licks with fellow young upstarts Derek Trucks and Robert Randolph, and everyone in the world participating in a two-stage jam with Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir and his band Ratdog.
Such massive performances could have gotten ugly very quickly. With a stage full of virtuosos, the opportunities for stepping on toes and crowding out other musicians were plentiful (imagine any VH1 Divas Live concert). However, such disasters never materialized, as everyone was respectful of each other’s musical space. This spirit of camaraderie in collaboration is the essence of the jam scene and was in full effect on this night.
The Jammys also gave birth to the two most bizarre performances I have ever witnessed in my long history of concert-going: San Francisco upstarts Particle performing a 15-minute long “Love Shack” with Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider of the B-52’s, and classic rockers Blue Oyster Cult joining moe. for a scorching version of the former’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” While joint ventures like these left many scratching their heads, they managed to reflect the long-standing notion in the jam world that anything can (and will) happen.
In the midst of all this insanity, you may wonder what happened to the “Awards” part of the Jammys. Well, taking a route that is the exact opposite of most award shows, the Jammys uses their awards (which are voted on by the fans) mainly as an excuse to set up the stage for the next act to perform. The usual suspects picked up most of the honors without suspense or pomp and circumstance, while Blues Traveler frontman John Popper, who hosted the awards, managed to keep such downtime at least mildly engaging.
After the awards show ended (a mere six and a half hours after it started), the party moved down the street to B.B. King’s Blues Club, where fans were treated to full sets by Particle and moe., who were performing in separate rooms of the club. The after-party lasted till dawn and continued the collaborative theme of the evening, with both Warren Haynes and Trey Anastasio taking the stage with moe., and a host of guests, including Dave Matthews Band bassist Stefan Lessard, jamming with Particle.
Events like the Jammys are what help separate the jamband scene from every other genre of music. Where else can you find such disparate artists so excited to share in the spirit of music together and hordes of fans so ecstatic to forgo sleep in order to witness it?
Even here in Connecticut the scene is vibrant. The Tom Tom Club (who served as the house band for the show and recently played in Branford’s courtyard) and Deep Banana Blackout both hail from the Constitution State (thanks Google!) and are constantly performing in the area. In addition, Toad’s Place has a schedule brimming with jambands — funk revivalists Galactic, jazz trio Soulive, elder statesmen like Max Creek and Leftover Salmon, and up-and-comers like Addison Groove Project and Psychedelic Breakfast will all be stopping just down the street from your room in the coming months.
Make no mistake: jam music is alive and well.