JAMerica: The History of the Jam Band and Festival Scene

JAMerica: The History of the Jam Band and Festival Scene

by Peter Conners
     
 

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The term “jam band” is used to categorize a type of music that favors improvisation and musicianship over concise riffs, hooks, and traditional songwriting structure. The term also helps define the fiercely dedicated fans of the music as accurately as it does the bands. Much as with the Grateful Dead—the progenitors of the jam band scene—the

Overview

The term “jam band” is used to categorize a type of music that favors improvisation and musicianship over concise riffs, hooks, and traditional songwriting structure. The term also helps define the fiercely dedicated fans of the music as accurately as it does the bands. Much as with the Grateful Dead—the progenitors of the jam band scene—the survival of the scene depends upon a symbiotic relationship with fans. Jam bands nurture a close relationship with their fans, fostered through constant touring and the mutual belief that each performance is a unique, shared event.

JAMerica tells the story of the roots, evolution, values, and passion of the jam band scene in the words of those who know it best. Modeling itself on such books as Edie: American Girl by George Plimpton and Jean Stein (an oral history of the life of Edie Sedgewick ) and Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, the book is an oral history of the jam band scene, integrating stories from such bands as the Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic, Dave Matthews Band, moe., Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, and dozens more. Interviews focus on the history of individual bands and how they communally shaped the larger jam band community, along with songwriting, relationships with fans, business models, and the importance (including the joys and war stories) of touring, including early gigs and venues (e.g. the Wetlands in New York City and the landmark H.O.R.D.E. Festival) that supported the emergence of the jam band scene.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This oral history of jam bands is told through the words of the musicians and others connected to the jam band scene, which is well known for its improvisational style, passionate audiences, and extended live shows. Though the scene has its roots in midcentury jazz, the hippie bands of the ’60s, and the psychedelic music of the 1970s, this book focuses on the music created from the late ’80s to the present day. While it could use some more background on groundbreaking bands like the Allman Brothers and Cream, the book features members of well-known jam bands like Phish, Blues Traveler, and Widespread Panic. It creates a detailed picture of how jam bands rose from small clubs in Manhattan and small towns like Burlington, Vt., to create a cultural movement that includes the H.O.R.D.E. tours of the 1990s and today’s Bonnaroo. Though very few in the book want to be pigeonholed by the term “jam band,” the musicians interviewed explore topics like what it means to be a jam band, the influence of the Grateful Dead, the power of live music and a dedicated fan base, and the free taping of live shows. Conners (Growing Up Dead) has, by synthesizing these different ideas into a harmonious collection of quotations, musings, memories, and even e-mails from fans, created a literary work that captures on paper the collaborative, spontaneous, and uplifting nature of the jam band music. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly, 8/5/13

"Conners has, by synthesizing these different ideas into a harmonious collection of quotations, musings, memories, and even e-mails from fans, created a literary work that captures on paper the collaborative, spontaneous, and uplifting nature of the jam band music."

Examiner.com, 8/26/2013

Jamerica is a Behind the Music styled treatise devoted to American ‘jam’ music and its prolific purveyors. Author Peter Conners hits on all pertinent bands and festivals of the virtuosic neo-hippie movement, kicking up intriguing points like a patchouli-scented undergrad shoeing a Hacky Sack outside the student union…When strung together like Christmas lights, these insightful, entertaining tidbits and musical memories instill a sense that reader is amongst friends.”

Houston Press, August 2013

“A worthy account for jam fans”

Upstate Live (NY), 9/4/13

“JAMerica gives the reader first hand tales with little to no filter on them that shine a light on both the jam band scene and the music industry as a whole…. Peter Conners does an admirable job in giving this popular musical genre both a more tangible definition and the credit it so richly deserves in influencing a generation of bands and artists. ..JAMerica is the most complete work out there that attempts to tell the story of the jam band scene and how it has reached its current state of popularity.”

PopMatters.com, 9/10/13

JAMerica skillfully assembles an oral history of America's jam bands…An entertaining read that’s thoughtfully assembled and inviting in its casualness.”

Blinded by Sound, 9/1/13

“There is a world of great music being made by these groups, and quite a scene to boot, JAMerica is a good place to start in getting to know just what is going on there.”

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 9/15/13

JAMerica is well-researched and excellent reading.”

Library Journal, 10/15/13

“Readers interested in the history of the jam band scene from the musicians’ point of view would be most interested in this book…Conners’s goal is to gather the history of jam bands from the musicians, and that is achieved.”

Rochester Democrat Chronicle, 2/9/14
“Tells the story of the roots, evolution, values, and passion of the jam band scene in the words of those who knew it best.”

Kirkus Reviews
2013-08-15
A meandering oral history of the modern jam-band landscape. Conners (White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg, 2010, etc.) is no stranger to these misty mountain hops, having already chronicled his latter-day tenure as a Deadhead in his memoir, Growing Up Dead (2009). Here, the author borrows the oral history form of history-making championed by the likes of Legs McNeil and dozens of lesser rock 'n' roll historians. Although the narrative does get us, finally, to the present day, the book is very much rooted in the post–Jerry Garcia vacuum of the early 1990s, into which countless improvisational musicians stepped. Speaking of the infamous H.O.R.D.E. festival that originated in 1992, John Popper of Blues Traveler says, "We wanted to call it Lollapatchouli. But we wanted people to take it seriously, and my fantasy, being into Attila the Hun, was: it's a cold day someplace in Kansas when, in from the south, comes Widespread Panic Fans consuming everything in their way, and from the north are Phish fans, and from the east comes Blues Traveler, and from the west comes Béla Fleck." Conners includes interviews with all of these and more, including festival icon Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction and Mickey Hart and Bob Weir from the Dead. Some of the other bright lights, like Trey Anastasio of the seminal (and cult-inspiring) jam band Phish, seem to have been conveniently plucked from interviews in magazines like High Times. There's some substance here in the debate over concert recordings, but Conners guides most of the conversations to talking about the vibe, that mystic connection between fans that may be lost on anyone who isn't a serious devotee of this scene. A coda of comments from fans with bon mots like "Festivals are church for the open minded" ends the book, for better or worse. A mostly superfluous volume that will nonetheless appeal to fans of the scene.
Library Journal
10/15/2013
Author and jam band fanatic Conners (Growing Up Dead) has interviewed for this book, as he states in the introduction, musicians who were open to being associated with a work about the jam band scene. Supplementing these pieces, previously recorded interviews, some by Conners, are interspersed throughout. Using the interviews, which span many generations of jam band history, the author aims to uncover the roots and evolution of the genre. Each chapter includes various responses to one question, often in the form of reminiscences, encompassing the history of the musicians' jam band experiences from influences, gigs, relationship with fans, and much more. Conners concludes with "A Few Words from the Fans" for another perspective. Readers interested in the history of the jam band scene from the musicians' point of view would be most interested in this book. Prior knowledge is not necessary, but reading a little about the bands first will enhance the experience. VERDICT While the extended interview format can feel very long to read, Conners's goal is to gather the history of jam bands from the musicians, and that is achieved.—Elizabeth Berndt-Morris, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mount Pleasant

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780306820663
Publisher:
Da Capo Press
Publication date:
08/27/2013
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Conners book Growing Up Dead, about his teenage years as a Deadhead, established him as a vital new voice in American music and social history. Conners lives with his wife and three children in Rochester, New York.

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