March 18, 2004
By: Jon Pareles
For The New York Times
Imagine current pop turned inside out. Playing concerts
would be a living rather than a promotional tool, bands
would take musical chances nightly, wardrobe would be an afterthought, a
group could release a dozen live albums a year, and gray hair and
wrinkles would garner respect. Fans would bypass radio and television
and get information from other fans (via the Internet), and music’s past
would be a foundation rather than a scrap heap.
That is the realm of jam bands, who had their annual
reckoning with the fourth Jammy Awards on Tuesday night at
the Theater at Madison Square Garden, with dancers on their feet and
marijuana smoke in the air. Jam bands bring music’s ancient business
model – the roving troubadour – to the interconnected modern world.
While selling pop music on expensively produced and promoted CD’s is a
paradigm under siege, jam bands have flourished as concert mainstays and
as an alternative to canned music.
Presentations of the awards, chosen by 50,000 online
voters, whiled away set changes as the concert celebrated
the cooperative, genre-hopping spirit of jam bands. No
group stayed insular for long. The Harlem Gospel Choir sang “Higher and
Higher” to start the concert, then joined the funk band Soulive. Slick
Rick rapped with the Disco Biscuits, whose jams use mix funk and
pulsating dance-floor electronica.
Reggae met New Orleans rhythm-and-blues as the Jamaican songwriter Toots
Hibbert (minus the Maytals) sang with Dr. John on keyboards, George
Porter Jr. of the Meters on bass and a New Orleans band. Perry Farrell
of Jane’s Addiction sang with the String Cheese Incident, which brings
Celtic touches to its Grateful Dead emulation.
The scene is full of paradoxes. Dedicated to improvisation,
jam bands have also become preservationists for older
styles. And fans drawn by the present-tense concert
experience are equally determined to record and tabulate
The audience holds on to a 1960’s-flavored sense of
community. An award was given to Justin Baker, whose
nonprofit Conscious Alliance collected 20 tons of food for
the hungry at jam-band shows last year. “We just rent the trucks; you
guys fill ’em up,” he said. Drugs were not disowned; Alan Grey, who won
an award for the album cover of the String Cheese Incident’s “Untying
the Not”, said, “I’d like to thank God and LSD and all the psychedelics
for the beautiful visions of our infinite being.”
But the winner of the new groove (for new bands) award, Psychedelic
Breakfast, recently changed its name to the Breakfast. Phish’s summer
tour was named Tour of the Year, and Moe’s “Wormwood” won the studio
Fans continue to cherish the legacy of the Grateful Dead – whose album
“The Closing of Winterland: Dec. 31, 1978,” won the award for Archival
Live Album – and of the Allman Brothers Band, whose past and present
members dominated the program.
The Allmans’ bassist, Oteil Burbridge, played fleet
melodies (sometimes scat-singing along) over percussive, thumb-popping
riffs from Victor Wooten, the Flecktones’ bassist. Dickey Betts, a
founder of the Allmans who was fired from the band, played guitar and
sang his Allmans hits with Reid Genauer and the Assembly of Dust, along
with Edie Brickell. Later he jammed with bands led by his replacements,
Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes.
The Derek Trucks Band was taken over by the venerable soul singer
Solomon Burke, who traded vocal lines with Mr. Trucks’s stinging
slide-guitar leads and preached an election-year mini-sermon: “Come
November, we need to make the change,” he exhorted.
Mr. Haynes also leads Gov’t Mule. He collected multiple
awards: as songwriter for the Allmans’ “Old Before My Time”
and for live performance and live album with Gov’t Mule on
“The Deepest End,” a New Orleans concert. He accepted the
award for DVD for the Dave Matthews Band’s “Central Park Concert,” where
he sat in.
Gov’t Mule performed its brawny, doleful Southern rock, and Chris
Robinson, formerly of the Black Crowes, shared the vocals on Neil
Young’s “Southern Man.” Then the rest of the Black Crowes reunited
alongside Gov’t Mule to perform “Sometime Salvation.”
Mr. Haynes, Mr. Betts, the guitarist Robert Randolph, the
jazz saxophonist James Carter and the fiddler Michael Kang
from the String Cheese Incident also sat in with Steve
Winwood, who won a lifetime achievement award. The night
before Mr. Winwood was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame for albums with Traffic, Blind Faith and his own
bands. “It’s wonderful to know that I’ve been jamming for
the past 40 years,” he said.