Live music can be one of the most captivating and addicting hobbies out there. The thrill you receive from seeing the band you love playing your favorite songs is (at least for me) unmatched by anything else. More importantly, the live music scene is experiencing a renaissance right now. Every year there are more and more festivals, paired with new ones springing up everywhere. Events like Firefly, Art Outside, and Rootwire are constantly innovating and changing the paradigm of the festival scene.
I’ve been to a fair share of concerts and festivals in my day, and over the years I’ve learned the shows I’ve enjoyed the most are from bands dubbed “jam bands.” This name comes from the idea of the jam (improvisational portions of their music), which is always different. Bands such as Phish, String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, Widespread Panic, The Disco Biscuits, and Lotus go to great lengths and expenses to push the boundaries of their live shows, taking their songs to new places.
But I hate this classification.
The problem with this genre classification is that all these bands play a plethora of different music. Umphrey’s McGee, for example, is known for their crazy transitions from metal, funk, blues, and into country – sometimes even hip-hop. Their interpretation of classics, as well as their mash-ups of popular songs are extremely creative and well composed pieces of music.
It’s unfair to lump all these brilliant musicians into the same stereotypical, patchouli scented, dreaded, burnt-out term. These musicians have to be so well connected with each other to communicate subconsciously and send each other audible cues through the notes they play, altering songs in a different way each and every night. These bands focus on selling the live music experience rather than album or individual song sales.
My favorite band, Phish, has sold over 120 million ticket over the past four years, surpassing bands like Radiohead, Black Keys, and One Direction. Since their beginning 30 years ago, Phish has cultivated a loyal fan base that has generated the band over a quarter billion in revenue since their inception. Every show they play is special and different from the last and fans go to great lengths to make it to special shows.
Bands we’ve lumped into the jam-band genre are comprised of incredibly talented musicians who’ve devoted their lives to laying it all out on the line at every show. The people you meet at these shows come from all walks of life, reciprocating the commitment and love back to the band on stage. And that’s what it’s all about: the love flowing back and forth between the band and audience that you can only understand by experiencing it in person.