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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2009/04/26
by John Zinkand

2009: Year of The Dead Phish

These are interesting times for the jamband world. In addition to being the year of a new president and a new direction for the country, somehow 2009 also became the year of the jambands. The country is reeling from the economic crisis, job losses, and a housing meltdown, but has spoken loudly in choosing a new direction for the country by electing Obama as president. While this entire ordeal is new for everyone and we are exploring unknown territory, the jamband scene seems to have reverted back to 1992. Well, not exactly. There are many more small jambands in varied genres and sub-genres then there were in 1992. The scene has grown and diversified greatly since then. But two of the scenes staples and heavy hitters have returned and electrified the scene: The Dead and Phish.

Of course, with the The Dead there is a glaring omission. Jerrys gone and nothings gonna bring him back. But the remaining core four have set aside their differences (largely in part due to President Barack Obama) and have begun performing together again along with Jeff Chimenti on keys and Warren Haynes on guitar and vocals. Its an older band now and from what Ive heard of the shows played so far, theyre still finding their footing. But they ARE back playing the time-tested Dead tunes the scene was founded on, but with new twists, turns, and arrangements. Older folks in the scene are going to check out The Dead and enjoy these great tunes once again. This is also a rare opportunity for younger jam fans to check out the original members of The Grateful Dead playing together in a live format. While no one will try to argue that the current band is the same as the original, most reviews have been very positive and there have been some very high moments so far (and the tour is only just beginning). The band is obviously striving hard and working together out there on the road at performing these beloved songs one more time for the fans that cherish them.

Then theres the Phish frenzy. Phish had been disbanded for 5 years by the time they finally got back to together and played 3 sold-out shows in Hampton, VA for adoring crowds. In a very kind move, they offered up all three shows for free download to appease the hordes and hordes of ticketless masses. From all accounts, the shows were solid. The composed sections were played accurately for the most part and there was some good jamming. Obviously, this also was a band finding its footing after a 5 year absence, and many of the jams seemed tentative at best (however, more than a few were rock-solid). The hope, of course, is that they have been practicing more and will soon find themselves back in a comfortable and familiar groove during an extended, two-part summer tour.

And if The Dead playing again excited a portion of the jam scenes fan base, Phishs return absolutely electrified most of it. While The Dead are the grandfathers of the scene, Phish are the mature adults of the scene. Still young, vital, and fresher in the minds of a large cross section of younger fans who just missed Phish or only saw them a few times before the hiatus(es), Phishs return has garnered major excitement. Tickets to every show announced on summer tour (over 20 shows) sold out almost instantly. Everyone is talking about Phish and which shows they will get to see on the summer tour. Due to the incredibly high demand, people are also talking about getting shut out of shows, too, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, the usual smattering of great summer festivals is already in motion and look to be as vital as ever. Festivals like the High Sierra Music Festival, The Allgood Festival, 10,000 Lakes Festival, The Gathering of the Vibes, Rothbury, and the mother of all summer festivals Bonnaroo are important destinations for jam freaks everywhere. The line-ups are extensive, ensuring diverse and high-quality experiences to attendees that will only serve to continue invigorating the scene. Even in these trying economic times, people are finding a way to purchase tickets for Dead shows, Phish shows, and Festivals. Of course, the lower level jambands are out there touring as well, hoping to increase their fan base and get in on the summer fun like everyone else. From double bills, bars and clubs, summer sheds, and the festival circuits, it seems like everyone in the jamband scene will be out in full force this summer.

As the economic situation in our country hopefully improves, the scene should only get stronger. Everyone must wait and see if this will be the last gasp for the returning Phish and The Dead or if it will be a new beginning for them. At this point, it doesnt really matter. Its been proven that the scene will continue to thrive without either of them, just at a smaller level. But as summer approaches, jamband fans everywhere have something to be excited about. For the first time in a long time, there is hope. Not only for our country forging ahead in a new direction, but for new life being breathed in to the jamband scene.

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