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Published: 2003/11/28
by Dean Budnick

An Award, A Show but Not Necessarily An Award Show: The Anatomy of a Jammy

What follows are the opening paragraphs from my essay on the history of the Jammy Awards which appears in my new book, Jambands. There’s plenty more to read (both in this essay and the book as a whole) and it makes for a splendid holiday present as well :) (with a bonus disc featuring live music from, in order of appearance: moe. The Disco Biscuits, Reid Genauer and AOD, Jazz Mandolin Project, The Motet and Keller Williams).

As for the Jammys, stay tuned, as plans are in motion with announcements on the horizon.

*****

It is a night that embodies improvisation on most every level. What else can you say of a show that pushes into its seventh hour with a climatic final jam featuring Trey Anastasio, Warren Haynes Bob Weir and John Popper among those poised to tear it up, only to have the spotlight wrested from them to a second stage held by relatively unknown Jamaican toaster and a fairy-winged flautist who had scampered backstage a few minutes earlier? Welcome to the Jammys everybody, where just about anything can happen (a night where, as show co-founder Pete Shapiro laughs, "You know at least one person on the back of the T-shirt isn’t going to be there…along with a half-dozen not on there who will…")

Ever since we first formulated the idea in late 1999, the Jammys has thrived through a confluence of brain-numbing prep (the phone calls and faxes begin eight months in advance) and serendipity. In the latter category, for instance, Frogwings’ performance at the 2000 Jammys was possible only because we realized about three weeks out that the Allman Brothers Band had a day-off while routing through our general vicinity. This allowed Butch Trucks to pinch a tour bus so that he could roust his nephew Derek, Susan Tedeschi, Jimmy Herring, Mark Quinones and the crew, and get them to the show. In another instance of Trucksian fortuity, Butch was feted in a black-tie affair by the Alzheimer’s Association at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel the evening after the third Jammys which enabled Warren Haynes to draw in the ABB the night before for a surprise appearance in the Gov’t Mule slot. Pete has described this as "the convergence, the Perfect Storm of events that allows the show to go down as it does."

Of course we’ve had our share of misses too. Maybe we were naive but we were giddy nonetheless at the possibility that Paul McCartney would join us in 2002 when his tour carried him right through New York on an off-night (there’s always next year…). In 2001 Meshell Ndegeocello left cell phone messages just prior to showtime indicating that she wouldn’t be able to attend yet unbeknownst to us she showed-up anyhow (but didn’t perform). That same year we lost Talib Kweli earlier in the day due to creative differences regarding his performance with Soulive but we pulled in Black Thought from the Roots for a version of "Billie Jean."

Still, we’ve only lost one person during the course of the show itself: Al Franken, our putative presenter of the lifetime achievement award to the Grateful Dead in 2002 (although through no fault of his own, Col. Bruce Hampton almost did not make it onto the stage a year earlier when some miscommunication led the Steve Kimock Band to perform without him- thankfully Derek Trucks invited him out for a powerful "Lovelight" with Robert Randolph and Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jeff Austin joining in). As for Franken, he stormed out five minutes before he was set to present the lifetime achievement award to Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead as the show had run too long for his taste- which is understandable because we were an hour behind schedule- but he did flee the building halfway through "Soulshine," the final song from Gov’t Mule, just moments before he was set to appear, which I tried to communicate to his back as I chased him onto 53rd street where he went in search of his limo. It’s sort of sad, he was wearing his "Grateful Dad" shirt and everything.

As you might imagine Al has a slightly different recollection of the evening and when I asked him to respond he offered this take: "The organizers of the Jammys had originally asked me to host the event, but I couldn’t because of other commitments. I did agree to present the lifetime achievement award to the Dead, (humbly – I am an enormous Deadhead), but I had told the organizers of the event that I would have to get out by a certain time – I believe midnight – because I had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to catch a plane. I was assured that I would be out by then, and was asked to come around 10:30 or so. (I am not certain of these times, because this is months ago). I arrived at 10:30 and happily listened to music and went backstage and got to meet Leo Kottke, a hero of mine. I told the organizers I really had to be out by midnight, and they assured me that I would. As it became clear that the show was running over – which shows do – I told them I’d try to hang in til 12:30 or so, but I really had to leave then. At about 12:30, it became clear that it was going to run longer, so I said I’d hang til one, but that was it. More assurance, etc., and I could tell that these guys didn’t have control of the show, (it’s the Jammys, for godsakes), but that , of course, was the problem. It just kept going on. Finally, at one, the group onstage started a new number, and there seemed to be no end in sight. So, I expressed my regrets and left. I didn’t storm out and there was no limo. I’m sorry that they took it the wrong way. I hope especially that Bob (Weir), who I didn’t get to see that night, knows that I worship the ground he and Phil and Mickey and Bill walk on. I just had to get some sleep."

As the person beseeching Al’s backside I stand by my characterization and respectfully suggest that his time perception is slightly exaggerated. As for the limo, whether or not he eventually found it, I know it was out there because we were the ones who provided it for him. I would also counter that we did indeed have the show in firm control (okay, until the RatDog changeover, but Al likely was in bed by then), but we simply let it go at timesfor instance during the Gov’t Mule set, enabling Trey Anastasio and John Scofield to join in on "Sco-Mule." But all in all, our will is not ill and thankfully we had the prescience, or one might say dumb luck (Al?) to have Senator Patrick Leahy deliver his remarks via videotape, which suited the event quite well.

With any luck there’s something to be said for persistence as well. By the time you read this the fourth installment of the Jammys either has taken place or is on the horizon. By now I will have made my annual entreaty to Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer to appear as Spinal Tap and/or the Folksmen, as I have done since year one (actually I added the Folksmen request in year three, after I saw them open for Tap at Carnegie Hall, a number of months before A Mighty Wind opened). With any luck they will be hosting this year but as with Sir Paul, if not, then hopefully one day (I’ll knock on that door again and again as I do with Sonny Rollins and John McLaughlin…)

*****

This essay is continued in the book. Feel free to pick up a copy on-line or thumb through one in your local book store.

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