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Published: 2005/04/05
by Holly Isbister

Featured Column:Note For Note: ‘Bad Hippie’

Holly Isbister has just signed on as our latest columnist. Here is the first installment of "Note For Note." This month her piece is entitled "Bad Hippie"

I’ve been a bad hippie recently. And I can’t decide if I should feel guilty about it. Let me explain. In many ways I have come to loathe our jamband culture. And when I say "jamband culture" here is what I mean: anything associated with being "heady," a "custie," going to a "festie," tie dyed shirts and patchwork, hallucinogens, ecstacy, drug references of any sort, being "good phamily" (or any word substituting a "ph" in lieu of an "f"), shakedown street, hula hoops, glow sticks, crystals, lot costumes, and touring for the sake of simply having something to do with your summer. Jamband culture is that which surrounds the music but is ultimately inconsequential to the music experience. It is the scene that revolves around the bands, and the bands and individuals that propagate that scene. It has little to do with the intellectual discussion and appreciation of music.

Perhaps a little history might help explain where I’m coming from. It’s the summer of 2000, and I am at my headiest. My best friend Lauren and I were living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the summer. On a whim I decided to join her on a trip to Camden, New Jersey to see Phish perform 2 sold out nights over July 3rd and 4th. We went without tickets, without lodging, and without knowing anyone. But we had pot, sparklers to sell, and we were (somewhat) cute females. I hold in my hand a picture of me in the lot the day we arrived, in my long red batik skirt and white undershirt, sipping on a Sammy Smith’s, holding a cardboard sign with "Kind Trade 4 Extra" written in black sharpie. We both scored tickets for the 3rd and 4th (although later found out that Lauren’s ticket for the 3rd was counterfeit – this was immediately before she took off running into the venue and minutes before a one-armed man wrestled her to the ground and threw her out). It was as foot loose and fancy free as I may ever be. I felt as though I belonged. I felt completely free. However, I couldn’t tell you a single musical highlight from either night. I don’t remember. And I suspect that has something to do with all of the distractions I faced that night – between drugs and new phriends and dank beers, not to mention trying to find a place to stay for the night, oh and worrying whether or not Mom was calling to find out where I was (I had decided she wouldn’t be thrilled to find out I had called in sick that day to work so I could take off on "tour" for the weekend); suffice it to say, the music was not exactly the paramount part of the experience.

But times change, and people change. And I’ve changed a whole lot. I’m now a nine to fiver in a bustling city, with a respectable salary and benefits based on my ability to forgo the last minute tour and show up to work on time. I plan my concerts sometimes months in advance; never showing up without a ticket or a plan. I’ve given up pretty much all drugs (except for the occasional cocktail or beer), due to their tendency to blur an accurate recollection of the show. And now when I go to see music, the music itself is the reason. Not to say that I didn’t go for the music before – that was always the impetus – but now I’m less apt to be preoccupied with anything but the music. I wonder if my own maturation has led me to a deeper, more focused concert experience. I hope it has. Because now that is the only reason I can endure the distractions – the hula hoopers, the glowsticks, the guy in the lot asking me for a schwill of my beer, people trying to sell me drugs, pipes, shirts, stickers and the like, the people talking during the show. These things have grown intensely irritating for me, in a way that is unnerving considering I was once a part of the hoopla myself. Am I simply rebelling against my roots? Am I now a jaded fan, incapable of experiencing the joy of freedom that comes with the no-laws, no-responsibilities lifestyle? Am I just some grumpy critic that resents my carefree days of yore? Am I bad phamily?

But do I care? Isn’t the music itself the entire point? And if I love the music, isn’t that enough? My point is, being a part of the jamband culture is not necessarily a form of music appreciation. At the end of the show, it’s the melodies and harmonies and oh! the goose bumps that you felt during that incredible song, that should be tantamount to the rest. Being part of the scene and appreciating a great show aren’t mutually exclusive, but it looks hard to me now, to pull that off. That’s a lot of energy, being pulled in two directions. All that other stuff will always be a superfluous distraction for me now and into the future. And if that makes me a bad hippie, a jaded fan, a grumpy critic or (gasp) just a person who wants to see a great show without getting hit in the head with a glow stick, then so be it.

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