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Published: 2007/02/20
by Allen Ostroy

The J-Word

When the Grateful Dead was honored with a Lifetime Achievement award and presented as the “Mother of all Jambands” I immediately had to send Dean an email, “did you hear that?” Many bands have been labeled jamband since the term came about a decade ago and many of those bands shy away from being categorized as one. Even writers tend to use the term apprehensively as if they are concerned about offending the band they are writing about. How many times has a writer described a band as a jamband but attach a disclaimer to it by prefacing the description with the phrase, “For lack of a better term.” Even some of the leaders within the “community” have already moved beyond the term referring to some bands now as “post-jam” as if to indicate that “jambands” don’t write songs or consider the song as important as the jam in it. Maybe they’re bad song writers but my guess is that they are determined to hook us in.

Why the hurry to move beyond the term? Why not embrace it when it’s finally starting to get what we’ve all been hoping it would get mainstream respect and recognition. They used it at the Grammys and acknowledged the Clergy of the scene with a Lifetime Achievement award. The reason so many artists and writers have shied away from embracing the description is that by accepting the term you were somehow accepting that you were “underground” or that the mainstream would never get you or recognize you. But now not only is the mainstream starting to accept and use the term but its starting to accept and respect the accomplishments and influences of those termed, Jamband.

In an interview with Stewart Copeland in 2001 about Oysterhead he stated, "I'm not used to walking onstage and not knowing the entire setlist from front to back, but I'm going to learn how to do it a different way. Something that Oysterhead has taught me is that getting out of my comfort zone is a real good thing." Then last week during The Police press conference and rehearsal at the Whiskey Copeland professed from the stage that they had no set list. An obvious nod to the jam scene and the influence of Oysterhead. Thank you Trey! One of the jamband trademarks has become cool enough for The Police!

Certainly bands like Widespread Panic, String Cheese Incident, and moe have done a lot to keep the jamband scene afloat in the absence of the Grateful Dead and Phish but when Phish reunites (not to jinx it but is anyone doubting that this is going to happen at some point?) shouldn’t we embrace them as the leaders of the jamband scene? Won’t this give the scene a boost? Will this give you enough credibility to stand up and announce proudly that, “I too am a jamband.”

Did any of the metal bands of the 80’s shy away from their descriptive category? Maybe it was “cooler” then to be metal than it is to be jam now but it’s also now a Grammy category. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, John Mayer, and Bob Dylan, all won a Grammy in 2007 and don’t we embrace them as part of the jam scene? I wonder if they also consider themselves part of the jamband scene. Would they be willing to profess this from the stage while accepting a Grammy?

I think its amazing what Peter Shapiro, Dean Budnick, and Relix has done by creating and producing the Jammy Awards but wouldn’t it be great to have Gov’t Mule (2005 Studio Album of the Year winners) and Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon (2006 Studio Album of the Year winners) also win something at the Grammy’s representing this scene? I mean there’s a category for “New Age Album” for crying out loud! Why not one for “Jamband Album?” Would more people in the jamband community and beyond then be more willing to accept the term and description? Would more people be proud of the scene and its contribution to the world?

Sometimes I feel like I should start a group called JA Jambands Anonymous, “Hello, my name is Allen Ostroy and I am part of the jamband scene.” The first step to recovery is acceptance they say. When are we going to accept the term to describe ourselves? When are we going to start feeling comfortable with calling and being called Jamband? If the Grammy writers feel comfortable enough calling one of their Lifetime Achievement winners one and embracing the Grateful Dead as a member of their exclusive group maybe its time for us not only to reluctantly accept the reference ourselves but wave the banner of Jamband proudly.

Allen Ostroy writes “The Biz” column at Jambands.com and teaches a workshop called Music Biz 101. His Great Bay Entertainment Group is a full service management, booking, talent buying, and event company.

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