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Published: 2004/12/31
by Benjy Eisen

JamCam Chronicles: The First Season

When the first wave of punk rock embraced the DIY ("do it yourself") ethic, I don’t think they meant for a bunch of dirty stinkin’ hippies to make it their own and run with it. But that’s what its come down to.
Except around here we took DIY, pulled it through a glass bubbler, and renamed it "grassroots."
And what else is the jamband movement but a grassroots movement? It is fan-dependant. Want to hear these jams at home? Okay, record them. Make your own albums. "We’ll make the music you make the discs." Want the band to come back to your favorite venue? Okay you’re the promoter. "We’ll play the show, you spread the word." And maybe it’s not that simple, but there’s a real ideal there at least, and it’s that ideal that I’m referencing right now. Because that ideal drives the JamCam.
And it’s that very same ideal that Tom Ledermann, in turn, has kept at the heart of the series. Ledermann created the JamCam concept while looking at a schedule of the 2004 festival season. And although he was the first to raise his hand and say, "I’ll do it," truthfully, JamCam is the natural synthesis of pre-existing elements in the jamband community that have made this community unique. Although there have been recent whispers that the jamband scene is dead, the fact is that no other rock scene currently produces as many U.S. festivals. No other rock scene has artists that are so generous with their music that they actually allow people to record and distribute it. Yet few other rock scenes operate on such low budgets. We are primarily a beneath-the-radar kind of scene.
There’s no "120 Minutes" or "Headbanger’s Ball" to help expose these bands to a larger national audience, and in part the bands are to blame because they’ve followed an established mindset that says making music videos is counterproductive to making music. Whatever. That’s a tangent for another time (and believe me, I’ll get into it then). Be that as it may, what remains is a scene largely undocumented on film. The Bonnaroo DVDs are the closest we’ll come to a scene documentary, but like that festival itself, it represents only the upper echelon. You’ll never see a New Monsoon or a Tea Leaf Green on those discs. There’s just not enough room. I understand.
But Tom Ledermann might not. Rather than bitch and moan like the rest of the lot, he actually did something about it. Realizing that the grassroots movement means a "YOU TOO" movement, he assembled a crew and started filming the festivals. Previously a freelance video producer, and always a fan of the music, Ledermann has come up with a pretty decent personal contribution one that has every possibility of becoming bigger and playing a more important role in coming festival seasons.
Understand that Ledermann is not trying to be Martin Scorsese. Understand that these DVDs are not Last Waltzs or Woodstocks or Live at Pompeiis. Oh no. They’re simply sketches of the holiday weekend that you spent dancing in a field with some of your favorite bands. They are postcards of the Saturday that you spent sitting on a blanket listening to new grooves in the afternoon sun. Intended by Ledermann to be a "video magazine," these discs are actually more like photo albums. Moving photo albums. Random fans introduce music segments; an idea that further builds upon The Ideal behind the grassroots movement. Certain bands get spotlighted (for instance, an entertaining interview with Umphrey’s McGee on the "All Good" disc). Certain scene-makers get nods, and organizations like Clean Vibes get recognition. But mostly, the discs serve as live videos for the jambands, giving each band one song on a 60 to 90 minute compilation. Typically there are something like eight or ten bands per disc judging from the three I just watched.
Held up next to a big-budget concert documentary like…well no, I’m not going to do that. Apples and oranges. Look, if you want to relive the festival set of your favorite band, download the show. But if you want to SEE a wide selection of bands, very likely get turned onto some new music, and catch a glimpse of festivals you may or may not have actually attended, these JamCams are recommended viewing. They feel as homecooked as an audience recording yet unlike my friend Hector who stopped filming the Disco Biscuits at Melstock in ’99 because he ran out of motivation (and batteries) the JamCams are put together with an earnest dedication, by people who want to do this for a living. Ledermann wants to capture the vibe of these festivals that are such a hallmark of our scene. And in doing so, Ledermann has a real chance here to become a tangible part of that scene, himself.

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