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Published: 2005/03/09
by Dan Greenhaus

Beanland- Rising From The Riverbed

The conceptual theory that underlies "jambands" goes back more years than I care to detail. As Bob Weir never fails to point out when prompted, the Grateful Dead did NOT invent the art of improvisation. It goes back to the dawn of civilization. There is no denying that. And while many fans may consider anything before the Grateful Dead irrelevant to some degree, music and improvisation did exist. By the same token, many of the younger fans today are unaware that besides Phish there were plenty of other bands in this genre that came before the bands that populate the scene today.

But, for the sake of our discussion, we’ll use the Grateful Dead as the starting point with regards to the modern day jamband, and Phish as the benchmark for the next generation. Now that we’ve established that, there is one other point which should be addressed, and that is that Phish is NOT the only band to have been birthed by the Grateful Dead and the art of live, rock improvisation. During my college years here in the Northeast, the jamband scene at that time was bubbling much the same way it does today, the only difference being that the audience just wasn’t there yet. Percy Hill, God Street Wine, Freebeerandchicken, moe., Yolk, and Sonic Garden, among others, all made the rounds. Unfortunately as I mentioned, the audience wasn’t there yet, and only moe. still tours with any regularity and quantity of fans (although Percy Hill managed to put out the single greatest jamband album to date). But it’s the knowledge that something existed earlier than what’s going on today that made me so interested to watch the Beanland DVD, as that region of the country and its formative jambands are alien to me. Frankly, I knew as much about Beanland as I do about splitting the atom, which is to say not very much.

Interestingly, Beanland (comprised of JoJo Hermann, George McConnell, Rob Laird, Bill McCrory, Ron Lewis, J.K. Terrell, Harry Peel and Barry "Po" Hannah) isn’t the only star of the DVD, as Oxford, MS gets plenty of attention, as it is clear that the region and its landmarks acted as a sort of environmental influence on the band, which helped form their sound as much as any musical influence. The south has always been rich in culture and it is captured beautifully on this DVD.

Through a slew of interviews with the band and other musicians, the DVD provides a glimpse into the band’s rise, but does so in a colorful and playful fashion. It is not merely a recitation of facts and dates, but rather it’s an intimate look into what was happening not only with the band, but around the band as well.

The DVD might have its limitations in appeal, in that Beanland is not as well known in other parts of the country as I’m sure they would’ve liked. Of course, the flip side of the coin is that limited name recognition makes the DVD even more appealing to students of the genre, of which there are plenty, as well as average every day music fans. It also doesn’t hurt that two of Beanland’s members made their way into Widespread Panic, which as ticket demand for their upcoming tour indicates, has no shortage of fans. At the same time, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the DVD is a thoroughly enjoyable watch whether you know the band or not, with crisp video of the band throughout their career, as well as informative interviews with countless individuals who not only provide insight into the band, but the region as well. Jam fans from the South as well as other parts of the country would certainly be served well by a viewing of the DVD.

I know I was.

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