Jam bands. Historically, Coloradan music fans just can't get enough of them. Whether it's the groups who approach the genre from the past through the lenses of bluegrass or roots, or the contemporary and experimenting with electronica, there's a good chance that their skills will find welcoming audiences here. Red Rocks is the perfect venue for jam bands, especially when the sun's beating down or the stars are drifting overhead. Fortunately, there are some awesome bands of the genre playing the classic outdoor venue this year, starting this weekend.
8. JJ Grey & MOFRO
Friday, May 6
with the Infamous Stringdusters and Fruition
This Floridian band blends Southern rock with soul, blues and funk into one mega-jam and, for fifteen years, they have been wowing the country with a celebrated live show, plus a string of great albums. Ol’ Glory is the ninth and most recent and, while the reviews have been mixed, the long-time fans seem to be appreciating the funky, swampy gospel that the band is putting out.
7. The Infamous Stringdusters
Friday, May 6
with JJ Grey & MOFRO and Fruition
Sitting right on the line where bluegrass and roots meets jam band, the Infamous Stringdusters are old favorites here in Colorado, since the band’s formation in 2006. In fact, double-bass player Travis Brook used to live in Durango. The new Ladies & Gentlemen album, which came out in February, is typically soulful and honest while simultaneously technical and dazzling.
6. The Disco Biscuits
Saturday, June 4
with Ghostland Observatory and Twiddle
These Philadelphia boys come at the jam-band genre from the electronic side, so it’s only natural that Colorado music fans lap it up. For 21 years, they’ve been bending genres and hammering existing perceptions into the ground with music often labeled trance-fusion and, even better, livetronica. There hasn’t been a new studio album in some time but they’ve still been busy, involved in numerous food drives and relief efforts. It’s tough to argue with their priorities.
5. Widespread Panic
Like many band tagged with the “jam band” label, it often isn’t as simple as that and many genres are blended together into a jambalaya of sounds. Widespread Panic is definitely on the rock end of the spectrum, following in the footsteps of the likes of the Allman Brothers Band, the Dead and Phish. The band has been doing it for thirty years now too, making it one of the longest running jam bands still out there in its original form. A new album Street Dogs, came out in September.
4. Umphrey’s McGee
Saturday, July 2 with Zappa Plays Zappa and Sinkane
Sunday, July 3 with Joe Russo's Almost Dead and the Main Squeeze
While Umphrey’s McGee are beloved by jam-band aficionados, they consider themselves from the school of progressive rock, taking a cue from the likes of King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Zappa. Of course, there’s overlap; you’d struggle to find a musician in a prog-rock band who doesn’t like an over-long solo. Call it what you want: These guys rock. The ninth studio album, The London Sessions, came out a year ago.
3. Bands with Grateful Dead connections
Joe Russo's Almost Dead, Sunday, July 3, with Umphrey's McGee and the Main Squeeze
Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration, Monday, August 1
It’s not a jam band list without some sort of Grateful Dead connection, right? There are two at Red Rocks this year, with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead opening for Umphrey’s McGee in July (featuring members of Further and Ween), and then August kicks off with Warren Haynes and the Colorado Symphony paying tribute to Jerry Garcia.
2. The String Cheese Incident
Friday, July 15
with Tauk, July 16 with Kamasi Washington, and July 17 with Hot Rize
This local band is beloved, and rightly so: It's progressive bluegrass meets country meets jam, all in a psychedelic shell. What’s not to like? For twenty years (minus a hiatus from 2007 to 2009), the band has represented Colorado music, pouring integrity and heart into tunes that are honest and impressive. They’re due a new album though; A Song in My Head came out in 2014.
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1. Yonder Mountain String Band
Saturday, August 20
with Drive-By Truckers and Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Like String Cheese, these guys are local (from Nederland), and they come at the jam thing from the progressive bluegrass angle. Also like String Cheese, they’re awesome. Losing mandolin man Jeff Austin in 2014 could have derailed the band, but Jake Joliff came in and the band has carried on without missing a beat. Literally. The Black Sheep album came out in the middle of 2015, and it’s a beauty.