The ten biggest jam-band scene stereotypes
Photos by Eric Gruneisen
The term "jam-band scene" is icky and cringe-worthy. It hurts to even type it. But then again, so is the word "indie" when it's used to describe bands on major labels, but sometimes you have to hang a handle on something simply for the sake of discussion. Stereotypes are made for a reason, but these days, many of the generalizations about people into jam bands are really outdated and just caricatures of a bygone era. Here are the ten biggest jam-band scene stereotypes.
We dance like flailing wild animals
While it may look like that, there actually is some very intricate choreography going on. When you have so many melodies and rhythms to follow with each limb, you're going to look a little funny. When you realize that no one cares what you look like, you can lose yourself in the music; it's far more fun and easier on your body than standing there for hours.
Shows are a sausage-fest
Year after year on the Internet, you read shock and surprise at the beautiful ladies out at shows. People got older, and now they have pretty wives that got into Phish -- never mind the fact that there were women all along. At Dick's this year, you could even go so far as to say that there were packs of females roaming about. At some shows, like String Cheese Incident, the women often outnumber the men, evident by the number of fairy and butterfly wings around. Add in all the men wearing Fishman dresses at Phish shows, and you have quite the feminine crowd.
Everyone's a burnout with dead brain cells
To be able to follow improvisational music and compositions that are full of different time signatures, you need to be somewhat intelligent and have patience. That said, members of the jam-band milieu are often some of the smartest people you will meet. You'll find statisticians with years of show dates filed in their heads, musical-theory experts who can explain every move the band made and folks with a lot of street smarts and the ability to survive and have a good time under any weather conditions.
People who listen to jam bands only listen to other jam bands
Most jam bands cover so many different bands they like, they end up introducing their fans to those bands. This year, for instance, Phish covered "Energy," by the Apples In Stereo, causing that band to suddenly get tons of YouTube hits and even tweet a thank-you out to Phish. Ween and Talking Heads covers are also favorites of fans. Pay heed to the fact that so many of these people are coming from different backgrounds, be it rock, jazz, folk or techno. You would be surprised by the music libraries of many jam-band fans.
All of the music sounds the same
The problem with the term "jam band" that got attached to improvisational bands in the '90s is that they lump too much together. Some bands in the genre play traditional bluegrass, and some play electro-pop; it runs such a full spectrum of different sounds. Phish and the Grateful Dead don't even sound anything alike -- although the "What Phish Sounds Like to People Who Don't Like Phish" video is hilariously accurate.
We all wear patchwork pants and tie-dye
While the fashion sense of many in the audience is stuck firm in "summer of '97," the majority of guys out there are wearing a T-shirt, cargo shorts and a baseball cap, same as any frat boy or dad. Women tend to wear sundresses and whatever is cute, practical and comfortable, much fashion veering toward the practical/outdoorsy genre. Look down and check out people's shoes, and you'll see some of the sickest Nikes on some of the rattiest-looking dudes.
Everyone's on drugs
A lot of people think of jam-band shows as a time to really let loose, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. Drug use is more common at jam-band shows than other concerts, for sure, but don't think that every person in there is hallucinating and on another planet. There are a lot of people in recovery who already did their share, and sober groups like the Phellowship and the Wharf Rats are always present at shows. There are also a lot of people who have gotten older and have realized that hangovers hurt and the shows are just as enjoyable -- if not more -- sober.
We don't have jobs
Don't think someone doesn't have a job just because they take time off to travel the country and see a band. Many people are teachers, and you meet a lot of them out there. One guy at Alpine Valley in 2012 even said he became a teacher specifically to have the summers off for Phish. Besides that, people who own their own businesses are very common, as well as telecommuters. Plenty of people who work from home are able to travel for shows; wi-fi is everywhere, and sometimes being in a different time zone works to your advantage for deadlines.
We all worship the Grateful Dead
While you see colorful Dead tie-dyes all over the place, many can't stand the Dead, thinking they are aimless noodlers with music that's slow and uninspiring. Where one hears soulful beauty, another hears missed notes and the sounds of cats fighting. Quite a few arguments have gotten pretty heated over this band. Even fans of the band often have inter-quarrels over the best members through its history, though it's usually all in good fun, kind of like sports.
We are unwashed
At this point, I think people take the term "dirty hippies" as an endearment. Most people with dreads are cleaner than you'd think; their hair takes a lot of care. Traveling for shows is a big part of seeing many jam bands, so those people are usually coming to the show from a hotel or a campground or RV that has a shower. Sure, people will smell sweaty, but all people smell sweaty in the summer sun after a while. In Colorado, even the smell of patchouli isn't around as much; there's no need to cover the pot smell anymore.
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