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The jam band has a few different faces but they all revolve around the idea that songs are more road maps with certain points of arrival. How one gets from A to B always differs from performance to performance.
The grandaddies of the genre are The Grateful Dead who, while they did write complete songs, would never play them as originally recorded.
The live concerts begat new versions every time they got on stage.
The Dead openly encouraged their legions of fans (Deadheads as they were known) to record their shows and even gave them reserved areas to set up their gear.
Consequently, there are tens of thousands of hours of Grateful Dead recorded shows on the web.
Here are ten bands who have either continued or expanded on jam bands and are considered to be among the best of the genre.
Government Mule is a southern U.S rock band that grew out of The Allman Brothers with band members Warren Haynes and Alan Woody.
Formed in 1995, featuring electric guitar, B3 organ, bass and drums and the voice of guitarist Haynes, “Mule” as they are referred to by their fans, blend rootsy-rock songwriting with southern blues style solos.
These guys can rock out with the best of them.
They’ve released 10 studio albums and various EP’s and are in high demand on the festival circuit.
Hailing from the rocky mountains of Colorado, The SC Incident was formed in 1997 and blends bluegrass, funk, rock , country, and other styles into their own compositions and lengthy instrumental jam sections alongside a healthy dose of psychedelia.
Eleven studio albums, three live releases and eight videos later, The String Cheese Incident are busy touring, and writing songs for their next release.
There have been countless Grateful Dead legacy bands, the latest being Dead and Co. featuring original members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzman and latecomers John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti.
On Dec 31 2015, they formed for what was to be a one-off concert that was so well received, they decided to take the show on the road and have toured annually since.
The song list is made up exclusively of Grateful Dead material.
In their 3rd decade together John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood are still going strong in their explorations of what a trio can do.
On the jazzier side of things for sure, but MMW have found a place on the jam band circuit and continue to break down stylistic barriers.
With 19 + studio albums, box sets, DVD’s and live recordings there’s a lot to discover here and well worth your time
Hailing from Vermont, Phish grew into a band that is probably equal in popularity to the Grateful Dead.
Taking a page from the Dead playbook, they encouraged taping and sharing of their shows which coincided with the early days of the internet and were one of the first bands to do so.
Their music blends funk, rock country and reggae elements into vehicles for extended improvised sections.
These guys are all great players.
The members of Umphrey’s Mcgee cite The Police, Led Zeppelin and The Beatles as their primary influences. They’ve released 13 studio albums and have performed extensively on the jam band scene.
Like many of their peers, their music blends rock, funk, metal, reggae, jazz and anything else they feel adds to the integrity of the music.
As is often the case, not every band fits comfortably within a certain label.
Bela Fleck and The Flecktones’ music covers territories and monikers familiar to traditional jam bands, while doing so with true virtuoso instrumental musicianship.
Bela has won 15 Grammy awards and the band plays at major jazz, country and music festivals of all stripes and colors.
His latest, My BlueGrass Heart won the Grammy for Best Bluegrass album of 2022.
Newcomer Billy Strings can play his guitar.
Coming from the deep tradition of bluegrass pickers in the U.S , Billy Strings has found ways to incorporate elements of different musics to create a live show that has propelled him to the A list of jam band festivals and gigs.
This guy is a serious picker who alongside standup bass, mandolin and another guitar, has secured a place in the jam band world.
Dave Matthews and his band have logged more than a million miles touring the planet.
They’ve released 9 studio albums, 85 live albums, as well as videos, singles and EP’s.
And while they write songs with the best of them, the jamming part of their concerts keeps audiences coming back for more.
Their debut album Under The Table and Dreaming came out in 1994.
Formed in New Orleans, Louisiana, this 6 piece band started off playing Nawlins style funk( think The Meters) but developed their own sound incorporating funk, rock, hip hop, jazz , electronica and world music elements.
Guests have included Mavis Staples, Macy Gray, Allen Toussaint, The Roots, and The Neville Bros.
They have a great reverence for all things New Orleans and consider Tipitina’s their unofficial home, having recorded and performed there regularly since forming in 1994
The jam band phenomenon is alive and well.
The melting pot that is music is always ready for artists that push the boundaries and bring new audiences to the live show experience.
Get out and hear these acts live if they come to a venue near you anytime soon.
Listen for your life.
Joshua Lebofsky is a musician, writer, composer and observer of popular and not so popular music.
He’s played cello, saxophones, piano and keyboards, and toured internationally . His World Music CD Play A little Prayer garnered international attention. He’s busy with several new music productions slated for release in 2022.