To cover this week’s Jam In The Dam, we’ve enlisted the help of Joshua Bogen, editor of JambandsEurope.com, to give the perspective of an European fan on the multi-band festival. Please welcome Josh, who’s aiming to provide updates each day.
In a few short days, I’m off to Amsterdam. Windmills, tulips, funny wooden shoes and Jam In The Dam. For many American jam band fans it is just one more date on the festival circuit and not an important one. And it’s not exactly huge, so you may not think it’s such a big deal. But for Euroheads, there is no more important date on our calendar.
Sure, there are lots of festivals in Europe – jazz festivals, blues festivals, electronic music festivals, in fact I would even venture that there are probably more jazz and blues festivals here than back in the states. But what we don’t have are jam band festivals. There is no High Sierra, no Wakarusa and no Mountain Jam. JitD is really the only place in Europe where you are guaranteed to get an ample dose of jam bands for three days and nights.
You should also understand that life is hard for a jam band fan living in Europe. It’s not exactly every day that a decent jam band swings through town, and depending on where you live it might be never. The closest Deadhead you know probably lives about three hours away minimum and your family and friends have no idea who the Grateful Dead were and why a Dark Star or a Saint Stephen was such an important event. And they certainly can’t rap their heads around a band playing the same song for 20 minutes before going into the next one without stopping and then coming back again to finish off the same song they started a half an hour earlier. At times it can be quite lonely being a jam band fan on a continent where Madonna and Lady Gaga reign supreme.
JitD is our “gathering of the tribes,” a once a year chance (although it looks going forward that it may be once every two years) for fans from all over Europe to come together and celebrate the music. And beyond that it’s a bridge between American and European fans, an excuse to see old friends, meet new ones, exchange stories and emails. Of course, that wouldn’t be enough if JitD didn’t offer a top flight festival experience.
To start off, one of the great things about JitD is what it doesn’t have. No port-a-potties. No long lines waiting to get into the festival grounds. No wandering around in the dark looking for your tent. No soggy veggie burritos. And no mud. Everything happens on two indoor stages within the Melkweg (“the milky way”), a historic site which is pretty much hallowed ground for Deadheads since the Dead borrowed some instruments and played their famous stealth show. I wonder if DSO will play Hully Gully?
The other great thing about Jam in the Dam is the staggered sets and the fact that all bands play every night. There are no morning or early afternoon sets to miss, because you just couldn’t manage to crawl out of bed. Even the late night set is at a pretty reasonable hour, at least by European standards. There is overlap between starting times, which means that once things get underway every evening, the music is non-stop with somebody playing in either of the two halls. And if you stay too long at one set, you can always check out the band you missed the next night. And if you’re really not getting into the music going down in one hall, just skip over to the other one. Which means, for example, if you are above all a serious Deadhead, you get three complete DSO shows and the rest is just icing on the cake. The fact of the matter is, you would have to be seriously stoned the entire time to somehow not manage to see at least half a set of every band on the ticket.
And the lineup, as it has been for virtually every edition of the festival, is impressive. They can only bring over a handful of bands, so there are no filler bands. Just moe., Mike Gordon, DSO, Keller Williams and Lotus. Each one of them worth the ticket in itself.
So what’s my game plan? I’m thinking the basic rule of thumb is try to catch the last half hour of each show. It means consistently arriving late and probably hard to get up to the front of the hall, but at my age I prefer the comfort zone towards the back. First of all, I’m guessing by that point, whatever band it is, they’ve got to be raging. I don’t have to worry about them getting warmed up or “feeling out” the room, and if there is going to be that one super jam moment, it’s most likely going to be towards the end. And second of all, it doesn’t leave you in the position of having to walk out in the middle to catch another band, thinking maybe I should stay or I’ll miss something really out of this world. Instead you just show up late and turn to the guy next to you while the band is tuning up for the next song, and ask “hey, dude, what did I miss?” What’s done is done, and nothing to fret about, just enjoy the music.
In terms of music, I’m looking forward to trying to catch just about every DSO set. I’m a veteran deadhead, and although admittedly I was once skeptical of this “cover band,” I caught a show for the first time a few months ago, and I was converted. They do a ripping job of tackling just about anything from the Dead’s repertoire as well as some JGB tunes, and the musicians are all top notch. At the show I saw, we were all blown away by Blow Away, which admittedly is a pretty crappy Brent tune which I wouldn’t ordinarily dig, but Rob Barraco was all over the wild Brent vibe, and everyone pretty much was in agreement that it was the highlight of the first set at least. So, there’s a bit of a safety factor at work, but it is pretty much a guaranteed good time. And as Bob used to sing, “if this ain’t the real thing, it’s close enough to pretend…”
I am not a Phish head by any stretch of the imagination, I love the jams but I just can’t get too worked up over songs about bottom feeding fish, dogs that run away and meatsticks. Mike Gordon’s band, however, is a much different animal – tight, focused and a bit more funky. Mike has got some great songs in his solo repertoire and amazing covers. I’d definitely go for at least one Sailin’ Shoes or a rockin’ Easy To Slip. The real reason, though, that I’m looking forward to catching their sets is guitarist Scott Murawski from Max Creek, one of the truly underappreciated jam bands from the Northeast. They were a big dog on the Northeast club circuit even before Phish was doing Dead covers at campus bars, and it will be a real nostalgia trip to hear Scott’s burning guitar leads after so many years.
I will confess that, although I have heard from so many people how amazing a Keller Williams show is, at this point, I am not committing myself to any of his sets, probably just slipping in an out of his shows. But there is a reason to my madness. The guy has ants in his pants once he gets a hold of his guitar, and if past Jam In The Dam editions tell us anything, it is that Keller will be popping up in just about everybody else’s shows to sit in. So I’m betting that I will get more than a taste of his guitar wonders even if I don’t manage to catch an entire Keller solo set.
If there is a headliner at Jam In The Dam, I would guess that it is moe. I was surprised to discover that there are actually quite a number of “moe.rons” here in Europe. In fact, moe. is the only band appearing at JitD that will be following up with a full fledged European tour. Since they’ve got a new album out, it will be cool to hear some of the newer tunes live.
Finally, Lotus is a bit of a wild card for me. I’m not too familiar with their music, as the whole post-rock electronic thing just hasn’t won me over yet. They are slated to both open and close the festival, with both shows in the Max Hall, so the powers that be, it would seem, have a lot of faith in them. I imagine the late night dance party will rage.
Let me add that there was talk at one point of getting JJ Grey & Mofro on the bill, but that apparently did not pan out. However, it seems that he will be in town, playing a show on Friday that sold out so quickly it had to be moved from the Paradiso to Bitterzoet. I wonder if he’ll come on over to jam? One can only hope.
There are two canal cruises scheduled (the first one already sold out, so they had to add another one), but I think I’ll have to pass. As I understand, it is an open bar, and I don’t want to take the risk of not being in condition to see the shows later in the evening. But there is a lot to do and places to visit in Amsterdam, so as long my energy level holds up, I imagine we will be exploring the city during the day. (The Jam in the Dam website has a link for a downloadable map to coffee shops throughout the city)
Let me just close this with a note to those who are coming over. There is an excellent German Dead tribute band, Cosmic Finger, who will be playing at Maloe Melo the night before the festival starts, so if you are arriving early, you won’t want to miss it. Otherwise, you can probably find me hanging out with a beer before the festival opens each night at the Irish pub across the street (especially on Thursday evening when my beloved Valencia Football Club takes on the local PSV Eindhoven team. Things may get ugly.)