From bands such as Phish, Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler who played the venue in the very early ’90s, I really seemed to connect with the venue around the mid ’90s by seeing a slew of bands there including the Disco Biscuits, God Street Wine, Ozomatli, KVHW, moe., The Big Wu and many, many more. While many of these bands rode the surge of the H.O.R.D.E. tour from the early ’90s, the proverbial doors of perception were blown wide open in the world of jambands. Simply put, I realize now, it was a decade long period from about ’92-’02 that I will always classify in my mind as the time to be around this genre of music.
Many of the most memorable nights revolved around more rock-based shows by the Disco Biscuits, who repeatedly spun a sonic jigsaw puzzle that often had me stumbling out into the streets wondering what the hell I just saw, with my collective brain spilling out of my ears, and a shit-eating grin on my face. In fact, it has taken me many years to really appreciate — and yearn for a return — to this formative experiences. Other acts that always impressed and often threw down 20-30 minute tunes were moe. and KVHW. Moe. has remained faithfully true to their jamming roots even up to today, and may be the exception of this column. The Biscuits certainly still push the envelope, but in a much more electronic way nowadays, which I have nothing bad to say about, but simply for the sake of this piece wish I could capture the raw energy and power of some of their earlier shows. KVHW, led by Steve Kimock on guitar, was a more psychedelic experience, and often times led one through a cosmic journey of epic proportions.
Whatever your taste, it was clear bands such as these, in a place such as the Wetlands in the ’90s was something truly special to witness. The absolute pinnacle of the jamband world in my mind, and one that has slowly seen the slow decline of this era since, was the inaugural Bonnaroo in 2002. To truly grasp what this lineup of mega-powers meant to our scene at the time cannot be overstated. It was truly the first festival of its kind and magnitude, where every name on the jamband circuit was seemingly in the same place for a few days.
From The Big Wu opening the enire shindig and and altering the lyrics to their pop-hit Kangaroo to scream “Bonnaroo!” it was a simple gesture that sums up what i’m trying to get at – pure magic and a snapshot of history. Maybe that’s the reason I haven’t been back to Bonnaroo since that inaugural year – it was just too perfect in my own mind, and I’d like those memories to be preserved forever that way. Selfish? Maybe. Stupid? Perhaps. Jaded? Definitely a little. But still the way that I prefer to leave it for the time being, knowing how good things once were and that I lived right in the middle of it all.
Now, this is in no way shape or form to say that there are no bands in this day and age that don’t “jam,” but simply that things aren’t like these used to be. The Biscuits, moe. and a few others mentioned still throw down amazing shows (which i still go and see), but there has certainly been a changing of the guard or shift of powers, if nothing else. While the Bonnaroo lineup now consists of some jambands that have always been there (Widespread Panic for one), there are a slew of hip-hop, hippie and hipster mega acts that blend all genres. It’s a sign of the times and something that always intrigues me and allows many friends to claim it was the “best-ever,” but for this old dog, I long for the sweaty, Thursday nights with a couple dozen or couple hundred other souls witnessing a “jamband” throwing down a single song longer than your dad’s daily commute from Greenwich to Grand Central. Simply put, many of these acts are dying off, becoming extinct. Yes, yes, there is a “newer” breed of acts like Lotus and Perpetual Groove that are blending jam roots with electronic dance music from the past decade of the 2000’s, but that X Factor is still missing in my mind.
While I may be a bit older and not seeing music five to seven nights a week anymore, it’s simply a preference of what I grew up on. Remember, it was these formative experiences that allow me to write a column about jambands today. There are still amazing acts we all get to share, and that is a blessing upon itself, but I fear that the true spirit of the scene has lost most of its mystique. I hope I’m wrong, and somewhere in a tiny town there is a 17-year old version of myself experiencing the next wave of jambands on the rise. And if that’s the case, let me know! I’m always up for hearing new stuff. For the time being though, I think I’ll throw on a Maxell XL-II S recording of The Biscuits from The Wetlands or KVHW in ’99 and simply reminisce. I invite you to do the same with a few monstrous shows I saw below…