Blair’s Golden Road Blog— Phish, WSP, Derek and Other “Fellow Travelers”
I don’t dig Phish. Lord knows I’ve tried. Through the years I’ve had so many people attempt to convert me. I dutifully auditioned live CDs fanatical fans would pass to me. I checked out every studio album that came my way, wondering if this would be the Phish album that would have songs that actually resonated with me. I recall when one came out a number of years ago a Phish Head pal proclaimed it “Phish’s American Beauty.” Uh, no. I watched most of a live Phish DVD a while ago, wondering if perhaps the visual element would get me off. Nope. “But you gotta see a show, man!” No doubt. I’m still open to that. But at this point, I really have heard many hours of Phish and it just doesn’t do it for me. The songs don’t sing to my soul, and even though the musicianship is clearly amazing on a technical level, it doesn’t hit me emotionally.
I’ve been through similar scenes with other jam bands (and my friends who like ’em). I can at least understand why Phish appeals to people, but in the case of Widespread Panic I don’t have a clue. They sound completely ordinary to me. Again, I’ve given them multiple chances to show me something — live and studio CDs — but the song craft isn’t there for me, the guitar playing does not blow my mind, and they lack even that quirky dimension that Phish has (way too much of). I suppose I have to see them live, too. So, who’s got my 10th row-center miracle ticket for that show? ’Cause in this era, with ticket prices what they are, I ain’t spending my concert money on a headliner there’s a good chance I won’t enjoy.
But here’s the thing: I root for both of those bands, and really, just about all jam bands, because they are “fellow travelers.” No, not fellow communists, as that term was originally applied decades ago, but musicians out of the mainstream dedicated to playing improvisational music before spirited and adventure-seeking crowds. I like any crowd that will dance—sorry, just standing there doesn’t count; gotta shake it at least a little — and any band that will get people up and moving. To me, it’s the highest form of musical communion. The Grateful Dead completely spoiled me, because not only did they inspire you to dance, they had perhaps the greatest song catalog (originals and covers) of any band ever, so every part of your body-mind-spirit was engaged. At this point, I’ve learned to go to shows not expecting that sort of soul-elevating trifecta, so I am often pleasantly surprised when I get one or two, and if not for an entire evening, at least in spurts.
It’s not like I want or expect bands to sound at all like the Grateful Dead. Yes, I love Furthur—it’s those guys and those songs, brought into The Now. But, as I’ve noted before, Dark Star Orchestra, who sound more like the Dead than Furthur, don’t do it for me. Even so, I still want them to do well, because they’re fellow travelers fighting the good fight and providing a space for the people who like them to experience something soulful and true.
My favorite of the first wave of jam bands — moe.— doesn’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead. Nor does String Cheese Incident, who I’ve enjoyed intermittently through the years. SCI and moe. also have made studio albums I love: Untying the Not and Wormwood respectively, and have written many fine songs. A group that I’ve come to love the last few years who go to some similar musical places as the Grateful Dead but in a completely different way is Railroad Earth. Again, it’s good songs as vehicles for inspired jamming, but more from the bluegrass side. Yonder Mountain String Band is often lumped into the loose jamgrass category, too, but for whatever reason I have not gotten into them in the same way. But I root for them, too!
The other night I went to the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and they totally knocked me out with their alternately tight and jammy rock, R&B and soul sound. The crowd was great — hanging on every wail from Derek Trucks’ slide, and movin’ to the big, big sound of a surprisingly flexible 11-piece band, with Derek’s wife, Susan Tedeschi, out front with gritty lead vocals that at times recalled Bonnie Raitt, Bonnie Bramlett and other belters. Opening for the TTB was the married duo Tim and Nicki Bluhm (he’s best known as leader of the Mother Hips and also toured with the Rhythm Devils last year), and they were definitely not a jam band. They played short, catchy, country-flavored original songs—just two voices and one acoustic guitar—but you could tell they were fellow travelers because you could hear their roots in folk and old-time music, feel that the characters in their songs were flesh and blood, and that as performers they were connecting with each other and the audience. It was real. They got a tremendous reception from a crowd that was there to rock—but also open to being moved.
When it comes down to it, I guess what I’m really looking for, whether it’s from so-called jam bands or a solo singer with one instrument, is some sort of connection. When you find it, you know it—you can’t miss it! And when you get it, you want more. So the search continues…
OK, jam fans — tell us who you like and why! (And yes, I will take recommendations for THE Phish or Widespread Panic disc or download I have to hear!)
Thanks for bringing AOD into the conversation. I saw them several years ago at a festival and really enjoyed the show. They definitely deserve to be included in the discussion!
I am sad that no one else seems to enjoy moe. as much as me. Heck, even Blair gave them a shout out. Discover moe. people!
Good read, Blair, and couldn't agree with you more with regards to Phish, DMB, WSP, etc. The Grateful Dead had some intangible (sometimes mystical) element that no other band since has been able to re-create. At least that's been my experience . . .
And I agree that Railroad Earth is possibly the best post-Jerry band to come out of the jam band scene--what a great band!
I'm surprised, however, that no one has mentioned Assembly of Dust! If you like Railroad Earth I can't imagine you wouldn't like AOD.
Kudos to Hal R for his great post--well done sir!
My Favorite band is Grateful Dead of course, and not a fan of phish at all but Panic is fucking way up there with Dead shit. Really heavy lyrics a lot of the time and some really heavy jamming They got soul for sure. this is why i don't like Phish There jams don't rise and fall when needed or get weird when needed it just don't take you nowhere . Dead , Panic, Earth, Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Mule. are for sure the top bands i dig because they got soul and take me places i could never have imagined Ha Ha.
Blair.....you opened the Phish vs. Grateful Dead box. What were you thinking?
Just joshing. Very verdant territory.
I think this is something we lovers of GD and Phish ect. have all thought about from time to time. Part of me cringes with the competitive edge to it.....music is competitive when you are trying to make a living at it... but it shouldn't be a sport for the fans.
Many of the thoughts on this thread say what I feel, so I don't need to repeat them in detail.
But I must say, the generational aspect cannot be ignored. Those of you who saw the GD before 1985 know how you felt when the "Touch Heads" came on board. And you who saw the Dead before 1981, before 1978, 1973, 1970...know how it feels.
There is a sense of ownership when you were there before "the others".
I own Phish recordings, including Billy Breathes (AKA Phish's 'American Beauty' because it was more "acoustic") which I enjoy listening to 12 years since its release.
But I didn't see Phish unitl last year at Hershey. And I loved it. It was loud. And crazy. And jamming....and free......
What Phish doesn't have is Hunter.....end of argument. Hunter's lyrics are Shakespearian in their timeless brilliance. And that is why I will be listening to the GD in 20 years....Billy Breathes..... mayyyyyybeeee.
Rooting for the jambands, whether you listen to them or not is the essential point.
Where would the jamband scene be without Phish? No other bands mentioned on this thread had what it took to keep The Grateful Dead bus/train moving. Phish was the link. For that, I will always be grateful to Phish and their fans.
Also, I applaud Phish for their festivals. Phish is the most phan phriendly band I know. And for that I salute them.
Someone captured it with the talk about the Grateful Dead making their stew from the original music that influencet them. While the followers have a diluted jamband stew.
I'm going to add some desert.
To me, jamband music is ice cream. The Grateful Dead was the "Heavenly Hash" I love. Phish is a nice "Chocolate Marshmallow Swirl."
Animal Liberation Orchestra is a tasty new "Macadamia Nut'" flavor I love,...
John Butler Trio is a Butter Brickle I'm digging these days.
There are some jambands out there that taste like vanilla to me......but it's a banana split to someone else....and no matter what, it's still a tasty treat.
Back in 1995 , I was a 20 year old Dead head , whom began what is called as sobriety on a sunny spring day in May - the 20th . Just when our favourite band were on a west coasy stand of shows
I had to do an inpatient treatment , although i got clean by myself and the help of an excellent friend who had 2 years sobriety in NA . The first night i arrived in Mount Pleasant - Iowa . was exactly the day before J G passed away . I successfully finished my court order in Mount Pleasant and continued with my life that fall
On Oct 20 th Phish rolled into Cedar Rapids . Just 45 minutes south of Cedar Falls , my hometown And played an outstanding show . It had energy , and hit me emotionally . It was a rainy , dark October Iowa afternoon . And their music was perfect for that specific moment . And i knew they were more than just ' the band ' people were checikng out , as the Dead were painfully finished .
That concert in C r happened to be SUCH a blast , that me and a friend gassed up my 1988 Nissan Pickup truck , and trucked on down to Madison WI , for the Dane County coliseum show on the 24th .
That happened to be another Remarkable musical experience . I then saw them in 1996 , twice . And in 1997 twice again ( Ventura CA , and Champaign IL } . And ocassionally cherish the live tapes of those shows as much as some of the best times I had with the Grateful Dead at their shows
I think it is all in personal preference . Everyone has their tastes and likes . And we must respect all tastes and likes
Widespread gives many - and myself included - much pleasure . I got to see them quite many times , thanks to my great friend Lisa Humbert from Glenview IL whom persistently insisted i go and give them a shot . My first for them was in Chicago in May 1997 . But the show that really got me on the WSP bus was the June 21 in KC KS . Really good . Excellent place for a show too ...
I had the Luck of seeing them in Red Rocks in June 1998 . And THAT was a PLACE to see a band . I can imagine a Dead show there would ve been ther wordly , to say the least
Whoever saw the Dead in Red Rocks is one lucky SOB
Peace , and choose your music well .......
* Since cool places are an excellent topic . Deer Creek was such a fine outdoor venue for a Dead show , in this case .
They always drag me to these shows. In 73 I said "who is this Grateful Dead?" and my friend said, "shut up, I got you a ticket you're goin". Little did I know it would be a life changing event. It was that morning in 95 when I almost drove off the canyon road into the creek when the announcer said the music died (again). After that nothing was able to give me that emotional, spiritual release that Jerry and his guitar seemed to be able to do with such ease. At the Fox theater one night a group opened for the opener and called themselves String Cheese Incident. They were (and still are) a great release. But when their following seemed to be more into the party than the music, it just wasn't that fun anymore. In the late 90s I was told I HAD to see this band Widespread Panic. They were a lot like the Dead they said, you'll like em. It took a couple of live shows and they grew on me. I have been a big fan ever since. The years between Hauser's leaving us and Jimmy H joining the band were iffy, but Jimmy has been a great addition. They also drug me to see Phish, once. We discussed the differences between Phish and GD and I thought the main difference was this.. the Dead had a wonderful way of taking you waaaay up with high intensity jams and bringing you back down for a while with comfortable mellow jams, they kept you on an even keel. Phish on the other hand, took us up with an in-your-face high intensity and never let you back down until it was over. Almost too intense for too long to be comfortable. But as we all know, none of these bands are about their recordings. You can only get a feel for any of them live. You shouldn't try to judge from tapes, or even video. Ya hadda be there man! I have been enjoying the Furthur shows immensely as of late but with one shortfall. While Joe is a fantastic drummer, he's only got two hands and some of this music takes four! Oh yeah, and don't forget Moonalice! They are in it for the music!!
In the end, it's all about what YOU like and how you feel about the music. Music is a live thing, recordings rarely do it justice. See it live. Hear it, breathe it, see it, smell it, roll in it, Live Music is Better bumper stickers should be issued!!
hands down! They come the closest to doing what the Dead did but in their own way, just as you said Blair! I discovered them several years ago and was blown away. I've seen them many times and have never been disappointed! I'm going to see them at Smilefest in NC this weekend. They have the originality, the musicianship and their music touches me on a spiritual level! Others I like a lot are String Cheese Incident, Donna the Buffalo and moe. Keller Williams solo has never really worked for me although I have seen him a couple times with Larry and Jenny Keel and really enjoyed both those shows. Your comments about Phish really resonated with me, Blair. I respect their talent but they don't move me. I too have tried to like them and would go see them live if offered the chance. I also agree that all these bands are "fellow travelers" and wish them well. I've decided if I continue to listen with an open mind I just might learn something!
You are right Blair, he does not let rip very much
oh but when he does.........(I was lucky enough to see it a couple of times)