Celebration of the Vibe

The John Scofield Band at the Gathering of the Vibes

On the road and in the groove, our traveling music scribe journeys into the heart beat of Americaís burgeoning jam nation

by Lee Abraham

Journal entry 6/24/00 8:10 am est - Iím sitting in front of a run down but lovable greasy spoon somewhere in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Just sorta killing time Ďtil 9 am. Thatís when the doors open and the coffee flows. Patiently, I wait. Thereís four picnic tables out front in varying stages of disrepair. Iíve saddled up to the one with two empty pints of Hennessy Cognac perched precariously near one corner. Itís a writerís thing - figured it would give me a little extra edge. Not that I need any. I havenít had a shower or shave in four days or so.

Donít get the wrong idea. This is not a case of freelance writer gone homeless or alcohol drenched dance with the muse. Quite the contrary. On assignment, covering the -5th Annual Gathering of the Vibes- music and camping festival, Iíve been living in a tent for the past few days. Primitive but functional. And then I stumbled on Contyís Seaside Cafe, just outside the park where most of the 15,000 music freaks are still snooziní. Todayís the third and final day of the festival. The weatherís been outstanding - lots of sun and music in the day with cool and dry evenings. Perfect for sleeping under the stars. Well rested if not properly groomed, Iím one good breakfast away from meeting this deadline.

Many of the artists playing the Vibes festival also performed at the 1st Annual Jammy Awards held at the Irving Plaza in New York City on Thursday. As fate would have it, a few of my unshaven brethren here at Contys feeding their caffeine jones were also at the Jammys. No surprise. Any groove happy jamfan within reasonable striking distance was there. The reason - history.

Brainchild of Dean Budnick, founder of Jambands.com and author of -Jam Bands, Americaís Hottest Live Bands-, the event marked the first time the "jamband" scene officially honored its own. It was a great night. A few of the big winners: Live Album of the Year: moe.í -L-, Studio Album of the Year: -Color in Bloom- by Percy Hill, and in a nod to the granddaddies of jam, the Grateful Deadís, -So Many Roads- was awarded Release of the Year. The biggest surprise of the night was the Jammyís 1st lifetime achievement award, given to B. B. King. Although not directly connected to the jamband scene, Kingís been jamming the blues for over a half century. And although many of the kids gathered for the Jammys have never crossed paths with B.B., the guyís influence on a couple of musical generations is unquestioned. Honoring him with the 1st Lifetime Achievement Award was a stroke of genius.

Sure, the awards were cool but the music was truly special. Amazing collaborations and rarely heard tunes made for a very interesting program that paid tribute to the roots of jam. Imagine the Disco Biscuits getting down on Schubert (thatís right, -classical- music) only to be joined by bass madman Les Claypool for a couple of Pink Floyd and Beatleís tunes, or funk and grind outfit Deep Banana Blackout blowing though a pair of Santana and Zappa gems. Deadheads got the ultimate flashback with Merl Saunders sitting in with Burlington, Vermontís Strangefolk for a rousing set of San Francisco psychedelia. Simply stunning!

Although all the music was outstanding, the performance that stole the show was jazz guitar legend John Scofield sitting in with R&B power trio, Soulive, for an exhilarating exchange of musical ideas. Part of Scofieldís magic is the body language. Rarely looking at his guitar, Scoís animated expressions, ear to ear grin, and eye contact with the crowd was infectious... Miles Davis called Scofield his favorite guitar player. Having Sco participate in the jam not only made for exceptional music, it legitimized the scene. Face it - an artist of Scofieldís stature plays -where- he wants, with -who- he wants. His presence at the Jammys spoke more eloquently about the vibrancy of the jam nation than words could ever express. And everyone there knew it.

Hmm. Lunch has snuck up on me. Today's special is chicken salad. Damned if that doesnít sound good. Looks good too. So did the silver bowls they gave to the Jammy Award winners. Nice and shiny, the Jammy bowls are suitably sized for ice bucket duty. Odds are that more than one bottle of champagne tested that theory before the night was over. Plenty-o-corks poppiní and bubbly flowing. The Jammys wasnít an awards ceremony - it was a celebration!