This weekendís blockbuster festival of jambands from the Home Grown Music Network is as much about community as the music itself
by Lee Abraham
It used to be easy. Back when the Grateful Dead were on tour, Legends Lounge was deadhead central. Check the place out on any given weekend and youíd find wall to wall groovemeisters shakiní their bones to Dead cover bands or crispy concert tapes. But after Garciaís death in Ď95, and no more Dead tours to keep the local scene fresh, interest waned.
Back in upstate New York though, as well as in pockets of the mid-Atlantic, a new crop of young bands were experiencing something very different. Deadheads were turning on to their -original- music. Rather than a specific -style-, improvisation and extended jamming were the common denominators among the bands. It didnít take long to build a loyal fan base drawn to the burgeoning sceneís weekend music and camping festivals, and at least for points east of the Mississippi, "jambands" were filling the void in the post-Garcia era. Soon the new twist on the old psychedelic dance floor reached Colorado. California was next. And for the past few years, Legends has been on a mission to establish Las Vegas as -the- jamband outpost between the two.
The effort hasnít gone unnoticed. In Ď98, Legends was named ĎBest Live Music Clubí in Las Vegas by the Review Journal. Rolling Stone said the same thing last year. The problem is that accolades, or even great music, havenít always been enough to attract a crowd. "Our focus for the past few years has been to bring in the best, fresh new music currently on the scene," says Rudy Jalio, Legendís owner/operator. "These are mostly bands that deadheads or people into Phish may not have heard about, but would fall in love with if they saw live." And therein lies the rub. Getting people to take a chance on new music isnít easy. "For whatever reason, people donít always respond to what they read about a band," says Jalio. "I think in a lot of cases, music has to be heard, rather than written about."
Heís not alone. As of the first of the year, Jalio and a posse of his fellow music freaks formed the Las Vegas Jamband Society. Now instead of being the lone voice singing the praises of the jamband scene, Jalio is joined by a chorus of like minded jamfans. Currently, the LVJS has thirty-plus dues paying members. Itís also beginning to catch a groove. And none too soon. "This type of music needs community," says Jalio. "We had to get more people involved, because bands were getting a lot better offers to play other markets and Vegas was becoming a place where they might not play anymore. A lot of times, they can actually get more money playing in Flagstaff, which is a much smaller town."
Like any other type of music, hot spots for the improvisation heavy, extended jam approach to making music have spontaneously combusted in some locations, but not others. Case in point: Las Vegas. On a national scale though, the scene -is- reaching a critical mass. "It has definitely grown," says Lee Crumpton of the Home Grown Music Network, a nationwide collective of independent, touring jambands. "When I started HGMN, most people didn't even know what a jamband was. Now there's more good bands than ever, more people attending shows and more recognition from the media. The Internet is definitely helping people communicate better and they're learning more about the music while also becoming more involved in the jamband community."
After organizational meetings last Winter, the LVJS was officially launched in January. The impact was immediate. Not only did the society pledge to get the word out, it put its money where its mouth is, using cash raised from monthly dues to book shows. And having a vested interest in the eventís success got people interested in promoting. "Finding someone to put out flyers on a regular basis used to be a pain in the butt," laughs Jalio. "Now, everybody just grabs a bunch of flyers and theyíll drop them at places near their houses. Itís really helped that out alot."
But handing out flyers is only the beginning. "One of the things weíre considering right now, is that if weíre going to promote a show, it might be more advantageous to us to have 300 CDs printed up and give them away for free, which would be about the same as the cost of an ad in one of the local papers," says Jalio. "We might get a lot better return from that, because then people will know what the music sounds like."
Interested parties donít have to wait, or settle, for the CD. The upcoming -HGMN Weekend- is an opportunity to experience the jambuzz first hand. Even if youíve never heard the bands before. "Generally, these bands donít have big names here," says Jalio. "Itís hard to appreciate the quality of the bands until you hear them. And itís hard to try to put that in print, but these bands are huge in their markets. A weekend festival of this magnitude in a lot of other markets would have to be in a place four times the size of Legends."
Heís not blowing smoke. The lineup for Legendís HGMN Weekend -is- a whoís who of outstanding jambands from around the country. "Awesome diversity, " says Jalio. "From one man band acoustic guitar of -Keller Williams- and the swampgrass sounds of -Stir Fried- on Friday, to some traditional bluegrass kicking off Saturday at 4:20 with -Smokiní Grass-, followed by -Moses Guest- who sound a little like the Dead, the booty fresh funk of the -All Mighty Senators- and the voodoo grooves of -Tunji-, itís really phenomenal, the talent thatís coming together for this event!"
And rather than, er, jam, all the bands into one marathon day, the LVJS decided to throw a weekend festival instead. "Jambands like to play a long, extended period of time," explains Jalio. "The musicians seem to get warmed up to each other and the music starts cooking the more it develops. A lot of times in a festival situation, just as theyíre getting warmed up, theyíre forced to stop. Our thing was that we wanted each band to have a couple of hours." Coinciding with the two day jamboree will be the debut of the LVSAís new, as yet unnamed, publication. "Weíre shooting for the 1st of July for the first issue to correspond with the festival," says Jalio. "We want to sort of use it as the program for the festival. Part of it will feature all the bands at the festival, but the other thing we want to show, is that itís more than just bands, itís community."
OK, weíre back to this community stuff. Jalio explains: "Music based on improvisation has never been marketable to the mainstream. Jambands are as much about creative expression and Ďartí as Ďentertainment,í and while society is quick to heap wealth on entertainers, itís slow to reward its genuine artists. Too many times, great artists arenít appreciated until after theyíre dead. Just look at painters or jazz musicians. Thatís why the people who are into this stuff have to sort of stick together. Itís really no different than supporting the arts in any community. Plus the people who come out for the shows genuinely like to hang out together, and really, when you get down to it, the relationships among the fans, as well as with the band, go beyond just the music. These are people who want to experience something special together. And that includes the bands -and- the fans. Thatís what this community is all about. Doing these events will hopefully expose people to whatís going on."