Denver, for all intents and purposes, is the Jam Band Capital of the World. I, like anybody with an iota of taste, know that's nothing to be proud of. Still, it's better than being The Old Person Capital or the World like Miami of The Douchebag Capital of the World like LA.
On any given night in The Mile High City (emphasis on high), we host at least a dozen bands that the mainstream music community has never heard of or has chosen to ignore (rightfully so). These are not critical darlings that just haven't gotten their day in the sun. These are lame hippie throwbacks that, if we were guided by a merciful god, wouldn't see the light of day. They're the jam bands.
They play bluegrass and funk and jazz fusion and smooth jazz and whitewashed reggae and whitewashed blues and John Denver-esque folk and Bachman Turner Overdrive-esque rock. They play for 6 hours and complete no more than 4 or 5 songs. If their songs have lyrics, they're either vapid or ridiculous. They noodle and meander and attempt to make music. For the most part, they fail, delivering cacophonous noise that doesn't belong on the sound system in a head shop let alone on a stage. They defend their trash by calling it a jam.
Reminds me of a joke Jerry Garcia once told me: What's the difference between marmalade and jam? You can't marmalade your dick up an ass. Anyway...
The Grateful Dead is the grandfather of the jam band scene. Phish is the heir apparent. Widespread Panic is the red-headed stepchild. Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson are the young cousins. There are a whole bunch others that are less ubiquitous -- The String Cheese Incident, Leftover Salmon, Moe, The Motet. Yup, they sound as lame as their names.
Believe it or not, I actually like The Dead. I even spent a summer or four on tour with them. Yes, I was young and stupid. Still, it was a great way to get laid, to do drugs, and to shirk responsibility. However, back then, the scene was different. The Dead was the scene. Now, it's evolved so far beyond The Dead that most Deadheads wouldn't even recognize the brown acid and glass bongs that these jam banders are sporting.
By far, the worst part of the Jam Band scene is the people. They're the bohemian bourgeois, which is essentially a paradox. The want to be liberally idealistic, but they're extremely materialistic. They want to take road trips, but they want to do it in Land Rovers. They claim to be environmentally conscious, but they engage in irresponsible consumerism and waste. They think that "being green" is the same as "smokes a lot of pot." They're the trustafarians that squander their parent's money. They're the yuppies that don't want to admit they've sold out.
Most of the guys look like the lead singer of The Spin Doctors. Most of the women look like the lead singer from The Black Crowes. They don't wear deodorant. It's not an accident or a moral stance. It's a fashion statement. Same goes for female underarm hair and and male dreadlocks. And the clothes? They travel the world (with their parent's money, of course) so they can get Guatemalan sweat pants or African dashikis. They're like débutantes that travel to Paris or Milan in search of haute couture dresses.
They claim to be tolerant, but they're extremely judgmental. If you're not like them, they'll shun you. They frown upon individuality and they all try to be the same. Douchebags are douchebags whether they wear knit hats or baseball caps. Airheaded hos are airheaded hos whether they wear sundresses or sorority sweatshirts. They all exist to get wasted, to hook up, and to make bad decisions. In a scene that preaches peace and love, you'd be surprised by how many fights break out at jam band shows. You'd be surprised by how many non-peaceful chemicals like crystal meth and cocaine are consumed. You'd be surprised by the hypocrisy and misogyny that exists.
I don't have delusions that the Summer of Love hippies were all that great. I understand that hippie and morally corrupt often go hand in hand. Still, these jam band kids piss me off. They take otherwise good bands and destroy them (The Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, Ween). They even destroyed a great band, The Jam, by adding negative connotations to their name. Their patronage of shitty acts keeps decent acts from getting stage time. Their obnoxious attitudes and greedy sensibilities make those of us that are actually disenfranchised and anti-establishment look bad.
I know there are lots of good people in the jam band scene too. They're just outnumbered by the rest. Chances are you'll see me at a hippie bar or a jam band show in the near future. Despite all my disdain for this scene, it's still better than going anywhere that plays techno or serves tapas. Plus, in Denver, I have nowhere else to go. Jam on, brothers and sisters!