I’ve got a confession to make, I’m not a famous musician, but I tried to be. Yes it’s true, your humble jamband enthusiast was once himself a musician trying to make it in the jam scene. Hiding From Andy, ever heard of them? That’s okay, no one else has either. Though we’re still a band, our aspirations have become decidedly more local. But don’t worry, I’m sure to strive for jamband fame once again, during a crippling mid-life crisis. Yet, I’ve come to grips with the impending pony-tail in my future. In fact I’ve already begun looking into purchasing scooters that look deceptively like motorcycles, but alas I digress. What I’m trying to get at here is that trying to make it in the jam scene is like trying to figure out what in your tent smells like patchouli and ass. It’s complicated.
Though I’m basing this purely on my bands own meteoric rise to, well, nothing, I’d venture to say that most musicians trying to break into the scene have your standard Phish wet dream. You know the one where after a cross-country tour or two, you’ve accrued a fanbase that will follow you to the end of time, space, and liver function. Much like not looking where you’re walking whilst hunting for a grilled cheese at a Phish festival, that dream guarantees a disturbing step in the dreaded river of pee-poop.
The fact is the jam scene has evolved significantly since its formative days. The pool of jambands working for success is far greater in number, and climbing to the top is not an easy feet. To some degree the model is the same as it’s always been in the scene: win fans over by your live performances. The challenge is fans today have a lot more bands jamming for their attention. The bands that I’ve seen climb from the small-time scene to greater success (The Heavy Pets, U-Melt, The Brew, etc…) always had two things in good measure, some unique element to their sound and consistently good performances. However these traits were useless without the single most important facet to a successful jamband, longevity.
The scene is not one of over night success by any means. No one gives a damn how a person looks or how someone presents themselves in this scene, it’s all about the music, period. The very act of building a fanbase around your music and not some prefabricated image necessitates time, and likewise requires a band that’s able to stay together for years, if not decades, to make head way amongst fans. The combination of audience-required novelty, consistently solid live-performances, and liking the people in your band for longer then most marriages last, in my opinion, makes the jamband scene one of the hardest to acquire success in, but also the most rewarding.
There are no one-hit wonders amongst jambands, there can’t be. That’s because to win the loyalty of jam fans requires a long-lasting relationship between music and listener, one spurred by catharsis through sonic-purges, and built over bonfires surrounded by friends. It’s one that’s forged in a community of music worship, and the shared experience of allowing yourself to dance like no one is looking with 80,000 strangers gladly doing the same. It’s a relationship based on listeners literally assimilating the very nature of the music into philosophies of their life, learning to flow, to jam with the changes, to allow and to relinquish control. That’s the beauty of it all, to follow a horde of humanity cheerfully into traffic jams that last 30 hours, just to hear a couple of songs, is more then enjoying a band, it’s loyalty to a friend, it’s honoring a way of life, it’s pilgrimage in a secular world. I suppose that’s the magic of this scene, in a society based on disposable everything, it’s incredible to see bands that remain so special to so many for so long. A relationship like that could never be fabricated overnight. It grows in its own time. Time is quite literally the secret to success. And not sounding like crap helps too.