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13 April 2011

Snoe.down throw down: Getting lost in the jam

Note: This article was originally published in the Rutland County Express on 31 March 2011. It is used with permission.

Another Snoe.down has come and gone. For a brief moment again this year, Rutland was the center of the jamband universe. For three days, moe. held court at Spartan Arena and in Killington, bringing with them a nation of rabid but respectful fans, affectionately referred to as “moe.rons.”

While the official numbers have not been released, ticket sales going into the weekend were on par with 2010, which means the weekend likely drew around 5,000 people to the area. (Huzzah, for Rutland.)

Jambands have a complicated and uneasy position in the larger music world. Despite counting some of the most talented and proficient musicians in the world among its ranks, the genre has never been able to fully shake its hippie roots.

Snoe.down 2011:: moe. :: Rutland and Killington Vermont

Those roots, of course can be traced back to the founding fathers of the jamband scene, the Grateful Dead, whose psychedelic readings of traditional rock, country and Americana in the 1960s cast a long shadow. (Though, one could successfully argue that the origins of jambands lie in jazz, especially, the form-defying sub-genre of bebop exemplified by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.)

For the uninitiated, jam-band” is the too-broad term ascribed to bands whose music is heavily improvisational and, often, spontaneous — though, the latter suggests that these musicians are making it up as they go along, which while being true on one level is wholly inaccurate on another.

I say “too-broad” because it is often lazily used by critics outside the scene as a catchall for any band that places instrumental arrangements and improvisation over lyrical deftness, catchy hooks and commercial success.

There is also a tendency to use the term “indie” in a similarly erroneous shorthand to vaguely describe both the independent music world’s sound and a scene. (This tendency, I suppose, comes from our societal infatuation with pigeonholing things into easily understandable categories.)

In a recent inter view with moe. guitarist Al Schnier, we talked about the jamband scene and its frequent lack of love from the broader music world. We joked that, despite the scene’s heavy concentration of first-class talent, there is still a tendency for “hipper” pockets of the industry to look down their noses.

The uber-hipster music criticism website Pitchfork is a prime example of such elitism. Bands like Radiohead, Animal Collective and Yo La Tengo are critical darlings in the indie world, but despite all three being improvisational heavyweights in their live shows, they are not qualified as jambands.

This phenomenon makes Schnier laugh…

This article can be read in full on Jim’s blog  “Local Bound.”

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