Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jam meets grass at OSMF

For several years, Old Settler's has worked to bring in a younger audience by booking a portion of its lineup with popular bands from the jam-band circuit. This festival, it was acoustic magician Keller Williams, all-out rockers New Monsoon, Texas jammers Flounders Without Eyes, and newcomers Green Mountain Grass.

Musically, I thought the acts fit perfectly well. Keller Williams is an amazing entertainer, completely appropriate as a festival headliner. A lot of traditional roots fans had their eyes opened by an example of what's being done in bluegrass-related music in a vibrant sector of innovation.

I caught the end of New Monsoon's set, which ran on the Bluebonnet Stage while the Vassar Clements tribute was playing on the main stage. I felt like I stepped into a mini Grateful Dead show, and had a good time grooving to the music. I also liked Green Mountain Grass quite a lot, since its a jam band that uses mainly bluegrass instruments.

The lineup succeeded in attracting a market of jam band followers to the festival. I ended up spending a good deal of time with Dave, a jam-bander who was set up near me in the campground. Dave had come down from College Station, Tex., where he works in computers, but his main thing is his love of jam music and the jam lifestyle.

Dave was reasonably literate about more traditional music forms. He certainly was excited to be seeing Peter Rowan, and he'd seen Del McCoury any number of times. Some of the new things he heard that he liked were The Waybacks, Marley's Ghost, and Todd Snider.

Totally off the top of my head, I'd say the jam banders comprised about a third of the audience. Another third was traditional folk and bluegrass music fans, and the others were ordinary young Texans out to have a good time. The latter group and maybe some of the jammers were a little rowdy in the campground. Alcohol seemed to be the drug of choice.

On the other hand, there was quite a lot of good picking in the campgrounds. I had my mando along and got in on a couple of jams. I'm always a little shy about getting in, but almost always have a great time while wishing I was confident enough to take the lead on some songs.

The various audience segments coexisted more than they mixed in the campground and the stage lineup. Since the overall attendance of the festival was well less than capacity, the differing styles and behaviors never become a problem. In a sold-out situation, I'm not so sure that the harmony would maintain.

Is the marriage of roots Americana and jam rock one of convenience or one that will grow and become stronger over time? I'll be following the story in the festivals ahead, especially at Telluride, where the marriage has enjoyed its greatest success.

In the next item, I'll talk with mandolin master Mike Marshall about jamgrass and the newest generation of jam musicians.

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