Jerry Jam Music Festival XXII Bath, NH July 20 – 23, 2017

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I got to Jerry Jam in the evening on THU July 20th, before the official opening of the event on Friday morning, when it was still just vendors, crew, dignitaries, bands, and guerillas.  The place was already in full bustle but seemed to be approaching readiness.

I had the good luck to be playing that night, a position that my band rice – an American Band has assumed once before.  While I also did love playing the main part of the festival, this warm-up position is a very good one in my book- there aren’t as many people but those that are there are enthusiastic, tend to be taste-makers in the jam festival scene, and have yet to be burned out on having seen a zillion bands already. A bit of a house band took the stage for the first time, which featured members of the community- folks from the adjacent farms and people who have populated and worked Jerry Jam since it was a barn party at the founder’s house.  The band was quite large, at times nine or ten people, and they poured out some classic covers from the Dead and the blues catalog and some tasty Neil Young to close it out.  Guitars, harmonica, keys, pedal steel, drums, bass all combined for a down home good time.

We were up next and hit the stage with our own large ensemble- drums, bass, two lead guitars, keys, 2 vocalists and I climbed into my spot on rhythm guitar and vocals.  We worked through some kinks in the sound and fired into our set which stretched to almost ninety minutes.  As usual, when it’s dark, you can’t see much past twenty feet in front of the stage but I could tell the audience was growing and very very ready for some music.  We had a blast.

We definitely weren’t ready to be totally done, so after we loaded our equipment out, and the production crew closed the stage down for the night, we went to the Old 78 Clothing booth and fired up an acoustic jam.  I thought it lasted for a few hours, but to my surprise it was 4 AM before I knew it and the air mattress was calling out to me.  I slept hard for a few hours and woke up on Friday morning with the gate already open and Jerry Jammers streaming into the show.

I know that I missed something that must have opened the stage early, but I did get my act together enough to catch the last half of the Barnyard Pimps.  This was a real surprise to me, a super solid rock and soul band with an amazing strong presence.  The band hails from Franconia and has a great sound, with vocalist Lindsay Adams laying down some great singing.  Their version of “Ramble On” was great and they really held the stage, which can be tough to do for a morning set.  There is a relaxed vibe that is truly engaging about the Pimps.

Up next came some Jerry Jam favorites, Otis Grove-  this horn-laden funkin jam outfit from New England has been on many Jerry Jam events over the years.  They came with a full compliment of sound blaring from brass to strings.  It was funky and soulful and a great transition from the Pimps toward the more Jerry-related material that would dominate the weekend’s schedule.

Up next were Bearly Dead.  This is a spirited outfit out of the Boston area whose ever changing cast brings the music of the Grateful Dead alive with upbeat versions of songs.  On this day they chose to do a Dylan and the Dead set which helped to differentiate them from others who played throughout the weekend.  The theme was welcome and their set was not only well received but just overall…  enthusiastic.  The band was in a bright mood, the sun was shining, the fans were blissing, and all was good at Jerry Jam.

Next up was the first stop on the summer tour of the John Kadlecik Band.  The quartet consisted of John Kadlecik (Dark Star Orchestra, Furthur, Golden Gate Wingmen) on guitar and vocals, Joe Gallant (Illuminati) on bass, Benjy Porecki (Keller’s Grateful Gospel) on keys and Jay Lane on the drums (Primus, Ratdog, Furthur, Golden Gate Wingmen).  This lineup is in its relative infancy but you could not tell that by listening to the fluid and practiced outpouring of songs over the next ninety minutes.  The selections ranged from Kadlecik’s takes on classics from this songbook- a version of Ripple in French for instance, to songs that are clearly favorites like John Lennon’s Nobody Told Me.  Kadlecik as always is well received by a crowd like this who appreciate his experience and his particular voicing of this material and his original ideas that fit so well into the genre.

As afternoon was growing later and hinting at the evening to come, Roots of Creation took the stage.  The band was nearly double its normal size as they were giving Jerry Jam a preview of their Grateful Dub show.  The band is getting set to release a new album of Grateful Dead material all set to their upbeat Cali reggae style.  On this occasion they were joined by Scott Gubermen on keys, Zach Nugent on guitar, Melvin Seals on organ and a full horn section.  They unfolded a set of Grateful Dead standards that have been put through the washing machine of reggae and sunshine that is Roots of Creation.  Cuts were taken from the most popular Grateful Dead songs including Fire on the Mountain, Sugaree, Deal, Shakedown Street and Ripple- it was interesting of course to see in such close proximity the different interpretations of that song by the two bands who had adjacent sets. The combination of the well known material and a fresh take had the crowd very enthusiastically responding to the Grateful Dub set.  The particular selections were for me not the ones I would have chosen, but it was fun and interesting to peer into the band’s mindset and like with Kadlecik, to see and hear their take on this classic material.

Up next was the Giving Tree Band.  I’d been hearing about them for a little while now, I feel like out of the midwestern festival scene.  They were different than the rest of the lineup in that they weren’t classic jam banders or any sort of Dead referential band.  They were definitely bohemian, but much more neatly dressed and coiffed, a hip take on the normal festival band.  They were tight with well delivered vocal harmonies.  They cofered the Rolling Stones’ Happy and the Dead’s Brown Eyed Women and the rest of the set was original material it seemed. It was completely struck by the way the band was able to stop on a dime and within a millisecond be into their next song.  When editing the recording I had to look carefully to see if I had it right, and even likely have cut things up not totally right, without being familiar with their songs.  They had very rehearsed transitions and you could tell that they were keen on trying to put out a very specific show.  They were impressive and I think it will take me a few more times of seeing them before I get what they’re delivering, their own personal signature, but from the looks of it they are worth that gander:

As evening descended Dead Set featuring Melvin Seals took to the stage.  I was mostly eating dinner and socializing at that point so I don’t have much to say about the set, other than that it was well received.  My trusty recorder provides you the ability for you to make your own judgment:

Assembly of Dust was up next on the stage and Reid Genauer’s band as always was super solid.  They put out a good ninety minutes of acoustic based jam music, and the crowd was very appreciative.  I listened to most of it from the Old 78 Clothing booth, and you can’t argue with Genauer’s quality song writing and singing.  Adam Terrell continues to be  a resplendent guitar player and the band is well rehearsed and tight while allowing for breathing room and variation.  For the finale they brought up Nicole D’Amico from August First to sing with them on Gillian Welch’s (Writers: Gillian Howard Welch, David Todd Rawlings) Miss Ohio which was a great choice and the perfect match between her charms and the band’s natural abilities.

SATURDAY The day dawned sunny and hot, and the music on the stage was no different.  Up first for me, August First, a bluegrass jam ensemble from Worcester MA making what I think was their first appearance at Jerry Jam.  August First are good pickers, but the emphasis isn’t solely on picking.  The band has good songs, good takes on classics, and they have great vocals.  They appeared a few times throughout the weekend, and Nicole D’Amico, one of the band’s vocalists also guest appeared with several bands throughout the weekend.  This is a band to watch for sure.

After August First, Worcester stayed up on stage in Bath, NH.  Fennario, that area’s Grateful Dead tribute returned to Jerry Jam and put out a fiery set of Dead music.  They have a very classic and standard take on the material, not a bluegrass version of the Dead, not an interpretive version, or an upbeat or a focused version that pinpoints on certain aspects of the material.  Rather they are a classic Dead tribute band that sampled from throughout the catalog with reverence and accuracy.

Up next were the Van Burens.  The band was a late night band for several years as I attended Jerry Jam.  So it was interesting to see them transition to a daytime set.  They immediately grabbed the audience with a cover of irreverent indie rock band Cake.  They then unleashed an hour of very original music.  They are a staple of Jerry Jam and they were easily able to illustrate why.  They have a bit of irreverence themselves and a flair for the theatric which I always appreciate at a festival.

I didn’t get to see as much of the Van Burens as I would have liked as I was hanging out talking to Beau Sasser.  He was getting ready to take the stage with the band Kung Fu.  We caught up, and reminisced about old times back when we were both hanging out with his band Uncle Sammy.  He told me about progress with some of his other bands including Beau Sasser’s Escape Plan and also the Beau Sasser trio (with Adrian from Kung Fu on drums sometimes and frequently Justin Henricks from Escape Plan on guitar.)

Kung Fu took the stage and showed why they are one of the best compositional prog bands in the country.  In addition to Adrian Tamantano on drums and Sasser on keys, Kung Fu also features Tim Palmieri on guitar, Chris DeAngelis on bass and Rob Somerville on sax.  The band is upbeat and funky and bookended their set with great covers that they were able to sculpt into their sound.  In between was a full on funky set of jam band progressive goodness, complex jams, off center vocals, and layered parts that illustrate each members prowess while coming together into a whole unit. Entertaining begining to end.  They started with Gary Newman’s Cars and rocked it out, unfurled an hour of captivating original music (or so I figure) and closed the set with Steely Dan’s Reelin in the Years.  Kudos boys, this is a great band.

As the afternoon was turning to evening Max Creek took the stage.  I’ve been seeing the band a ton this year, maybe a dozen times and I have to say, they are on fire.  They opened the show with Just a Rose, which is a real strong opener, usually reserved for the finale or encore of a show.  The entire crowd who came to Jerry Jam were heading to the concert field and packing the grass dance floor.  Beau Sasser joined Creek onstage and Mark Mercier made room behind the massive keyboard rig so that they two could riff off of each other.  In fact I had noticed the two bands hanging out and goofing around in between their two sets and it was good to see that fun and friendship spill back onto the stage.

The band deftly bopped between covers and originals including Bob Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue  and the Dead’s Loser.   While I love a good cover like anybody, it’s the Creek originals that I truly dig-  drummer Bill Carbone took the mic at one point and spun us around on his It Must be Nice and guitarist Scott Murawski capped things off with his Something is Forming.  Now this is the song that really was the pinnacle of their show the week before (the Boston harbor boat cruise) and it made me wonder if repeating it was a way for him to settle some unfinished business he had with the song.  In the end though, Murawski was just having fun it seemed and breaking out a great tune when it was most appreciated.  It’s a little tough to see a Creek show and only have one set, but it was a long one and it was a festival so there was plenty more amazing music right on their heels. [One Set] [7:50pm]  Just A Rose > You Can’t Always Get What You Want > Dark Water   Emotional Railroad    Tangled Up In Blue  I Want You To Know  If You Ask Me (with Beau Sasser)  It Must Be Nice >    Loser    Something Is Forming   [9:31pm]  

*Setlist by Setlist Mike

In a certain way, Jerry Jam has been a festival that has showcased Melvin Seals for the last several years.  As one of the greatest keyboard players around, and the current band leader of JGB, it’s easy to see why.  Melvin sat in with many of the bands at the festival and really shines in this environment.  In chatting with him in passing, he mentioned he hoped to get some fishing in while he was at the festival. This is the second year I believe in which Zach Nugent has risen from his own band, Cats Under the Stars, to becoming the lead guitarist for JGB.  And you can tell that his time on the road was really well used, he sounds polished and confident.  The band fired through a great set from tune up jam through to Magnificent Sanctuary band.  In re-listening to the show since then I was truly amazed at a couple of the transitions that were so tight and pinpoint accurate that I had to magnify my recording several times in order to find the break.  Truly there was no break, I had to artificially find a spot as the band never really stopped the one song and started the next, they just transformed.

The Peacheaters, New England’s premier Allman Brothers tribute band closed out Saturday night.  The crowd was amped up both from a huge day of music, and in memory of fallen comrade Greg Allman.  The Peacheaters unfurled an amazing set of music well over two hours sampling from every part of the catalog.  With this year also seeing the loss of Butch Trucks it was a really great time for the Peacheaters to hit Jerry Jam. At one point during the show they declared that of the 60 or so shows that the band plays per year that Jerry Jam was their favorite place to play, and they really illustrated that on this night.

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful.  On stage when I was up and about was a local bluegrass ensemble who were spirited and fun. August First took the stage and were great.  It was their second performance of the weekend, and they did almost entirely a Gratefully inspired set, bluegrass style.  They did throw in some other stuff including a great cover of Ramble On by Led Zep.  I was stoked to hear Rosa Lee McFall a classic from the Garcia songbook that is rarely heard in general outside of very early Grateful Dead bootlegs. August First really seemed to take this festival as their own this year, with two performances on the main stage, an unannounced second stage Sunday late night performance, and singer Nicole D’Amico’s guest spot appearances with Melvin Seals and Assembly of Dust.  I suspect we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more from this band in the years to come, and deservedly so.

Up next were the Cole Robbie band with whom I was not familiar.  They took the stage and the first couple of songs were very strong Grateful Dead covers.  The band is four piece with guitar, drums, bass and keys/organ.  They are super tight.  But they were able to do more than just a Dead tribute and sprinkled in some really cool stuff.  They played Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytalls followed by another old school reggae tune by Desmond Dekker.  And they had a great Beatles double shot with a Silver Beatles classic (909) followed by Don’t Let Me Down.  I’m not sure if it’s true but that feels like a first single by the Beatles to the last single by the Beatles.  They had many more Dead tunes and were able to sample these sounds from early rock and roll and still do Dead stuff.  They were great, frankly.  Sugaree and Deal were toward the end of the set with the Everly Brothers Bye Bye Love finishing their time.  I had to say, I was impressed.

So it was about three years ago that I met Hayley Jane at Jerry Jam.  It was before the primates, and she was sitting in with the Van Burens that night.  We exchanged dirty jokes and a fondness for Paul Newman movies.  She then premiered with her band in the summers since, we had a fascinating conversation about Disney World and Snow White I think two years ago, and each year her band plays they get better and better. This year was no different and for me a bit it was a sort of stepping up to the plate of sorts.  They weren’t just an add on at this festival, but rather a late afternoon purposeful position, where her fans who have developed these long summers of festivals and sit ins, could really appreciate the band.  They have gotten tight and again, more purposeful.  The music has evolved and she is showing not only how she got here, but why she and the band belong.  Kudos, great job and the band sounded fantastic.  They have developed the stage show with dancers and the love and vibe come off of the stage in waves.

Taking the stage as the final main stage act was Cabinet.  I’ve been seeing them for I dunno, almost ten years? The band is now well traveled, growing up from the bunch of kids playing bluegrass inspired jam music in NEPA, to a full fledged national touring band.  They have slimmed down to one drummer, and their fiddle player was absent that day, instead there was a utility guitar player who handled the dirty guitar solo work. Trucker hats abound, and the band has morphed from a jamgrass band into a full rock band sound- with references to their bluegrass past.  But they are now more like Wilco, with their influences on their sleeve but steeped more in rock tradition than bluegrass or alt country.  They were not afraid to get noisy, and the vocals provided by the Biondos, cousins JP and Papi were on point.  Taking it from fast picking pieces to slower rock anthems Cabinet threw down about 100 minutes of festival rock.  It was good to see them again. As a traditionalist I tended to like the grassy side of the band more, but I can see what they are going for here, and I admire it.  I suspect that their show ranges widely based on the lineup for the day and their collective mood. I recognized most of the songs from their earlier collections, but I suspect we’ll see a more introspective and exploratory Cabinet on whatever their next releases ends up being.  It almost feels as if they are wanting to evolve from their origins but they have yet to decide fully what the other side will be.  Like a caterpillar entering the cocoon, we can only all wait in anticipation for what creature may emerge and fly away one day.

by JMS Art and Photo

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