Fare Thee Well Was Just The Beginning: Celebrating the Choicest 21st Century Year of Phish & the Dead

by Russell S. Glowatz

 With the New Year upon us, it’s a fitting time to reflect upon the sorcerous year of song currently reaching its conclusion. Musicians across the JamBandaverse have been no doubt firing on all cylinders in 2015, with this energy largely manifesting from the top down, originating from Phish and the surviving members of the Grateful Dead. While I believe trickle-down economics is a big bowl of bullshit, the theory holds water when applied to the jam band scene. And our collective consciousness was given a shot of adrenaline from up top when in January, Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of Grateful Dead was announced featuring Trey Anastasio at the helm. It all started there, and through months of preparation, and five transcendent Dead shows, Trey and the boys set the stage for a year in jam unrivaled in recent history.

Grateful Dead University was the most remarkable thing that happened to Trey since drug court. It admittedly tweaked him just right for the second half of 2015. In GDU, Bobby gave Trey a lesson in patience, and Trey allowed himself alone time with his extensive rig. These two facets in the reeducation of Trey, amongst a smattering of other things, set the scene for our favorite redhead to shine all over again. It’s not a stretch to name Big Red as the MVP of Fare Thee Well, let alone 2015 as “The Year of Trey.”

Through GD50, the best summer Phish tour in a generation, a smokin’ hot TAB fall tour, and what already looks like a New Years Run for the record books, Trey’s infectious energy has remained front and center. And as I’ve said in a previous Trey Band review, he’s contagious, as his magic manifests in the players around him wherever he goes. So as this Phish run rounds out, before we find ourselves on the other side of Riviera Maya itching for summer tour 2016, I’m gonna take a moment to thank the immediate Phish family, as they did to us in the final shot of the summer. United We Stand, and not a thing suggests that this string of unimaginable feats won’t continue into the New Year.

Onward to Dead & Company, part II of GD50, brought to us by three of the core four. Their fall tour was alchemical. With the incorporation of John Mayer into the mix, he has largely endeared himself to thousands of deadheads that not too long ago loathed his very existence. While Dead & Company in an all inclusive sense, has not nor ever will reach the heights of the magic embodied in Fare Thee Well (unless John Mayer can piss rainbows, that’d be an impossible feat), this past fall tour has been nothing less than an expectation exceeding modern reinvention of our favorite touring band. With Mayer and Oteil Burbridge seeded in the mix, Dead & Co. reached contemporarily unrivaled peaks, putting forth some of the finest versions of Grateful Dead songs since the days of Jerry.

And while the collective energy level of Santa Clara and Chicago will likely never be reached again, through camaraderie that can only be built in a touring band, the latest GD50 ensemble found themselves getting better all the time. Due to downtime, some ashes, glass, and rust needed to be wiped away during the first few New Years run shows, yet confidence that the band will bring it with them on this eve remains high. Bigger and brighter things lay in wait for Dead & Company if they choose to head out on their rumored 2016 summer tour, but in the present they’ve managed to carry that 50th anniversary magic with further vigor than has been displayed in years. Thanks boys for making 2015 extra special. You’ve inspired many a deadhead and jam band to reach for the skies in their respective endeavors.

So with the preeminent jam bands’ bringing it all back home in the last twelve months, many other acts have followed suit. While there’s no direct connection here, I firmly believe our collective scene energy has played a major part. Case in point, The String Cheese Incident also found themselves at the top of their game this year. The Disco Biscuits have all of a sudden been throwing down like it’s 2009 all over again. Umphrey’s, well they always kill it. Lots of younger acts have tapped in too. From Dopapod and Twiddle reaching new heights, both opening for String Cheese at Red Rocks this past summer, to unparalleled collaborations between Twiddle and the Werks on Twerk Tour, to magic manifested by Turkuaz, Tauk, etcetera, etcetera, all year long. These are only a few bands that quickly come to mind, as many unmentioned have also thrown their hats into this 2015 free-for-all.

In a nutshell, this year was immensely prosperous for fans, musicians, festival goers, and everyone that has a stake in this subculture. If 2016 serves to be half as fruitful, we’re in for a wild ride in the coming year, yet here’s hoping it’s better. To all in the jam band world, all that have supported my writing ventures over the past six months, and all those souls beyond, have a happy, healthy, and hopeful New Year! Next year in Jerusalem!!!

© Stand For Jam, 2015

Jam Sanders: United We Stand

2016: It’s Our Time To Make A Difference

Throughout the past year, a rejuvenated entity has taken the jam band scene and many of its devoted followers by storm. I am not discussing the recent Dead reunion, Dead & Company tour, or even Phish’s best year in a generation. What I’m talking about is a gray-haired, balding, four-eyed, seventy something year old man speaking his truth to the masses. A man who has declared his intention to run for the White House in 2016. A man who was largely unknown to mainstream America a short few months ago. By now you must realize I’m referring to the straight shooting Bernie Sanders from Vermont, by the way of Brooklyn. For an old dude, Sanders has pumped new lifeblood into the Democratic Party and the American political system at large. And he has undeniably struck a chord with countless jam band fans and musicians alike, and while not every phan is on board, Sanders is squarely the jam band scene’s candidate of choice for the presidency in 2016.

Back in May, for his official campaign announcement, Sanders was accompanied by the unofficial ice cream makers of our scene, and a band fittingly called Mango Jam. It’s apt Bernie chose a homegrown, local, jam band to help kick off his presidential run, as he is a homespun grassroots entity himself. Likely it’s his democratic socialist ideals that appeal to our community in a large sense. We wax communal ourselves, and often root for the underdog in music and elsewhere, so the more I ponder it, Bernie is the perfect choice for jam band devotees. He appeals to our tacit instincts embodied within our gatherings to help those in need. Our penchant for karma aligns positively with the idea that our society should not be oligarchic in nature, and Senator Sanders seems to be the only viable candidate hitting the nail on the head in respect to this broad notion. Whatever it is that Bernie is tapping into, our populace generally feels it’s the real deal. 

And we are not the only ones. Sanders has highlighted a course for this nation that many of the disenchanted and disenfranchised feel we should take. And while some may sense that this guy doesn’t have a holy chance in hell, I can recall an African-American senator with a funny name garnering similar recognition at this very point in the 2008 election cycle. So take notice, and remember Hunter S. Thompson poignantly saying that “if every Deadhead in Florida had voted [in 2000] the world would be a different place.” There’s contemporary truth to that quote, and we as a massive population of jam band enthusiasts have power in numbers. If every one of us jam Sanders supporters voted in the upcoming primaries and subsequent election, the world can be a different place. It’s up to us to get involved.  

And jam band junkies across the nation are heeding that call. From a Phans of Bernie Sanders table being set up at the Phish Dick’s campgrounds over the summer, to totems and larger than life Sanders cut outs raising awareness at festivals and shows across the nation, Bernie fever has fallen upon our community, and at no other time have I seen our members be so overtly politically active. Some will fret that politics should not be inserted into our special scene, but since our unique universe brings so many of us together on similar wave lengths it’d be a terrible shame if we don’t use it to potentially change the course of human history. Stakes are high, and we can make a major difference. Remember that. And if you’re not political, but care about our collective future, take a few moments to discover what Sanders and the other candidates are about. If you jive with what he has to say, register to vote at your next show with a Head Count booth. It doesn’t take too much to make an informed vote, and your impact could change the future of the world. Pretty heady stuff. From Jon Fishman to Horizon Wireless, artists are for the first time using their good names to endorse a presidential candidate. While that shouldn’t paint your point of view, such endorsements should encourage a closer look.Our future is on the line, and there are some colossal issues we’ll be facing in the upcoming decades that could forever alter or even extinguish reality as we know it. Our way of life is extremely precious, fragile, and very much a privilege. If you are politically apathetic, I don’t say any of this to piss you off, although I’m surely bound to aggravate some by broaching such a topic. And while far from all of us are on board the Bernie train, many are, and if these words contribute in a small way towards mobilizing our community it’ll absolutely be worthwhile, and I’ll happily take flak from those who send it my way. So if you’re feeling a sensation in your nether regions, a buzz in your heart or mind, a Bern if you will, head to the polls in the upcoming year and make a difference for all of us.

Words: Russell S. Glowatz

© Stand For Jam, 2015

Review: Phunksgiving – An Evening With Dumpstaphunk, Fishbone, & Dust Rays – 11/25/2015


On Thanksgiving Eve a merry bunch of music lovers descended upon Portchester, New York with full intent to loosen up, get down, and kick off the holiday season in style. Peter Shapiro’s recently revamped Capitol Theatre provided the perfect conduit for such endeavors as there is no better way to escape from the monotony of the day to day than with live music. It was Live For Live Music that booked the three fantastic acts that comprised the second annual Phunksgiving. And it was the Dust Rays, Fishbone, and Dumpstaphunk that imparted the evenings soundtrack, administering the funk with ease and energy to all those in attendance…..

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Words: Russell S. Glowatz

Photos: Chason Heins