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!!!