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One of the most important genres to suburban American teens growing up is “Jam band.” Originating in the 1960’s with a counterculture movement that brought us bands like the Grateful Dead, Jam Bands and the culture surrounding them has been growing ever since. There is a very interesting paradox here though, rooted in the growth of the Jam Band culture that is paralleled in nearly every form of music, as well.

Grateful Dead – Truckin’

Jam Band represents a passive resistance to structured, establishment society. It involves outdoor music festivals, smoking marijuana, and being free with close friends as well as strangers in whom you find a common bond through music. This very dense core of listeners literally lives the lifestyle of Jam Band, usually somewhere in between a true Rastafarian and “normal” American youth. Here is where the paradox begins to arise. As the Jam Band genre grows, it inevitably moves away from its countercultural roots. As most music is criticized for becoming less authentic the larger the listener base grows, Jam Band has an especially hard time once it becomes commercialized.

When Jam Band becomes commercialized, I argue its cultural work is being counter-hegemonic in a sense that it is abandoning its core listeners. Some of the most popular, commercial Jam Bands such as Dave Matthews Band have clearly gained cultural significance and power as they’ve grown, but they’ve had to move away from the true Jam Band culture to do so. The cultural significance of the Jam Band genre comes from the fact that it is a passive counterculture, so by definition, as it becomes commercialized it becomes counter-hegemonic to its true cultural work.

Dave Matthews Band – Why I Am @ Outside Lands

This is not to say that commercialized “fusion” Jam Bands such as O.A.R. and Dave Matthews Band are not “good music” or have less talented musicians, but rather the cultural work they are doing may actually dilute or reduce their cultural impact as the general public sees them as Jam Bands.

O.A.R. – Hey Girl

Kale Schnettler 

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