Words by: Shain Shapiro :: Images by: Sam Friedman
Jam In The Dam :: 03.18.07 - 03.20.07 :: Melkweg :: Amsterdam, Holland
Jam In The Dam was different this year. Gone were Umphrey's McGee and the Disco Biscuits, Keller Williams was back for round two along with new arrivals Dark Star Orchestra, Yonder Mountain String Band and Galactic. The hyperbolic trance jams and electronic noodling were gone, replaced by Grateful Dead interpretations, bluegrass, folk and New Orleans funk. Also gone were the younger rambunctious fans of previous years, replaced by an older, more mature crowd that defined the atmosphere throughout the festival.
Amsterdam - 2007
Melkweg is a multipurpose venue with two stages, a movie theatre, restaurant, dance studio, art gallery and tearoom. Once again, each room was utilized appropriately. Fans got to sip tea, watch films or float around the art gallery before music each night. When the doors swung open no one rushed directly for the stage. Instead, a calm, collected mass neatly hung up their coats and chatted in the foyer with band members. The first two nights had Keller and Galactic in the small room while Yonder Mountain and Dark Star took over the big room. The only difference was Yonder Mountain and Dark Star exchanged headlining slots, with each closing the venue for one night. The third and final night the bands swapped rooms and timeslots.
Dark Star Orchestra and Yonder Mountain String Band
Much like the Dead in 1981, two drum sets pervasively dominated the stage in The Max (the big room), set on large risers in front of a wall of amps that the bands shared. Yonder Mountain cut the ribbon on Jam in the Dam 2007. Having not seen the quartet since 2002, their precise instrumentation and jocular nature immediately sent me flying. Their first two sets featured a standard array of Yonder fare including "Red Rocking Chair," "Boatman," "Left Me in a Hole," "40 Miles From Denver" and "Not Far Away." This was a clever mélange of all things bluegrass with flecks of country, folk and reggae interspersed with extended instrumental interludes. I certainly did not expect a cover of the Talking Head's "Girlfriend Is Better" but the band's willingness to play a song completely outside of the bluegrass realm, and subsequently rip the hell out of it, epitomizes their prowess.
YMSB :: Jam In The Dam 2007
Admittedly, I have not warmed up to Dark Star Orchestra like some others due to a more close-minded view towards the Dead that sees any and all interpretation as sacrilegious. I know this belief is nothing but unadulterated bullshit. Dark Star is not the Dead. They don't perform identical versions to the original works. No one is trying to replace Jerry Garcia, just interpret and pay homage to his genius. The resemblance is strong - vocally, musically and atmospherically - but this was a whole new experience, different from how it must have been tripping with the Dead in 1981 at the same venue. Both nights proved as experimental as a vaporizer at the Pink Floyd Coffee Shop. "China Cat" began two hours of epochal melodies. It seemed like the music never stopped as "Loser," "Cumberland Blues" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece" were all incisively interpreted, including some mandolin from Yonder's Jeff Austin on the latter two. By performing original sets in Amsterdam (in contrast to their normal model of recreating a specific show from the Grateful Dead past), the Chicago septet injected new blood and flirtatiousness into the music, not only in song selection but also performance style.
DSO :: Jam In The Dam 2007
The Dark Star Orchestra is a new entity, one embarking on their own long, strange trip with a map handed to them by veteran sailors. The crowd, myself included, lapped up each tune including an obligatory, transcendental jaunt into "Lucy and the Sky With Diamonds," "Wharf Rat," "Around and Around," a brilliant "Eyes of The World" with Keller Williams on vocals and a fantastic "Touch of Grey" that closed night two. All in all, the first two nights in the big room symbolized all that is right with Jam In The Dam - a mix of the old and new, demon spirit and whisky and wine coagulated for eight hours of aurally seismic, undeniably beautiful sonnets.
YMSB & DSO :: Jam In The Dam 2007
The third night was even better. What I saw was sweeter than chocolate chronic. "Dark Star" was brought out in full force with "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Playin' in the Band" and "The Wheel." I was there when Dark Star concluded their opening set and Yonder Mountain emerged alongside Keller Williams and wound through the most emotional, cathartic version of "Ripple" I have ever heard. The two bands fully respected the tune, and in doing so, performed it graciously. Built off an audience sing-a-long at the end of "Not Fade Away," it was communal, therapeutic, liberating and gorgeous.
This year had a master of ceremonies, John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender on Futurama, accompanied buddy Larry Shapiro (director of the original Jam In The Dam DVD). While Shapiro filmed things, DiMaggio hopped on and offstage before sets, inviting bands to kiss his shiny metal ass, adding pizzazz and humor to the proceedings.
Amsterdam - 2007
A contest to find a local band to buttress the first night produced Ear Piercing For Babies, a Dutch/British funk act that ran through 30 minutes of music more akin to floating through High Sierra than the streets lining the Centrum in Amsterdam. Apparently this band is recording in April, so check them out.
Keller Williams began each of three nights while Galactic finished them off. The two shared the Oude Zaal (the small room) the first two nights and moved to the big time on night three. Keller's consistency never wavered throughout the festival, and while he was a traveling troubadour floating in and out of his friends' sets, his focus remained his solo work. Highlights included "One Hit Wonder" on night one, a gorgeous reggae-tinged version of "Breathe" on night two, and his various nods to Van Morrison, Al Green and countless others. Keller's scatting was top notch, too. Songs off his collaborative freak fest Dream entwined all three nights including "Play This," "People Watching" and "Kiwi and the Apricot." I remember waltzing in the middle of a jig before getting down and dirty to personal favorite "Freaker By The Speaker."
Keller Williams :: Jam In The Dam 2007
A special song written for a busker in Amsterdam struck gold. In the middle of set three in the big room, Keller debuted a folk dipped homage to a fellow picker on a canal bridge. Keller described a man alone, penniless and passed by, even though his tunes are damn good. Like much of Keller's material, this tune made me smile and think simultaneously. How many gifted street musicians do we pass by without so much as a wink? Being a busker himself at one point, this tune grasped the beauty of Keller Williams in three minutes – a relaxed, honest and caring individual, always in search of growth whilst never forgetting his past.
One of the best festival moments occurred when Keller joined Yonder Mountain on night two for "Funkytown" and "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman." It was hilarious to hear 800 hippies belting Carole King at the top of their lungs.
Keller Williams :: Jam In The Dam 2007
Watching the man play is so damn interesting, as he floats from bass to guitar, all the while singing and dancing in an attempt to further entertain himself. His sets and guest appearances were a treat, providing another rung on the ladder to harmonic heaven this festival is constructing.
I missed Galactic on night one but on night two the small room was packed as the band played climactic, ferocious funk. Stanton Moore is one of the best drummers in America, so my eyes were primarily glued to him throughout the set while my legs fed off the brilliant melodic interplay of tenor sax and organ. Galactic was sort of the stylistic black sheep of this year's lineup but proved to be the icing on the already too-sweet cake. Keller Williams emerged and sang a tune in tribute to former lead singer, The Houseman. They also had a local beat boxer named Sebastian add flecks of hip-hop to the funk a couple times. The political manifesto "FEMA" was entrancing, and older numbers "Doublewide" and "Black Eyed Pea" were fantastic, too. More than individual numbers it was the collective's cohesion, swimming in constant unison, giving equal weight to improvisation and groove structure. Galactic know exactly what they want to accomplish and take the right steps to do so. Their funk relies as much on rock, hip-hop, soul and blues as it does on James Brown or The Meters
Galactic with Sebastian :: JitD 2007
The weather did not cooperate this year, as hail, wind and rain drenched the festival, minimizing outdoor excursions during the day. Still, tales of tripping out at the Van Gogh, nearly getting run over by a tram and going on a coffee shop tour – and not remembering which ones you hit afterwards – coagulated in the mass of hash smoke inside the Melkweg. After three years, the organization is streamlined and predictable, but the music and experience is far from it. Alongside the music, it was the conversations, the laughter and spontaneous dance sessions that one remembers, the experience within the experience. A more mature vibe did dominate but not in a way that dampened the party. In truth, it added to it, as everyone had their own space while simultaneously contributing to the bliss of others. Everyone had a permanent smile on their face, simply happy to be there. This festival was something special.
JamBase | Amsterdam
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