Words By: Ken Lawson
On the cusp of their upcoming 25th Anniversary tour, freelance contributor Ken Lawson recently spoke to Vinnie Amico, drummer for moe., as he weighs in on the decision not to stage moe.down this year, the guitar controversy surrounding the Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well shows, the current state of Bonnaroo, social media and their surprising formula for writing setlists.
Ken Lawson: With the recent announcement about this year’s moe.down, can you shed some light as to why it is not happening? Also, will it be back next year?
Vinnie Amico: In true moe. fashion, we like to do everything right. It grew over the years, but not as much the past few events. Between the band and the promoters, we try to provide the best experience we can. We decided this is the year we need to regroup, especially with the amount of other festivals happening this year. We realize upstate New York can be quite cold that time of year, and some of our older fans may not like to camp. So in some ways it comes down to location. I would say it will definitely be back next year if we can all come up with a situation that works for the band and the fans.
KL: There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the remaining members of the Grateful Dead’s decision to include Trey Anastasio as their guitarist for the Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago this summer. What are your personal feelings on this?
VA: Obviously, they want to sell tickets. Trey is a great musician. Trey sells tickets. I personally think it is awesome and it is going to be good for the scene as a whole. It is going to remind everyone why this scene exists. Not everyone in moe. is into the Grateful Dead, but there is no denying their influence.
KL: What are your thoughts on the current state of Bonnaroo? There has been an obvious shift away from it being a “jamband” festival to more mainstream acts.
VA: I have a jaded outlook on all that (laughter). They wanted a more mainstream festival. It draws more revenue. Those types of fans spend more money. I believe the first five Bonnaroos sold out, but I’m not sure they have since the switch. Ever since they had Phish and Bruce Springsteen, they haven’t sold out. I won’t go as far as to say it has become a “cash-grab”, but so be it. moe. has not been offered to play there in several years.
KL: moe. has a large internet presence on social media. Your fans, the “moe.rons,” are notoriously outspoken about show reviews and setlists. Does the band follow these groups online and how much influence does it have on your performances?
VA: I don’t read Facebook. I’m not on Phantasy Tour. It would drive me crazy. I know there is a bunch of crap posted on these sites, and some of the other guys read it. In some ways, you have to conform to what they are saying to keep them happy, but it doesn’t really influence what we play. I don’t think most of the people who make negative posts are even at the shows. We do make it a point from time to time to ask the online fans what they would like to hear.
KL: How does moe. come up with their setlists? Are they carefully thought out, is there a formula or does the band just “wing-it?”
VA: To a fault, we are largely democratic. We usually go in alphabetical order. I’ll write a list one night, then Rob, and so on. We will write a definite list of how we want it to go down. We put in segues, the “arrow” between songs as most would understand it, then the improvisation happens as we get from point A to point B. Like if I was to write “Recreational Chemistry” > “Meat,” which doesn’t happen that often because those songs are so long, we try to stick to that as long as we are able to get to point B at the end.
KL: What is your personal favorite musical moment in moe.? My first guess would be the “march” drum intro to “St. Augustine.”
VA: My favorite stuff isn’t about me. I love that intro to “St. Augustine,” but I really like “Opium.” I love how that song builds. Some of the slower stuff is great to play. “Four,” “Wind It Up” And “Water” are all some of my favorites. It really comes down to the energy the song brings. The more vibe the crowd sends us, the better.
moe. kicks off their 25th Anniversary Tour with a two-night stand at Buffalo’s Town Ballroom tonight and tomorrow. The group then heads to Boulder and Denver and they are also scheduled to appear at the Aura Music and Arts Festival in Live Oak, Florida on March 6. For more information, visit moe.org.