Everythings Okayalright as the American jam band
bucks a downturn in the concert business
|Chuck Garvey, Rob Derhak,
Vinnie Amico, Al Schnier and Jim Loughlin
Courtesy of Smash
Last summer was the worst that the North
American concert business has seen in decades. A number of
high profile tours, including the Lollapalooza festival, were
canceled due to poor ticket sales (a downsized Lollapalooza
has been rescheduled this year).
But escaping much of the fallout was the jam band scene, populated
by post-Grateful Dead groups like Moe and String Cheese Incident.
How did jam bands avoid the poor ticket sales that plagued
tours by platinum-selling pop acts? One factor is that
ticket prices to go see somebody like Ashley Simpson are outrageous,
ventures Moe guitarist/vocalist Al Schnier in a telephone
interview from Denver, where the group is currently on tour.
Another part of the problem is that while a lot of artists
on MTV today are maybe very popular due to a certain song,
they dont have the dedicated fan base thats going
to be there again and again. Theyre only as good as
their current singletheres no depth to the relationship
between fans and bands.
Since the days of the Dead, he notes, jam bands have nurtured
long-term relationships with fans. We know a typical
Moe fan will try and see us three to four times. If ticket
prices are too high, they wont come. Frankly Id
rather have them come to our shows.
By keeping ticket prices reasonable and encouraging taping
of shows, jam bands have been able to create long-term loyalties
that see them through the ups and downs of the music business
and fickle changes in popular tastes. Formed in Buffalo, New
York in the early 90s, Moe has created a musical template
thats essentially unchanged through the years.
The current Japan-only disc issued in advance of this weeks
tour is a case in point. Released by expat American Doug Allsopps
Buffalo Records, Okayalright is steeped in the familiar strains
of American roots rock, Southern rock and jazz-rock fusion,
with plenty of time for each member to show his improvisational
chops in extended solos.
It came together with the folks at Buffalo, says
Schnier. Wed never really been properly distributed
in Japan, so it was nice to get together with the right people.
We wanted to record something new, but it wasnt feasible,
so we opted for a compilation with bonus tracks. Okayalright
is to get listeners familiar with Moe.
Moe have also built a relationship with promoter Smash, which
has brought them to Japan for recent tours, including an appearance
at last summers Fuji Rock Festival. I was really
amazed at how attentive the audience was, really impressed
by the fact that they sang along with most of our songs, even
though many people who came to the show probably didnt
speak English well enough to know what they were singing.
Another secret to the longevity of jam bands is their ability
to grow strong communities across demographics. For Moe, says
Schnier, this extends from hardcore hippies to people from
many walks of life. One cool thing about our fans is
they are down-to-earth peoplepeople with normal jobsnot
just kids with dreadlocks selling homemade burritos in the
parking lot. And they network with each other.
Its really cool to see, when you play a destination
show like New Years Eve, that they all seem to know
each other. Its bizarre to think we somehow brought
them all together. Sometimes I almost get the impression that
they get together just to be with each other and the music
is only a bonus.
Liquid Room Ebisu, Apr 23, and Yokohama Bay Hall, Apr
24. See concert listings for details.
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