April 7, 2005
by BOB DORAN
L AST WEEK THE SUPREME COURT HEARD arguments from both sides on the issue of software for downloading. While representatives from the record and movie industry contend that downloading will be the death of music and film, those on the other side see it as a free speech issue, arguing that a clampdown would stifle technological advancement.
No one from the burgeoning jamband community spoke, but that doesn't mean they don't have strong opinions on the subject. "You should be able to download music," said Dave Johnson, banjo player for the bluegrass jamband Yonder Mountain String Band. "You should be able to use your computer to listen to music, whether you pay for it or not. I think it's irrelevant whether you pay 99 cents a song or not. Not that you should rip people off, but downloading exposes people to so many different kinds of music.
TOP PHOTO: MOE.
"There's not a musician out there who doesn't want their songs out there with people listening to them. I'm not saying you should burn copies of someone's record and sell them so the artist can't make a living. There's a middle ground -- just use common sense."
The truth is, success in the jamband scene is driven by a share-the-music ethic based around downloading technology. "We don't have an issue with people taping our live shows and distributing them for free," said Johnson. "We feel that it's a tremendous resource. We actually encourage it. Share the music with your friends and the next time we have a show we'll have more people."
Working from a base in the jam-friendly state of Colorado, YMSB seems to be the next big thing on the festival circuit. A stint on last year's Acoustic Planet tour with Bela Fleck and Keller Williams gave the jamgrass boys exposure and got them nominated for a Jammy Award. They are also nominated for their latest self-produced live album, Mountain Tracks Vol. 3.
"We're kind of a sleeper band," said Johnson. "It's not like we'll ever have a huge radio hit -- but who knows? Having a hit has very little to do with our objectives and goals. It would be fortuitous to us since we own our own records, but we depend on touring, and we're seeing a good growth every time we go out."
For Johnson it's all about evolution. "As a musician you should always be evolving, trying to get to new places so you can surprise yourself and other people. That's what makes music a vibrant living thing."
A West Coast tour brings YMSB to the Eureka Theater this Saturday for a show produced by the local company Passion Presents. The following night Passion hosts the first Humboldt appearance by moe., a dual guitar jamrock band from upstate New York that has been a major part of the East Coast jam scene for years, earning three Jammys along the way.
Like all jambands, moe. relies on tape-traders and Internet word-of-mouth, but the band was signed with the Sony label at one point. "We thought, `This is it. We've made it,' basically because we had a major label contract," said guitarist/founder Chuck Garvey. "Little did we know, something like 99 percent of bands on a major tank after a year because the record label figures that the return doesn't fit into their money-making program. You basically have to be Madonna or Britney Spears -- you have to be turning a tremendous profit. We weren't like that. We were a grassroots organization built by hard work. They thought that [we were] going to explode, but when our growth continued at its organic pace, it didn't fit into their scheme of things.
"Where they bank on hype and forced advertising, our scene thrives on community, word-of-mouth and a certain amount of street cred, someone saying to a friend, `Hey, I saw this great band; here's a recording of one of their live shows.' That sort of unsolicited advertising is the best thing. Every time we play live, we're advertising ourselves instead of having some record company airbrush the shit out of us."
When moe. got started 15 years ago, the jamband world was still under construction. "It hadn't really been named yet. There was no jamband scene. There were just a few like-minded bands gigging and we traded gigs with them. Then there was this other generation: Blues Traveler, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Spin Doctors and other jamming improvising rock bands. There was the H.O.R.D.E. Festival -- and Phish obviously -- but the jamband thing hadn't come around yet. Then later when it did, it was kind of a dirty word for a while. But now I think it's evolved into a thriving community. There are a lot of different styles; if you call someone a jamband the average person will think one thing, having no idea it could mean an electronic band, or a rock `n' roll band or bluegrass or whatever."
Where does moe. fit in? "As far as the music goes, it started out with weirdness like Frank Zappa and trying to be really tight. Then it progressed into this thing where we would improvise every night wanting to keep things fresh for ourselves and for our audiences. It grew into a career, one that we're trying to keep control of and not let anyone else take it over.
"I think we keep the rock and pop mentality alive in what we do instead of having the music just be an instrumental platform. We're into songs and variety. I don't think any of us wants to do the same thing for the rest of our lives. Variety is what keeps us interested, and hopefully, if we're interested in what we're doing, other people will be as well."
Yonder Mountain String Band performs an all ages show at the Eureka Theater Saturday, April 9, at 8 p.m. Admission is $18, $16 in advance. The show on Sunday, April 10, at the Eureka Theater featuring moe. also begins at 8 p.m. Admission is $25, $20 in advance. For more information on either show, call Passion Presents at 822-0996 or go to www.passionpresents.com.
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