'Jammy' Awards for Underground Musicians Gain Prominence

For years, there have been countless bands tirelessly playing in front of ever-growing crowds. These so-called jambands, known for their propensity to improvise, continue to thrive under the radar of mainstream music.

Regularly overlooked by radio stations and major record labels, these unconventional musicians survive by creating allegiances with their fans through relentless touring. In an era where it is easier to sell concert tickets than albums, these bands may have the right idea.

The jamband community is a rare, loyal breed of fans. While radio stations and record companies constantly rush to capitalize on the latest musical trends, these organic, grass-roots rockers consistently attracts more fans and more attention through its dedication to the music itself.

"This has been in many ways a pure grassroots community that has helped to support a whole range of musicians through their fervid allegiance to the music." Said Dean Budnick, Author and Co-Founder of the upcoming Jammy Awards, "I think that musicianship is clearly one of the defining elements of the artists within this scene."

The fourth annual Jammy Awards, which take place Tuesday night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, will showcase the scene's best and brightest. As a testament to the genre, the ceremony will focus on the musical performances, not the awards.

This event, along with others such as the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee, has garnered more attention from the media with each passing year. These events give major musicians such as Norah Jones, Neil Young, and John Mayer a chance to mingle and collaborate with jamband mainstays such as Phish, Gov't Mule, and The Derek Trucks Band.

Jammy Award nominee The String Cheese Incident, which will perform on four continents this year, has taken its musical independence and dedication to the fans even further. The band's members have set up their own independent record label, run their own ticketing agency, and even have a travel agency to help fans get from concert to concert.

"I think the fans enjoy having the added contact with the band and the family organizations related to the band," said Keith Moseley, bassist for the band. "I think a lot of fans appreciate that we're trying to do things on our own rather than, you know, kind of plug in to the big mainstream scene."

The do-it-yourself, homegrown nature of the jamband community is its greatest success story. Without radio play or advertising campaigns to promote these bands, they instead rely solely on their own fans. While record labels grapple with issues such as file sharing and music downloads, most jambands welcome it.

Jamband fans are even encouraged to make recordings of the concerts, which are distributed online by the Internet-savvy fans. To the recording industry such practices are considered a loss of revenue, but to these grass-roots musicians, its free publicity.

"When the Internet came to be, [Jamband] fans quickly gravitated to that," Budnick clarifies. "As technologies have continued to evolve these fans have embraced it. Look at the groups that are initiating download programs, most of them are within this scene, and they're having a good measure of success with it."

The fact is that the business of live music is healthier than ever and the jamband community is thriving because of it. The year 2003 saw over $2 billion in ticket sales, setting a new high for a second year in a row.

Once thought of as a bunch of hippies, the jamband community is now as diverse as its music. Fans can find any variety of music, from jazz to electronica, blues to hip hop, all played by talented musicians.

Dean Budnick thinks the survival of this community is a fundamental issue. "The fact is that it is tough to look past groups that, even though their not being necessarily played on the radio, are consistently drawing tens or hundreds of thousands of people over the course of a given year."