Courtesy Dave Hoffenberg
By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street. You can also dance at a music festival and summer has so many good ones to choose from. There is only one though that features The Samples and that is Jerry Jam at the Klay Knoll Farm in Bath, N.H. This is the only public appearance of the band in the Northeast until August. I know summer fills up fast so I’m giving you plenty of time to plan as Jerry Jam (JJ) is July 20-22. The gates open that Friday at 9 a.m. The music runs every day from late morning to midnight. The Samples are one of the Friday night headliners, playing right before Melvin Seals and JGB.
There are two local talents associated with The Samples. Bass player Jared Johnson has been in the band for over 15 years, through an introduction by Rick Redington. I had a chance to chat with Johnson to learn more about his great time with them. Redington and Sean Kelly who is the lead singer/founder of The Samples will be performing an acoustic set at JJ right before the band’s set. Those two used to play shows together around Vermont back in the early 2000s.
Johnson said The Samples played JJ about five years ago. “It’s pretty wild. It’s a really cool place to hold an event.” Daniel Webb, the founder, is a huge fan of The Samples and Johnson said it was inevitable that the band would play JJ. Johnson hooked up with Kelly in February 2003 and started playing gigs with him that April until about 2010. During that period they were on the road touring pretty regularly, primarily in the Northeast. He said, “It seemed to be a pretty good fit. It was fun and I love Sean’s music.” Kelly moved back to Colorado and Johnson stayed here in Vermont. When The Samples come around, Kelly calls on Johnson to strum that bass. Johnson said, “I don’t miss touring all the time, but it’s nice to get together now and then.” Johnson is always learning new music via email because Kelly constantly writes new tunes. My favorite tune is “When it’s Raining.” Johnson said it would be too difficult for him to pick just one because Kelly has written so many good songs. He did say, “He has a song for every mood and my favorites go by whatever particular mood I’m in. I really enjoy playing his music.”
Johnson said that playing with The Samples gave him the opportunity to play on stages with people that he was influenced by, all over the country. Johnson said performing at Red Rocks in Colorado is number one on his list of favorite places to play. He added, “It’s such an amazing venue. It’s wild, it really is.” Playing there was his first-ever time there. “It’s really impressive.” He said they also played some places in California that the Dead used to play at so that was pretty cool for him.
Johnson plays in a few different projects, but said about The Samples: “When you perform so often with a group of guys you become musically close and build a friendship and that carries over between the two and then a chemistry is developed. I feel at least for me that never really goes away. I definitely have that feeling with that group of guys. It’s a cool situation for me to be in for sure and then obviously the cool shows! A lot of people show, we hammer it out and everybody has a good time.”
Jerry Jam began in 1996 as a small gathering of friends paying tribute to the life of Jerry Garcia and the music of the Grateful Dead. After five years the gathering had outgrown the barn where it began, in Bethlehem, N.H. It seemed that maybe the Jam had run its course. That’s when the power and passion of community rose up. Friends of Webb offered their larger properties to keep the vibe alive. This is when JJ began its transformation from a very small, one-day gathering of 50 or so friends, to a full-on, multi-day music festival, now with over 2,500 kind souls attending. They believe their humble beginnings and slow growth make the festival unique, and they strive to maintain that “down-home,” grass roots, organic atmosphere.
In 2013, Jerry Jam rose to new heights. The fest was honored that Melvin Seals and JGB wanted to play their little festival. They are thrilled to welcome them back for their sixth year. I’ve seen them a few times and what a show they put on. Seals is a beast on the Hammond B-3 organ and delivers a powerful, high-spirited show. Zach Nugent, from Royalton and now residing in Burlington, absolutely shreds the guitar.
Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Butterfield who was a festival attendee before working for them. She said if they had a JJ secretary, she’s it. This will be her 13th JJ as an attendee and her sixth on the board. Butterfield described JJ and said, “It’s like your extended family is all there. It’s the most family friendly gathering and everyone is there to be there and be good family and to have a good time. You’re going to see people that you know and feel totally comfortable with your kids.” She has two that she brings. “Not only are you going to be in an awesome place with awesome people and awesome bands, cause that part goes without saying but it’s beautiful, it’s pristine, it’s a hay field. There’s no cell service so it’s like getting away from it all. It’s this wonderful world of music that everyone who is there is excited to be there and are there for the right reasons. All in all, the general vibes of the festival is like coming home to this wonderful community of friends you have known forever to friends you are meeting for the first time. It’s really good vibes.” The Jerry Jam world is vast because people from all walks of life are there. It’s not just a “hippie fest.” Butterfield said, “Nobody is excluded from it. It’s great because it goes all the way from infants way up to people in their 90s.”
This will be my third Jerry Jam and I can’t emphasize enough how great a festival it is. There is car camping which is a big plus and a bigger plus is it’s BYOB with no hassles whatsoever. There are two watering holes on the property to keep you refreshed. There are great views of the two stages from high on the hilltop and you can hear the bands from all over the property. Johnson said, “The sound carries up on the hilltop very nicely.” It’s also very kid friendly. The people who run JJ really put an emphasis on kids and families. There’s an organized kids tent with activities throughout the weekend and children 12 and under get in free. Another cool free feature is VW Bus pilots get in for free. Webb started a tradition with VW owners. Webb loves them since way back in the day and has road tripped in them. He said they’re cool and cool to look at, so to promote that, he lets the VW owners get in for free. Not the passengers, just the owner. He knows how expensive it is to have a running one so he likes to help them out. He has a special parking lot for them at the top of the hill with a great view of the stage. Butterfield said, “It’s just one of the things that keeps us the coolest festival in the East.”
This year there are over 40 bands that will be rockin’ and rollin’ and jammin’ all weekend long. I’m most excited to see The Samples. I first saw them in 1998 and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. Kelly’s voice is amazing and his songs are so special. I like music that moves you and The Samples fit that perfectly. Some Pickle Barrel bands from last season, who I love, are on the bill like Kung Fu, Pink Talking Fish and Hayley Jane and the Primates. Hayley is one of a kind. Her voice is one of the best on the circuit today and there is no show anywhere like theirs. There are two bands from the 2017 Killington Dazed and Defrosted Festival that I worked with who I’m very psyched are playing: Max Creek, celebrating their 47th anniversary, and Roots of Creation who are doing a Grateful Dub set featuring Melvin Seals and Zach Nugent. It’s basically Reggae Dead, their interpretation of Grateful Dead music. I saw this set last year and it was awesome. I’m pumped to see the Seth Yacavone Band who hail from Burlington. Yacovone used to play at the Wobbly in the early 2000s when I worked there and I always enjoyed his music. One band who I’m not sure if anyone around here knows but should is Los Huevos. These guys played last year early morning and blew me away. They played everything from Paul Simon to Rusted Root to the Dead and beyond. I hope to bring them to Killington real soon.
Butterfield, like me, is a long time fan of Assembly of Dust. I know that having Reid Genauer and Folks, which is Reid and members of Strangefolk and AOD, is really going to excite her because it does me. She also really adores Melvin. She said, “He’s an incredible musician and the nicest person. It’s always such a treat to have JGB.” August First was a first timer last year and was a favorite of Butterfield’s to bring in. Now they’re returning for their second fest. Butterfield said, “A.F. is an up-and-coming act that I really think people are really going to want to hear them. Their vocalist Nicole’s voice is bone chilling, she’s amazing and her voice takes it to the next level. They have a great original sound in a bluegrass style. They do ‘Dead’ covers, ‘Old and in the Way’ covers, traditional bluegrass covers and their own songs.” Whether you like Grateful Dead music or not, there is music for everyone .
I can’t emphasize enough how awesome this festival is. It’s on my list of ones I’ll never miss and it’s only an hour or so from Killington. Johnson said, “It’s really a great festival. It’s well rounded even though it’s geared towards Deadish stuff, but it’s not exclusively that. It’s good vibes and they keep the riff raff out. They’re really good about security, they keep it clean. It’s been going on a long time and they really know how to run an operation. It’s a good thing with good people and good music. I’m psyched to be rolling in there and playing some bass.”