By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
This year would have been the 75th birthday of Jerry Garcia and while there are many celebrations planned around the country, there is a great one that happens every year just over the border in Bath, N.H. I’m referring to Jerry Jam, which I had the pleasure of attending for the first time last summer. Jerry Jam is the North East’s best loved music festival and this year’s fest is happening July 21-23, with the gates opening that Friday at 9 a.m. Music runs all day from late morning till well after midnight.
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 Daniel Webb, the founder, offered their larger properties to keep the vibe alive. This is when Jerry Jam 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 2,000 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 fifth year at Jerry Jam. I saw them for the first time last year and what a show they put on. Seals is a beast on the Hammond B-3 organ and delivers a powerful, high-spirited show. One of this region’s own, he just last year took over the lead guitarist and vocalist position. Zach Nugent, from Royalton and now residing in Burlington, absolutely shreds the guitar.
There are a few bands I’m really excited to see, having worked with them before in Killington. Those include Max Creek who has headlined Dazed and Defrosted at Killington Resort two of the last three years, Assembly of Dust who are making their Jerry Jam debut, and Roots of Creation, who just played D&D in April. What’s really cool is that ROC are playing a Grateful Dub set which basically is Reggae Dead, their interpretation of Grateful Dead music. It’s the only festival this summer that will have that. Their set will feature Melvin Seals and members of the Jerry Garcia Band. There are other bands on the bill whom you may have seen in Killington before like Kung Fu and The Peacheaters. Whether you like Grateful Dead music or not, there is music for everyone since there are over forty bands playing throughout the weekend.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Phil Simon of Simon Says Booking who has Creek, ROC and John Kadlecik Band w/ Jay Lane on the ticket. He also has his band there, Rice: An American Band. They will play a special private show on Thursday for just the crew, vendors, volunteers and a lucky few. I am one of those lucky few and really looking forward to it. He says, “I’m involved on a variety of fronts from attendee to provider of music and my wife Angel is a vendor there. She runs the ‘Old 78’ clothing booth which has been there for the past four years.”
Kadlecik is well known as the founding lead guitar player of Dark Star Orchestra. He left that band and took on the same role in Further with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. He occasionally still plays with Phil Lesh and Friends. Lane is well known from his time drumming with Ratdog, Further and Primus. They both are well beloved in this scene.
Simon says the fest is a joy to play.
From a festival goer’s standpoint, I can tell you that watching the bands from up on the hill is incredible and definitely my favorite festival stage and really any stage view I’ve seen. Let’s say you had a broken leg and wanted to attend. You could watch everything from up there and never miss a beat. You can hear it and see it perfectly. There are many great additions to JJ besides the music, like the fact that it’s BYOB with no hassles. There’s two watering holes that are absolutely refreshing.
Simon describes Jerry Jam and says, “It is one of the biggest down home festivals that I’ve been to. You get the benefit of having as many of your friends and family around but you don’t sacrifice the fact that it originated as a barn/backyard party. You don’t have the growing pains of a big festival like ‘Gathering of the Vibes’ and you don’t have that large criminal activity. You don’t have to watch your stuff and suddenly everything is triple the price to get a hot dog. Those vibes don’t exist. They have maximized the size of the community without having to sacrifice the comforts of your favorite festival. It also has stayed focused on their primary music programming objective and the name says it all, it’s Jerry Jam. You get a lot of that style of music. There’s still a lot of variation but it all honors Jerry.”
Simon adds that it is very kid friendly. He’s been taking his kids to festivals as long as he can remember and there are some festivals he gives his kids time off from as they get in their early teens. But Jerry Jam is one that they feel very comfortable with because it’s family driven. He says, “There is a great balance between family friendly and adult playground. I don’t know what they do to make that happen but I feel free to vacation myself and feel comfortable with my kids walking around. I don’t worry about their safety there. I can still have my adult playtime and the children can still be children.” Simon has three kids: Mary, 12 and Samuel and Sara, both 15.
I also had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Butterfield who, like Simon, was a festival attendee before working for them. This will be her twelfth JJ as an attendee and her fifth on the board. Butterfield describes JJ and says, “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 says, “Nobody is excluded from it. It’s great because it goes all the way from infants way up to people in their nineties.”
She started working with Webb as the vendor coordinator and as years went by she took on more of a role doing the website and emailing. She said if they had a JJ secretary, she’s it. They work on JJ year-round but she also works in a health food store and as a waitress, part-time.
Webb started a tradition with VW microbus owners. Webb loves them since way back in the day and has road tripped in them. He says 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 says, “It’s just one of the things that keeps us the coolest festival in the East.”
It was hard for Butterfield to narrow down her favorite bands as she is very excited about this year’s lineup but she says, “My favorite favorite band and it’s really difficult for me to pick a favorite but I’m super excited about three bands this year. I’m a long time fan of Assembly of Dust and really glad it worked out for them this year. I really adore Melvin. He’s an incredible musician and the nicest person. It’s always such a treat to have JGB. I’m really excited about the Giving Tree Band who I just found out about.” I told you it was hard for her to narrow it down because she added a few more. “Super psyched to have August First and Cabinet. Giving Tree and Cabinet are more of national headliners and 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. I’m really excited to bring them to this whole scene.”
I can’t emphasize enough how great this festival is. It’s on my list of ones I’ll never miss and it’s only an hour or so from Killington. Butterfield says, “It’s all about enjoying the music and being good family. “Kind Minds – Good Times” is our slogan for good reason. There’s no room for negative garbage, leave that at home or don’t come. With Jerry Jam, you come for the music and you come for the good vibes.”