So, the day before the festival, we’re strolling down the street and I spot Lawrence and John and say hi. Lawrence is doing the filming at the festival and John is John Dimaggio – the voice of Bender in Futurama. How often do you bump into cartoon characters in the street and how easily would you recognise them? John happened to be in Amsterdam a few years ago and got dragged into be Master Of Ceremonies at Jam In The Dam. Since then he’s been invited back for no very good reason other than it seemed like fun. Which kind of sums up the attitude of the organisers – it’s more of a party and event than a list of this-year’s-bands. I have a lovely memory of having some apple pie at 2 in the morning in The Melkweg, home of the festival, and listening to Dimaggio chatting up girls in the bar by being Bender. Between the dancing and the mind-altering psych-rock, it was a moment of weirdness.
Amsterdam is a very chilled place. Friendly people, warm welcomes, apple pie and bicycles. Or it’s a theme park for stag parties. You can spend your trip stoned out of your gourd, wandering round the Red Light District, looking at the hookers and sex shops, or you can wander round the streets and canals, stopping every now and then for coffee and apple pie or a beer and some people watching. If there’s a way to combine the relaxing days with some psychonauting on an evening, then that’s the best of both worlds.
That’s why I love Jam In The Dam and that’s why I was at the fifth annual event. A three-night festival, running from 9 o’clock to 3 in the morning, it’s all inside, avoiding the twin perils of sunburn and drenching. The line-up has shifted from 4 bands on 2 stages, each playing 2 hours a night to 7 bands on the same 2 stages. It’s all about the long-form with these bands – tunes that can be jammed and stretched with improvisation. Some are quite rootsy (Yonder Mountain String Band), some dancy (New Mastersounds), some classic blues rock (The Bridge) and some Prog Rock (Umphrey McGee). Add in Les Claypool as probably the biggest name known to Europeans, and you have the package. In previous year the mix has been mostly dancy or proggy, this year aimed at a wider mix. Most of the bands are pretty much unknown outside the US Jamband scene. It’s not a big scene but it’s a dedicated one – when these folks like something they want a LOT of it. Hence, each band gets 3 slots over 3 nights, changing their setlist each night. Hence Americans flying over to Europe for the gigs – though there are an increasing number of Europeans each year.
But mostly it’s about the people. At these gigs it’s like a pact has been made to be nice to each other. Strangers talk to strangers, smiles are exchanged on the dancefloor and performances are compared – was that a smoking version of an old favourite or was that one in Chicago last year better? Of course, the presence of a lot of dope helps and that’s the draw for some. Me, I’d rather be able to remember the gigs I was at, rather than slumped in a corner like a few Wookies I saw.
So, night one, John Dimaggio takes the stage in The Melkweg and says: “even your bag of weed has a bag of weed – you open it and a stem holds up a little bag and says ‘try some of this, it’s even better’”. Big cheers from some quarters, the availabiltity of weed in Amsterdam is a draw (sic), though surely you can get it back home, folks. Others amongst us are perking up our senses with the still-legal truffles to replace the now-banned mushrooms. But long, jammy music will alter your senses anyway – give it an hour of concentrated listening or dancing and doors open up in the brain, dosed or not. Each of us has our favourite musical medication and the first, Umphry’s McGee are not mine but, wait half an hour and I can wander off to a band in the next room, that’s the joy of it. Sadly missed, this year, is the separate bar area – something I hope they’ll bring back as a place to meet, rest or compare experiences.
Numbers were down a bit this year but Armand, the promoter, said he’s “maintaining the brand” – as he’s seen US numbers drop, he’s seen European numbers rise and, as he says, “the economy will pick up”. This year the lower numbers meant the buzz that you get in a packed room was diminished but, there’s always next year and I’ll be back – the mix of psychoactive music and the most relaxed city on the planet is perfect.
The people make it for me:
- The woman with the hula hoop
- King Hippy – the dreadlocked guy always at the front, trying to be hippier than the next person.
- The hipsters
- The garden gnome – dancing with beer flying everywhere but, a mere ten minutes earlier slumped on a bench, his hand alone moving gently.
- The wookies that look like leprechauns.
- The intent German hippies staring at the stage.
- The crowds shuffling when they can’t quite work out the dance.
- The twirling girlies in the corners of room.
Jam In The Dam @ The Melkweg, Amsterdam