Reflections On Chapter 2 of Where The Music Takes You: The Social Psychology Of Music Subcultures

While I agree that the idea of attempting to distill the contents of a book into a few pages after only reading one chapter seems a little far-fetched, it is a rather broad chapter that introduces us to the phenomenon of jamband subculture.  I would also like to dig a little deeper into the remaining chapters later.  For now, there is Chapter 2, “Introduction to Jamband Subculture,” that introduces the subject to students and the general public interested in jam bands and their communities.  It is a comprehensive chapter encompassing everything from Durkheim’s rituals, symbolic interactionism, and even small group music and promotional-propaganda. The latter is never mentioned directly, but it is obvious in this context.

I have friends interested in jam bands, but I was never really interested in jam band music as such because I never saw jam bands as anything other that the spiritual and musical children of the Grateful Dead’s living homage to Bill Monroe:  Acoustic folk-rock with extended jams thrown in to prove musical prowess.  However, I have always had a fascination with music and attending as many music festivals as possible (This apparently places me on the fringes of jamband subculture.).  It seems that jam bands are more than that and are everywhere, from rock, to folk, to Black American Music.  And like emo, some bands are eager to shed themselves of that jam band label.  But the jamband communities seem to appreciate all of the culture that is associated with such a subculture, and so do I.

While my description of jam bands is still accepted among most of the uninitiated, Widespread Panic always seemed to be a jam-like band and Phish did not since there seemed to be a lot more going on in their music than just guitar noodling.  As a side note, during my sojourn to Asheville, North Carolina, I was introduced to a few “Improv Jazz” bands and I was instructed to NOT refer to them as jam bands, so apparently the promotional- and publicity-propaganda surrounding the name needs more penetration and more positive association.  Hunt makes no mention of Jazz in the context of Jamband culture but indicates that Jam Bands exclude no genre in existence.

Jamband culture is defined as a community or communities of followers of jam bands.  While this includes the venues and the parking lots where such events take place, and while they are not technically temporary autonomous zones since state control in the form of police is omnipresent, there are elements of the jamband commune that are reminiscent of T.A.Z.’s such as Burning Man which probably has its share of jamband cross-pollinators.  Certainly some of the ideas and concepts like the “lot” and “vending” that permeates Burning Man and other T.A.Z.’s may have come from the jamband scene.  But at the same time, both have inherited and applied much more from Anarchist ideals while adhering to the fringes of capitalistic principles.

It is interesting to note Hunt’s observation regarding collective effervescence, “…the value that is attributed to significant objects within the group. The idea behind sacred objects is that the ones that support the moral order of the group are perceived positively, while those that defy the moral order of the group are deemed negative.” (Hunt 2013:  14)  That the same ideas of conformity are inherited and accepted from the larger societies where Jamband community members live from day to day are accepted rather than rejected as a restriction upon freedom of personal expression is surprising.

However, Jamband community members do adhere to the principle of reciprocity, one that the mainstream called “paying it forward several years ago.  This is a principle that needs more light shed upon the larger world where individuals do unto others, barter, and return favours without feeling they are owed.  The Hindu and Buddhist concept of karma is introduced here and it is a fitting analogy.

Thus ends the chapter of a book that I hope to dig a little deeper into.


Hunt, P. (2013). Introduction To The Jamband Subculture. In Where The Music Takes You: The Social Psychology Of Music Subcultures (pp. 11-16). San Diego: Cognella Academic Publishing.


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