An Epic, Free Jamband Festival This Weekend in South Dakota

by delarue

From the perspective of being immersed in live music in New York long before this blog was born, it’s humbling and inspiring to see how many incredible shows there are outside this city, in what has become the free world. For anyone with the time and some reasonable proximity to the southwest corner of South Dakota, there’s nothing more fun happening this coming weekend than this year’s Deadwood Jam at Outlaw Square, at the corner of Deadwood and Main in Deadwood, South Dakota.

People travel hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars for a jamband lineup like this one, which is free. The show this Friday night, Sept 17 starts at 4:30 PM; the Saturday show begins at one in the afternoon. Tuff Roots, an excellent reggae band who use everything in their vast psychedelic arsenal – innumerable guitar textures, melodic bass and horns, and a deep dub sensibility – open the Friday night show. Next up are the Kitchen Dwellers, a Montana crew who are a more jamgrass-oriented version of Widespread Panic. The headliner is a Rusted Root spinoff.

The Saturday lineup is more diverse. The 1 PM act is Neon Horizon, a jangly, catchy stadium rock band, followed by Musketeer Gripweed, the retro 70s hippie rock act responsible for the classic drinking anthem A Train. The group who might be the very best one on the bill are mammoth Colorado soul band The Burroughs, who are fronted by their drummer, Mary Claxton. After that, there’s Grateful Dead cover band Shred is Dead. War – whatever’s left of the legendary Bay Area latin soul hitmakers from the 70s – are headlining.

A few years before blogs existed, the future owner of a daily New York music blog went to see War on a hazy summer afternoon in Fort Greene Park. Looking back, it’s not likely that there were many if any remaining original members in the band, but, surprisingly, the set was as unexpectedly fresh as it was low-key, considering the relatively early midweek hour, and the heat. Elevating a bunch of old hits you’ve played thousands of times to any level of inspiration is not an easy job, especially if you’re stuck with a daytime municipal gig where you probably just got out of the van and need to get back in right afterward and head off to the next city.

There was plenty of obvious stuff in the set, included a radio single-length version of Lowrider – a big hit with the crowd, considering how many hip-hop acts of the 90s sampled it – and a pretty interminable take of Spill the Wine, the goofy novelty song that Eric Burdon sang with them. But the less obvious material was prime: slinky and even biting versions of The World Is a Ghetto, and Slipping Into Darkness, and a spirited take of the wry 1975 anti-racist hit Why Can’t We Be Friends. The horns and rhythm section were laid back and unobtrusive: nobody was trying to make crazed improvisational jazz or heavy metal out of the songs. This wasn’t a bucket-list show but it was a fun way to play hooky from a job where everybody was going to be fired from a company that would be sold at the end of the year to downsizers. That’s a story for another time. No doubt thousands of people will have their own fun stories of what’s happening this weekend in Deadwood.