Image Courtesy of JamGrass
The 2012 JamGrass Music Festival, which features two nights of progressive Bluegrass at Melbourne’s Thornbury Theatre, will be kicking off in just over two weeks on the 19th and 20th October. Gareth Hugh Evans sat down with Jambands Australia founder and JamGrass organiser Jason Taylor to get the low down on what punters can expect from the festival.
Gareth Hugh Evans: Talk us through the genesis of JamGrass. What made you want to put on the festival in the first place?
Jason Taylor: Phoebe Preuss (co-producer) and I started JamGrass last year. We had been video recording lots of live music throughout Melbourne for our Jambands Australia facebook page and YouTube Channel. We noticed an emerging progressive bluegrass and alt-country scene that paralleled the resurgence of this music in North America, particularly the bluegrass and newgrass scene. It started off by thinking we needed to create a music night to get a bunch of these artists together and have a big party to create some exposure for the bands. Apparently people liked the idea because it quickly grew into a small one day festival that sold out last year.
GHE: Did you expect the debut of JamGrass to be as successful as it was last year?
JT: We had a simple concept last year. Put great music in front of people who appreciate great music and musicianship and it will be hard for people not to have a good time. I think we achieved that last year, but what we didn’t expect is for the audience to bring such a critical element to the event. The room was packed full of great people who radiated a great vibe. And I think the bands could feel that and they played off of it. Alex from the Merri Creek Pickers described it as “Best vibe … vibe of the year!” We couldn’t have asked for that to turn out any better.
GHE: You’ve expanded the festival over 2 days this year, what was behind that decision?
JT: Demand. We’ve had such an incredible response from bands that played last year and new bands wanting to be part of it and the audience from last year. The amount of support and private emails from those that were at JamGrass 2011 have been so encouraging. People definitely want more of this. That has given us the confidence to expand to a two stage, two day format. This means we can accommodate a massive 17 band lineup.
GHE: A lot of the artists at this year’s festival – The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats, Mustered Courage, Merri Creek Pickers, etc – also featured in lineup last year. Most festivals try and have a fresh lineup each year. What is the thinking behind repeating artists?
JT: Not only those artists, every artist from last year will be back this year in one way or another. We don’t want to be a corporate festival. We’re not trying to bring in “fresh” acts for the sake of selling tickets. Our priority is to build a supportive community around the bluegrass genre and related genres and to provide a platform to showcase great bands. The bands that helped make JamGrass 2011 such a success are a very important part of building this community and when they told us they wanted to be part of JamGrass 2012, the obvious answer was “of course!”. The two day format means there will also be plenty of new bands at JamGrass 2012 to keep things fresh. We see a lot of live music throughout the year and are always scouting for new bands we think will fit the JamGrass theme. Hopefully JamGrass can be community that acts as a catalyst to promote some really great undiscovered bands.
GHE: Are you planning on having the “SuperJam” again this year? How important is it to the whole JamGrass experience?
JT: The SuperJam was a bit of an experiment last year and was lots of fun. Many people said it was a highlight for them. I recall one person in the audience saying “Wow, it’s the Mustered Mountain Courage Rats”. We had planned to bring it back again this year but we’ve had so many bands that wanted to be part of the event that we’ve decided that we’d rather use that timeslot to add another band to the lineup. We have a really hard time telling bands the lineup is full, especially when we really want them to be on board. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring the SuperJam back in future years. Of course there will be lots of interplay amongst artists and we’ve included a few special guests who will be making some appearances as well. So the collaboration element of the superjam is still very strong.
GHE: Bluegrass, folk and country music seems to attract it’s fair share of “traditionalists” – people who believe there’s one way of playing this music and it should never change. Do you think these traditionalists will find something they’ll enjoy at JamGrass?
JT: Most certainly! We probably have the contrary perspective to music than many traditionalists. However, we think there is a real role to play for keeping those traditional ways of playing alive and we love going to those more traditional events as well. The roots of the music are very important! I think it would be tough to find a traditionalist that wasn’t passionate about music. Great music is great music and that’s what we are trying to showcase. We just don’t subscribe to any rules. Peter Rowan who played with Bill Monroe for years was interviewed last year before his Australian tour and asked if ever found bluegrass music a little restrictive sometimes. He responded, “Not the way I play it”. I think that’s a great attitude.
GHE: What is it about this type of music that sees it flourishing in Australia at the moment? And Melbourne in particular?
JT: This scene is definitely flourishing overseas and its catching on here. A few newgrass or bluegrass influenced bands have been over to Australia for other festivals such as Bluesfest and Golden Plains over the past few years. This is having a big impact. It’s high quality musicianship, great songs and lots of fun. Once people hear this music, it’s very hard not to pay attention. The last few years have seen an influx of young bluegrass musicians from all over Australia flocking to Melbourne because the scene is growing so quickly here. George Jackson, who this year won the Golden Fiddle Award for Best Fiddler and The Australian Youth Bluegrass Scholarship (sponsored by The Davidson Brothers), has just moved to Melbourne. He’s one of our special guests at JamGrass this year and will be sitting in with a bunch of bands. He’s just one example of all the talent coming to Melbourne.
GHE: Is there anything else Timber and Steel readers need to know about JamGrass before heading to the festival this year?
JT: Here’s our top 10 JamGrass tips:
- Put on your “good times” hat and bring your dancing shoes.
- People who order advance tickets before October 9 will get custom designed souvenir tickets. Ordering advance tickets really helps make the event better so is a great way to help out… you can get them here
- Bluegrass bands love it when you cheer after hearing a great solo. It makes them play faster, harder and longer. So show your appreciation!
- Last year someone came dressed as a Taco. Yes a Taco. While JamGrass isn’t formally fancy dress, we hope someone can beat that this year.
- There isn’t really a “hierarchy” in our program, we are more concerned with the musical journey the bands will take the audience on throughout the festival. So don’t miss some of the bands on early in the evening. They might just be some of this year’s highlights.
- Make sure you say “hi” to someone you don’t know Friday night. By Saturday, they’re sure to be considered a friend.
- Even the bands are volunteering their time so make sure you buy a CD to help support the artists.
- We’re working on an after party for Saturday late night. Keep an ear out for it.
- We’ll be bringing back the JamGrass Raffle with some great prises.
- Lots of people have asked for JamGrass t-shirts. We’ll have a limited number of them available this year. Sure to be snapped up quickly so get yours early.