When you talk with a jam band member, you expect to hear certain things. The list includes, but is not limited to, the terms "organic," "magical" and "special." Yes, each of those will appear in the text below you've been warned and, no, that's not a bad thing. In today's cynical musical climate, actual enthusiastic discussion about the art form in its purest state is, really, kind of refreshing.
So when Jeff Miller, the vocalist/guitarist/mandolin player for New Monsoon, talks about his recent Jam Cruise experience in which dozens of jam-based musicians and hundreds of fans packed themselves onto a cruise ship that toured the Caribbean for five days in the name of creative and spontaneous performance you can't help but be won over by his talk.
"It's a really organic musical environment," Miller says, before explaining that the trip afforded him and his bandmates the opportunity to interact and perform alongside such jam band luminaries as Al Schnier of moe. and Warren Haynes of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov't Mule. "It was really, really, magical. Really special. I'm still kind of reeling from it, trying to remember how great it was and how fast it went by."
In his defense, Miller hasn't had much time to reflect. He's on his cell phone, having just arrived in Denver the same day that his cruise ship docked in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and is preparing to trek to Steamboat Springs for a show. The constant travel might be getting to him. It's not quite the Navy, but it's close.
"Join a jam band and see a cruise ship and Denver," he says, laughing.
Formed at Penn State University in the late '90s, the now-San Francisco-based New Monsoon is really only a jam band by association. A more accurate description would be a free-form roots rock quintet. Miller and Bo Carper (guitar/banjo/vocals), Ron Johnson (bass), Phil Ferlino (keyboards/vocals) and Sean Hutchinson (drums) produce more of a jazz-based than bongo-based sound.
The jam-based element comes in the free-form approach, which Miller admits is the crux of the New Monsoon live show. A good amount of New Monsoon's performance material can't be heard on any of the band's four studio albums (including last year's V), and the stuff that can is almost unrecognizable in a live setting.
"We're playing them every night, and they change a little bit every night and they morph and grow and sometimes they're longer or sometimes they're this or that or whatever," Miller says. "They take on a life of their own, and they live that life every night on the stage, so every show is a different rendition of the song."
While that can be a scary thought tickets to jam-based shows, more than any other concerts, are blind-faith purchases Miller is quick to point out that his band's musical tastes vary. And that's something he keeps in mind when creating each night's set list.
"If I pull into a venue and it seems like it's gonna be a big party time, then I might play more of the dance material," he says. "If it's a dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass crowd, we'll probably play more of that kind of stuff. It really depends. Every night is different."
And, hopefully, still organic, magical and special.
New Monsoon with Grass it Up
The Black Sheep,
2106 E. Platte Ave.
Thursday, Jan. 17, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10, all ages; visit ticketweb.com or call 866/468-7621.