Wookiefoot and The High Strung String Band: A Live Performance at the Cabooze
I went to a concert on September 26, 2008 featuring two bands, Wookiefoot and The High Strung String Band. Both Wookiefoot and The High Strung String Band are jam bands that are from Minnesota. Despite falling into a genre together these bands have different styles of music, with Wookiefoot having something of a â€śtraditionalâ€? jam band sound and The High Strung String Band possessing a country bluegrass style. The two bands put on a great show, playing for close to five hours. The crowd was excited from the beginning and was never disappointed. In the following text the playing practices of the jam band genre are described, along with a discussion of how the jam band genre is defined while not having to follow strict musical guidelines but performance ones instead.
This is a clip of Wookiefoot performing on September 26, 2008
Before walking into the Wookiefoot show on September 25th at around 8:30 I begin to get ideas about what the crowd and venue will be like. The Cabooze, a small venue nestled in between the Joint Bar and the Franklin Ave transit station, is attached to a fairly large bar. We pass close to 100 motorcycles parked outside the biker bar next door on the way to the Cabooze, but when we get closer to the actual venue we see that this crowd is a little different. With this crowd being friendlier then what one assumes of a biker crowd. When we enter we pay the $10 cover, with a $3 dollar surcharge for being under 21. So with the drink minimum in place it is obvious we will run into a few drunken people. Nevertheless it is hard to ignore the fact that these people do not wear nearly as much leather and seem friendlier then the neighboring bikers. Being friendly is what the crowds that go to jam band shows are best at, everyone is smiling and very outgoing and you already can feel that they have a strong sense of community, before the music even starts.
Because the Cabooze is also a fairly large barnot all the people there have a strong interest in the music being played. This brings in a crowd and group of people that would not typically be a part of a similar show. This added, not all so common, demographic fostered some of the much found diversity in backgrounds at the concert. This didnâ€™t stop interaction between all who attended, as well as between the performers and the fans however. These â€śforeignersâ€? were also part of the community at the Cabooze because of other similarities, such as everyone always smiling and laughing with each other, giving the whole place a great feel. This may have been because of the many states of intoxication that the majority of people were in, but it was present nonetheless. Because of what Wookiefoot is, a jam band who just loves to play music that makes people happy, and the fact that there was a bluegrass band opening, there were a lot of people in attendance from what you could call the â€śneo-hippieâ€? scene who are known for going to outdoor music festivals. One could find a lot of this happy go lucky feeling spreading throughout the crowd. Even by the middle of the show one could see the crowd becoming very uniform in attitude, an attitude of loving to have a good time and always dancing no matter if itâ€™s their favorite song or if itâ€™s one that they have never heard before.
It is assumed that you have a good time at a show like this, but that is where the guidelines end. The idea of a show like this is that there is no real order or conventions. The opening band, for instance, played for almost two hours, something that if done at another show, they would have been booed off the stage. This is possible because of the fans views on music. They just want to listen to good music that is fun, even if it means they watch a band they have never heard. This long set-time tradition continued through the headliner; they played for almost two and a half hours. The crowd at this show clearly did not have the usual short attention span found at other shows, and this allowed the bands to play so much longer then at another type of concert. The actual security at the Cabooze, the bouncers, is generally easy going. This and the fact that a good proportion of people there were partaking in the activity meant that a lot of smoking, of tobacco and other substances, took place even though it is illegal. At this concert, as well as shows similar to it, you find that the audiences, and bands, do not have many set rules to follow. Even the security does not always follow the set rules they may have.
Just like there are not a whole lot of conventions governing how the audience and performers act, there is not a whole lot of organization in the performance itself. Wookiefoot, as well as the opening band, The High-Strung String Band, do not have a lot of organization and they end up letting the crowd and the flow of the show run things. It is a lot of improvisation, taking requests from the audience, and playing very cool covers. For instance, Wookiefoot covered more than one late-90â€™s early 2000â€™s Alternative Rock hit, from bands 311 and Everclear. This is how a lot of jam bands operate; they get up on stage, stay there for a long time, and just put on an entertaining, funny, and exciting show. There was only a minimum of organization, namely that The High-Strung Sting Band performed first and Wookiefoot performed the rest of the show.
The music started around 9:30, The High-Strung String Band went on, made up of four members, a guitar player who sang main vocals as well as played the harmonica, a stand up bass player who also sang, a banjo player who played mandolin on a few songs who also sang, and a woman fiddle player who sang. This being a bluegrass band which is composed of these members has a predictable sound. They did not, however, simply follow these conventions. For instance, they played slower instead of the normal fast paced tempo found in country bluegrass. They started with only a small crowd in front of the stage. Soon this grew to a much larger crowd on the floor, and the band fed off of the noticeably growing excitement. They played a type of bluegrass mixed with country blues that was a slower type of bluegrass, however when the crowd started to build and got more excited the band began to play faster songs. The opening band played until about 11:15 and a noticeably long 45 minutes later Wookiefoot came on stage. It was very clear that the crowd was really there to see them. Everyone that was still sitting off to the side came to the floor. Wookiefoot has a fairly large stage presence; simply because of the large number of members the band is composed. Wookiefoot is made up of 10 people, two guitar players (one of whom plays the hand drum), a bassist, a keyboard player, a drummer, a saxophone player who plays flute as well, one male vocalist and three female back-up singers. They play a very interactive and exciting show, with a lot of fun songs. They would play a song and once they arrived at the bridge or chorus they would play it over and over, incorporating improvisation. They had a generally upbeat, engaging sound. The crowd was easily able, and very encouraged, to join in a sing with the band. Wookiefoot plays a with simple and fairly conventional jam band style. They have mostly very cheerful songs, with a few ironic amusing ones as well. In between songs they would engage the crowd, ask what they wanted to hear, and just have a fun with them. No matter what was going on the crowd was engaged in the performance and was able to connect with the band. This engaging with the crowd is clearly what Wookiefoot is attempting to do with their music.
Another defining attribute of Wookiefoot is their liberal values; these views are shared by close to everyone at their shows. A lot of the talking that the performers engaged in was surrounding politics and the current government situation. The concert was on the same day as the presidential debates, September 26th, and there was plenty of mention of them. It was obvious which side the band, and the audience, was on. This is the case with many bands these days. However, Wookiefoot is very engaged with politics and political causes. For instance, they played many times in protest of the RNC and have participated in other types of politically driven concerts. This was a way in which the performers could share their views, and in doing this they built a community relationship between all the audience members and themselves. This sense of community was clear afterward because Wookiefoot, being a local band, took time to linger with the audience after the show.
This sense of community was exactly what Wookiefoot, The High-Strung String Band, and the audience wanted to get out of the show. Everyone there, from when the doors opened, was attempting to make new friends, and have fun with everyone around them. When the concert was actually going on you could feel yourself letting go and becoming a part of something larger then yourself. This was especially evident when you would see someone who didnâ€™t look like they belonged be engaged by the people around them. For instance there was a group of four older women, around 45 years old, who looked like they had decided to have a fun night out with the girls. Audience members around them would try to dance with them and have fun with them. It was fun to see them go along with it and soon they seemed liked they belonged all along.
The fan base of Wookiefoot is primarily younger people, who have a more liberal view point. However, at this show I saw people from many backgrounds and of many different ages have a great night. There were people from 18 to 45 years old and every age in between. The differences in the lives these people lead outside the concert were sometimes very clear: college students, young businessmen, middle aged couples, and hippies who didnâ€™t have a care in the world all made up the audience of the show.
In the beginning of the event most people were excited, and were talking within their group of friends. However, by the end of the concert, when everyone was heading out of the venue everyone was talking and interacting with each other. It was very interesting to see people that would probably not interact, let alone converse, with one another be talking and hanging out with one another by the end of the show. Jam band shows are able to do this because of the type of music they play, and the fact that they have so much fun on stage it spreads to the crowd.