Sounds Like A Cult - The Cult of Jam Bands

Episode Date: June 11, 2024

Catch Amanda back on tour this summer in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle!! Friday, July 12: The Big Magical Cult Show at Park West in Chicago, IL (buy tickets here!) Saturday, July 13: The Big Cult Show at Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis, MN (buy tickets here!) July 29: The Age of Magical Overthinking book talk at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, WA (free!) WE TRIED OUR BEST not to get too roasty in this long overdue episode, where host Amanda and her special guest, music journalist and host of the Songs My Ex Ruined podcast Melissa Locker, examine the cult of jam bands from Phish to the Grateful Dead. Where freewheeling guitar solos, acid trips, tape-trading, endless noodling, and oodles of exclusive lingo reign supreme, this world of die-hard fans who dedicate their whole life and personality to following their faves around the country is nothing short of a musical religion. Jam bands are definitely, ahem, a culty vibe to say the least... the real question is how destructive are they?? Tune in to this lol-worthy chat as Amanda and Melissa try and figure that out.  Follow us on IG @soundslikeacultpod @amanda_montell To order Amanda's new book, The Age of Magical Overthinking: Notes on Modern Irrationality, click here :) To subscribe to her new Magical Overthinkers podcast click here! Thank you to our sponsors, who make this show possible: Head to for a free trial, and when you’re ready to launch, go to to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. Go to the App Store or Google Play store and download the FREE Ibotta app to start earning cash back and use code CULT.

Discussion (0)
Starting point is 00:00:00 Hey listeners, this is your host Amanda. Before we get into today's episode, I have a very exciting announcement. I am going back on tour this summer. If you live in Chicago, Minneapolis, or Seattle, I would love if you would catch me on book tour for the Age of Magical Overthinking. My Chicago event is on July 12th, Mini is on July 13th, and Seattle is on July 29th. These events are so much fun. This is not your typical book tour. The Chicago and Minneapolis events are something called the Big Magical Cult Show, this ridiculous variety show involving drag burlesque performances, merch, custom drinks, a PowerPoint presentation about parasocial relationships, of course books, book signing, meet and greet, the whole nine. Seattle is going to be really, really fun too. And I so hope to see you there.
Starting point is 00:00:51 Information and tickets are at the link in our show notes or at slash events. Thank you to our sponsor Squarespace. Ever thought of creating your own website? Well, now's the time. Start with a free trial at It's where dreams become websites. Head to for a free trial. And when you're ready to launch, go to slash cult to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain.
Starting point is 00:01:15 I am so excited to tell you about this week's sponsor, Ibotta. Right now, Ibotta is offering our listeners $5 just for trying Ibotta by using the code CULT when you register. Just go to the App Store or Google Play Store and download the free ABATA app to start earning cash back and use code CULT. That's I-B-O-T-T-A in the Google Play or App Store and use code
Starting point is 00:01:34 CULT. The views expressed on this episode, as with all episodes of Sounds Like a Cult, are solely host opinions and quoted allegations. The content here should not be taken as indisputable fact. This podcast is for entertainment purposes only. I'm Sarah and I'm calling from Atlanta. The cultiest thing about jam bands for me is that once a jam band has officially made it from their fans perspective, they never have a bad show or a bad day. Like they're always the most amazing shows. And
Starting point is 00:02:06 if you criticize any of them, like God forbid you criticize the Grateful Dead for having an off night, people look at you like it's the highest sacrilege ever. Hi, my name is Ginny. I'm calling in from Boston, Massachusetts, and I have seen Fish 40 times. I think the cultiest thing about jam bands is this idea of chasing songs. So you have a running list of the songs that you've seen and the songs that you haven't seen yet and you go to shows continuously to try to catch that song or catch it in a long jam or catch this sort of novelty experience and that's what keeps people coming back.
Starting point is 00:02:42 Hi Amanda, this is Michaela from Pittsburgh and the cultiest thing about jam bands is that they're sort of a litmus test of fandom where when you're asked what your favorite song is, that doesn't mean what's your favorite studio recording of a song. It means what's your favorite live performance, what song transitioned into and out of the song when it was performed. You have to pick something that isn't too well known or basic and you have to know a lot to answer such a simple question.
Starting point is 00:03:11 This is Sounds Like a Cult, a show about the modern day cults. We all follow. I'm your host Amanda Montel, author of the books, Cultish, The Language of Fanaticism, and The Age of Magical Overthinking. Every week on the show,
Starting point is 00:03:23 you're gonna hear about a different group or guru that puts the cult in culture, from K-pop to CrossFit. To try and answer the big question, this group sounds like a cult, but is it really? Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!
Starting point is 00:03:38 Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! And if so, how bad is it? Which cult category does it fall into? A live-your-life, a watch-your-back, or a get-the-fuck-out level cult? After all, not all culty groups in society these days are created equal. Some are definitely weird as fuck, but not that dangerous. And some are totally mainstream,
Starting point is 00:04:00 accepted. We don't give them a second look but could actually lowkey ruin your life. I cannot wait to get into the topic of today. It is the cult of jam bands. You know jam bands. We're talking about the Grateful Dead, the string cheese incident, Fish, the Almond Brothers band, Dave Matthews band, widespread panic, disco biscuits. The list goes on and on. And listen, Jam Bands are one of those groups where we don't even need to discuss it. We know on its face that this subculture is culty. It's not unlike Disney adults in that way. We take a gander at Jam Bands and our spidey senses tell us cult. The question is not whether or not jam bands are ritualistic, insular, obnoxious. Sorry, we're going to resist being too roasty on this episode, but it's going to be hard.
Starting point is 00:04:53 The question is, is there something sinister going on secretly behind the veil? I am so excited to be joined by a very special guest host today who has been begging me to do this topic in a way that has me a little afraid and very excited. Please welcome Melissa Locker, who is a writer, editor, podcast extraordinaire herself, host of the podcast, Songs My Ex Ruined, a wonderful, juicy music-themed podcast that I have had the honor of appearing on. I was my most unfiltered
Starting point is 00:05:26 self in that episode. Melissa, thank you so much for joining Sounds Like a Cult. Thank you so much for having me. And it is so true. I have been absolutely hounding you for like two years to do this topic. It is near and dear to my heart because I'm a long time music journalist. I have been writing music reviews since I was about 16 years old and the one band I refuse to listen to is The Grateful Dead. I don't care. Those people are occult. They have been haunting me since high school trying to get me to join and I'm just here to tell you, I'm not going to do it. Oh my God. Trigger warning to any dead heads listening, get ready to feel hashtag attacked. We're here to call you a cult with love. I will say that out of the gate. We walk a thin tightrope on this podcast because we are calling you
Starting point is 00:06:11 a cult. No matter what episode you're tuning in for, if you relate to the topic, if it's why you clicked on it, we are calling you a cult while at the same time acknowledging that this word is up to interpretation. So let's back up and broach a topic that's maybe a little less divisive. Can you just tell us about your show, Songs My Ex Ruined? I sure can. And there's a fun tie-in that I will tell you at the end. So my show, Songs My Ex Ruined, it does exactly what it says on the tin. People come in and tell us about songs that they can no longer listen to without thinking
Starting point is 00:06:42 about that particular ex, that particular experience, or just songs where you're shopping for yogurt in the grocery store and you start crying when that song comes on the Muzak style. There are so many of them and I swear every single person has that one song that they cannot hear. So each week on the show, we get together and talk about it. It's such a great concept. Did you know that I have an ex who followed fish? I feel like many, many people have exes who have followed fish. Okay, ex again, I'm interpreting that loosely. We didn't date, but the first time I ever had sex was with this individual and it was fine. He was really hot. And actually, now that I think about it, the reason why we just decided to stop talking
Starting point is 00:07:26 and have sex was because he was talking ad nauseam about his love for fish and all of the drugs he had tried as a newly minted fish fan. And I just got like so weary of hearing about fish that I was like, do you wanna just have sex? Classic, classic. That is the best reason to have sex. I feel like there's actually a lot of
Starting point is 00:07:45 people in relationships who have sex for reasons that have nothing to do with wanting sex, but just want people to like stop talking, to divert them, to sort of, you know, get them off a topic. Okay. So this topic is near and dear to your heart. You're a music journalist. People have been trying to recruit you like the damn Scientologist on Sunset Boulevard since the dawn of your days writing about music. Can you talk more about that? Like what is your personal relationship to the Cult of the Week?
Starting point is 00:08:09 So it all started as many things do in high school. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which is prime Deadhead territory. It is hard to escape them, but I was adamantly not like a hippie. I wasn't hippie adjacent. So the high school that I went to, all of the Deadheads were rich kids.
Starting point is 00:08:24 They were on the ski team. They were going to like the keggers at parties on like the rich neighborhood in town. And so they would like roll up to, you know, high school civics class wearing their tie dye shirts and their pukkashel necklaces and just be talking about that. And so I just started to very much associate the Grateful Dead with this type of person
Starting point is 00:08:42 that I had no interest in being around. They were performative. They were just living this kind of cool hippie lifestyle before they went off to join the Titans of industry and their parents' logging companies or whatever. Right, right. Already it's a cult because it's a reach for identity. And famously, young white men often lack a cultural identity. If they grow up Protestant, they don't feel particularly connected to their spiritual upbringing. On the real, if they feel a little bit culturally unmoored
Starting point is 00:09:12 or not emotionally held, if there's no permission structure for them to let their emotional sillies out, the Grateful Dead or Phish enter the picture and they're like, here is an opportunity for you to bond with other men, to feel emotions. And there's a lot of cult parallels to be drawn. Yeah. Plus they had a uniform. They were all wearing their tie dye and their Puckett shell necklaces so you could pick them out of a crowd and they could identify each other and
Starting point is 00:09:35 just be like, oh, I bet that guy over there has a lot in common with me. Or I bet that girl he's wearing one too, so she must be cool and we can all go hang it out the kegger in the park together. It's going to be great. Exactly. And so I grew up on the wrong side of town. I grew up poor. If anything, I was more like my brother was a goth, so I sort of was goth adjacent more than anything.
Starting point is 00:09:54 I can see that. I know. I was born into it. There's something about being born with dark hair and pale skin. People are like, oh, you're a goth. And you're like, what if I'm a pop princess? Do you think anyone is born into a jam band family? They must be.
Starting point is 00:10:06 Oh, absolutely. Because I have a friend who will be unnamed right now. Her sister raised her kid on the road with the dead. That's what they did this summer. They packed up the whole family. She quit her job, went on tour with the dead, selling t-shirts, and she took her kid with her. So that kid, his summer camp is going on tour with the dead.
Starting point is 00:10:25 So absolutely people are born into dead families or into jam band families. They go together, they hang out. Conceived at Bonnaroo, living on the compound of Bonnaroo, I can see it easily. Okay, so I mentioned it earlier, but not unlike Disney adults, jam bands, they're just one of these subcultures
Starting point is 00:10:45 that is impossible not to roast. We're like maybe overly horrified by them, but that's, I guess, what we're here to discuss. Like off the top, is there anything more nefarious about this group that triggers you? Yeah, there's a couple of things. One, I don't know if you know the podcast, Dead and Gone, but it basically documents all the people who have gone missing and murdered while touring
Starting point is 00:11:08 with the Grateful Dead. And so as much as it's a peace, love and understanding sort of vibe, there's a insidious dark side happening as well where people are just getting killed and murdered and vanished off the face of the earth. And I mean, there's enough that there's a whole ass podcast about it. Holy shit, because the sort of peace and love facade can mask for a slash create an opportunity for murder. Yeah. Or it's just like, you get this whole group of people together who are all like, high. Yeah, they're high, but a lot of them are so vulnerable. Like they've left their families, especially back in like the seventies. It sounded like a lot of people were like runaways,
Starting point is 00:11:45 like teenage runaways leaving their families, going off to tour with the dead, and they're out there on drugs, and they're out there seeking peace in the new world and just good vibes only. And that makes them so susceptible to people with nefarious intent. And they come in and just,
Starting point is 00:11:59 sure I'll get in your van, no problem. Yes. And they never see it again. Oh my God, it is. It is the ultimate sure I'll get in your van sub no problem. Yes. And they never see it again. Oh my God, it is. It is the ultimate sure I'll get in your van subculture. It's so true. I mean, I've learned throughout all these years, researching cults, reporting on cults,
Starting point is 00:12:13 making jokes about cults, that the number one thing that makes you vulnerable to these types of culty dangers, it's not gullibility, it's not delusion, it's not desperation, it's not intellectual deficiency, it is optimism. It is a sense of faith that community and higher purpose can be found that this one group can fulfill
Starting point is 00:12:35 all of your spiritual and community needs and, you know, sinking all of your resources and time and money and emotions and personality into this one group can be very risky. So let's back up and sort of define for the outsiders and for those who've never experienced the allure or the wrath of a jam band. Let's define for them what a jam band even is. So it's actually tricky. It's a definition that's up for debate but what we can say is that the term jam bands arose from a need to categorize certain types of bands
Starting point is 00:13:09 that didn't fit in with other genres of popular music. So jam bands delve into all kinds of styles, progressive rock, southern rock, folk, electronica. There are a few defining features of jam bands, similar to like how hard it is to define a cult in general. We can really just go down the checklist. So you might know them for their long improvisational songs, their fanatical followers. That's like a core characteristic of jam bands in and of itself. And another key characteristic is the promise of a different show every single night. The bands are also marked by their relentless touring schedules,
Starting point is 00:13:47 often surpassing 200 plus shows a year. The taping policy of jam bands is perhaps the most odd yet defining feature of the genre. Jam bands generally encourage fans to record their live concerts and trade them, among other fans, with the stipulation that no money is exchanged. So the Grateful Dead lyricist, John Perry Barlow once said, I think it's probably the single most important reason we have the popularity that we have, the proliferation of tapes,
Starting point is 00:14:16 formed the basis of a culture and something weirdly like a religion. A lot of what we are selling is community. That is our main product. It's not music. Do you know who else had a very liberal taping policy? Who? The Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh.
Starting point is 00:14:31 That's right. The Rajneeshees. They all recorded their music and swapped their tapes. The wild, wild country cult for those unfamiliar. It's true. It's free marketing, the tape swapping and the liberal video policy. So in reading that list of Jam Band characteristics,
Starting point is 00:14:48 like do you have thoughts, do you have feedback, what else would you say is a core characteristic of the Jam Band cult? I'm gonna go ahead and add drugs to that list. Fair. I feel like all of those followers, that drug use has copious at many, many, many of their shows.
Starting point is 00:15:02 In fact, a lot of it actually comes from the bands itself. For example, for a project that hasn't been announced yet, but let's just say I interviewed Dan Aykroyd, and he was telling a story about when his band, the Blues Brothers, opened for the Grateful Dead at some show in San Francisco. And Dan was telling the story about they had been hanging out backstage with the band,
Starting point is 00:15:20 they get on stage, they start performing, and Dan suddenly realizes that he is tripping. And he looks over at his drummer, the drummer's tripping, and he looks over at some harmonica player who also has the harmonica almost inside his mouth because he is so high. It turned out the Grateful Dead had dosed literally everybody against their will, and they were all just high on acid. And then last week on Songs my ex ruined, we had the writer Will Hermes on who was telling us a story. A song that had been ruined for him by an ex was a Grateful Dead song. I guess you could call it a song. I don't know. It's like 27 minutes long. I don't
Starting point is 00:15:55 know. Is that a song? That's like an experience. I think they would be very flattered by that description. But so he was telling me that the Grateful Dead sound guy was like the number one LSD chemist in the entire country. And they basically just dosed everybody all the time and thought it was hilarious. Like, what is that? That is fucked up. That is some Jim Jones shit. No, it truly is. Actually, specifically, it reminds me of the rare female cult leader, Anne Hamilton Byrne. Are you familiar with her? Oh, yes. Of the family who would like kidnap children and dose them with LSD against their will as a part of her cult ritual.
Starting point is 00:16:34 I mean, it's also, it's very Manson vibes, forcing people to drop acid without their consent is cult behavior as classic as it gets. Speaking of this era, the 60s and 70s, the birth time of LSD, the birth time of the jam band culture, I feel like we should give a little bit of background. So there's been a scene, a jam band scene,
Starting point is 00:16:58 since The Grateful Dead started playing in the Bay Area in the mid 60s. So this is the era when so, so many cult-like groups emerged from the Church of Aphrodite to Scientology. We attribute this era to peak cult vibes for a reason. It was a time of incredible social tumult. The backlash to the Vietnam War created so many pockets of cult-like culture, whether they were a live your life, a watch your back, or a get the fuck out. While the jam band genre was initially very much intertwined with the greater psychedelic music scene, it has become a fiercely cultish entity of its own.
Starting point is 00:17:36 So what I think is interesting is that the term cult following, this sort of hyperbolic cheeky term, stems from jam-ban culture. So cults were not really a mainstream American priority or concern until the news media coverage of the Manson family murders of 1969 and then the Jonestown massacre of 1978. Before that, cults were considered a fringy thing, an unorthodox thing, a heretical thing, but they weren't considered something that like suburban moms should be concerned about. But of course, in society, as soon as something becomes notoriously dangerous, it becomes cool. So the word cult entered mainstream American lexicons. And now we were using it to describe these fringy art subcultures like the midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show
Starting point is 00:18:25 or the Grateful Dead. It was seen as very counterculture to be involved with a cult classic, a cult band, a cult following. Have you ever been a part of a cult fandom, would you say? There are bands that I love, there are bands that I've seen multiple times. I will definitely always try and go see them when they're around,
Starting point is 00:18:43 but I don't think I've ever been super f fan girl. Like I don't have posters on my wall. I don't collect ticket stubs, that sort of thing. What about you? I would love to be. I don't know if it's like the chicken or the egg, but I find that things that I'm really, really fanatical about, like would fully join a cult about, are not things where there is a community or a culture at all. Like my favorite TV show of all time, I consider it my religion. I like dip back into episodes searching for answers for what to do in life is the acclaimed early 2000s, HBO series, six feet under there's not like a Trekkie culture or even like a game of Thrones culture surrounding six feet under. If any listeners would like to
Starting point is 00:19:21 create a support group for like six feet under bands who don't have a purpose or community, let me know. But it is interesting that certain personalities and certain traumas and certain cultural upbringings must lend themselves to cultish membership and certain bands capitalize on that. And I have to wonder like what the conditions for that are. Like why is it, do you think, that a cult following emerged around jam band culture? Was it just because of the era? Was it just because of the drugs?
Starting point is 00:19:55 Or do you think there was something more going on? Why not both? Why not both? For sure both. Yeah, but I do think it has a lot to do with the era where it was that whole like tune in, drop out idea of people just coming together, leaving their world and their troubles behind and just dancing all day out on the road with a grateful dead and every show is different.
Starting point is 00:20:15 So you could just travel forever. It's great. And people were born to that or were invited into that by other friends. People are always like, Hey, come see this one show. It'll change your life, sure. But I think people, they started doing it. And suddenly they bring all their friends along with them. And when the Grateful Dead broke up for a while,
Starting point is 00:20:32 Fish rose and took their place. And then the Dead came back and Dead and Co was touring and Fish was still touring and it just goes on and on. It's form reflecting content because the culture goes on and on in the way that the songs go on and on. So the Allman Brothers band and the Grateful Dead especially became these sort of torch bearers of not just a genre, but a movement that relied heavily on improvisation in the music and a total disregard of predictable outcomes, which is like very culty in a stick
Starting point is 00:21:02 it to the man type way. The Allman Brothers song whipping post, which was five minutes long in their studio album version, was converted into this epic 20 minute long extravaganza or experience, as you might say, at their concerts. And that is the jam band. No, thank you. I have things to do. I have things to do. I don't want to sit there for 20 minutes while you noodle on the guitar. There's no way I am high enough or patient enough to put up with them. I know. It is quite masturbatory, the pot calling the kettle black us being podcasters. But Fish was also one of the bands that inspired the
Starting point is 00:21:37 mainstreaming of festival formats like Bonnaroo. So I guess, yeah, there are a lot of cultish conditions happening. There's the festival aspect of it. And we will talk about the live show culture that is like so alluring. And there's such a draw there. It's the era. It's the drugs. It's the recruitment. I mean, this is what I keep hearing you kind of reference again and again, is that like
Starting point is 00:21:59 people don't just feel comfortable loving this thing in the privacy of their own home. They feel the need to bring other people along the ride. Oh, absolutely. They're just like, oh, just come to one show. You'll see it's totally different than you think. Oh my God. It's so nice. It's amazing.
Starting point is 00:22:15 You're going to love it. And no, I don't want to. There's literally no way I'm going to have fun standing on a field surrounded by Tripp and Rose. Like I'm not. It doesn't sound fun to me either as much as I famously do enjoy a pinch of by Tripp and Rose. Like I'm not. It doesn't sound fun to me either as much as I famously do enjoy a pinch of psychedelics here and there.
Starting point is 00:22:29 And now a quick break to hear from our cult followed sponsors. This podcast is brought to you by Squarespace. Let me tell you about my website bestie, Squarespace. It is an all-in-one website platform for entrepreneurs, artists, podcasters to stand out and succeed online. Whether you're just starting out, creating your very first website, or are more seasoned and are growing your brand,
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Starting point is 00:25:00 ABATA app to start earning cash back and use code cult. That's I B O T T A in the Google play or app store and use code cult. Hi, this is Elizabeth from Pittsburgh. And I think the cultiest thing about jam bands is my experience with an ex boyfriend who was dealing with a bout of very severe depression and instead of going to therapy felt that psychedelics and the Grateful Dead would be the cure-all for his psychosis. Hi, my name is Ruby. I'm from Tasmania.
Starting point is 00:25:35 So I'm actually in a band that's all women and non-binary improvisation band because we just got sick of playing where we're the only woman in a band of men who are just like looking down at their own dicks basically trying to see who can solo the most and not actually listening to each other. Hey my name is Courtney and I'm calling in from South Carolina. I think that the cultiest thing about jam bands is that people will literally travel across the world to see the same band that they've seen already like 15, 20 times. Like, oh, I have to go to Mexico every year to see fish, or I need to travel to every single state to follow the Grateful Dead, or now it's dead in company. Like, what other genre are people
Starting point is 00:26:18 putting their finances, maybe their relationships or their careers on the line in order to just see these bands play over and over. So something that I think is undeniably culty about jam bands is the religious loyalty that has formed around these groups. You mentioned someone quitting their job and raising their kid on the road. People dedicate their lives to following these jam bands around the country like a pilgrimage to Mecca. Again, jam bands rely less on the popularity and sales of their studio albums and more so on live concert experiences and festivals where they rarely play the same songs, set lists or improvisations twice. Even with back to back shows, the shows are always different.
Starting point is 00:27:00 And because of this, you have fans that follow entire tours that basically, yes, build their families and careers around the ability to see their favorite bands multiple times a year. I found a 2023 New York Times piece titled, Why Are Dave Matthews Band Fans So Loyal? And in this piece, they interviewed a 48 year old guy named Rob, who co-founded, get this, a Dave Matthews Band encyclopedia for fun. He said that he had attended 154 shows in his life in 18 states and 44 venues. The piece said that basically like his life, career, and finances revolved around these Dave Matthews band shows.
Starting point is 00:27:38 As soon as he started making more money in life, the first thing he'd do would be to upgrade his concert attendance experience. When he finally made enough money to attend destination shows, but still couldn't afford hotel rooms. He would often drive six hours back home after concerts, sometimes in the snow, blasting Dave Matthews band more of it in the car the whole way. And this No Two Concerts Are Alike exclusivity is also what lends itself to this tape trading where fans swap recordings of the live shows so that everybody can hear everything.
Starting point is 00:28:08 Yeah. That is just, I mean, you hear these stories all the time about all of these bands and like it's funny which band kind of picks up the mantle. Like I didn't really realize that Dave Matthews band fans were that intense about their love of that band, especially after the whole like poop bus incident. You'd think some people would do not know about the poop bus incident. I do have a vague memory of it, but can you remind us? Yeah. The Dave Matthews band tour bus was going over a bridge across the Chicago River. They decided to empty the bathrooms. 800 pounds of human waste basically got dumped into the river,
Starting point is 00:28:42 but there was a very, very unlucky tour boat, passenger boat, right underneath the bus. And the Dave Matthews band dumped 800 pounds of human waste right on top of tourists. If you can forgive your band for doing that, you're willing to do whatever you want. Didn't the guy who did it go to jail? I'm pretty sure he went to prison. I mean, he should like, one, what are you doing? Do you hate the planet that much that you're just dumping poop right in the river? And two, yeah, look out for the tourists. I think there's actually a plaque on the river now too,
Starting point is 00:29:14 which there should be, there should always be a plaque to commemorate these important life events. No, I'm gonna need a fact check this, but I'm pretty sure someone went to jail. This happened 18 years ago. This is not in recent memory, but I'm pretty sure someone went to jail. This happened 18 years ago. This is not in like recent memory, but God, how quickly people did forget. It was like just a little blip on the radar.
Starting point is 00:29:31 You know, when fanaticism for a celebrity, a religion, a community is that strong, nothing can really threaten it. I mean, think of the Catholic church. Nothing can disturb the hardcore belief. It just is too important to people. Oh, yeah. I mean, if you're going to dump 800 pounds of poop on a bunch of tourists, just let them
Starting point is 00:29:54 live. They're just going to have to ignore that the same way the Catholic Church ignores so, so much. Well, for balance, if I may, I want to acknowledge that this topic has come up so many times in our episode subject requests because of the stereotypes surrounding jam band members, followers. That same New York Times piece summarized it by saying, many stereotype these fans as pot smoking, tie dye touting, former fraternity bros, fawning over craft beers in parking lots between cornhole
Starting point is 00:30:25 games. The drugs are a huge part of the stereotype, not being clean, being very male dominated, being a burnout, wearing too many hand dyed clothes or even worse, clothes passed off as hand dyed. Do you think that these stereotypes are fair? And even if they are, how would you on your most generous day describe the characteristic canonical jam band follower? Well, I think there's gonna be two distinct types. Like my parents are hippies, I was raised by hippies, I get it.
Starting point is 00:30:54 Back in the day, I feel like they were actually probably pretty cool. Like they were counter-cultural, they were rebelling against society. They were out there fighting against the Vietnam War. It was actually subversive. Yeah, it was like checking out a society and doing their own thing. These days though, I feel like it's mostly frat boys who are out there.
Starting point is 00:31:12 I mean, not always. Yes, not all deadheads, but I think a lot of them are just going to be people who buy fake tie-dye, put on their pocket shells, and then go back to their corporate office job on Wednesday morning. I would dare to say though that the cult of the corporate job that they may be working is actually probably more destructive if not more obnoxious than the fish following they're doing on the side. Oh 100% like this is not to say that this is bad it's not for me but I don't think it's necessarily bad. People are out there me, but I don't think it's necessarily bad. People are out there living their best lives.
Starting point is 00:31:46 They are taking a break from their job and taking a break from their regular life to go take some mushrooms under a brilliantly blue sky and listen to somebody noodle for 47 minutes. Like, go ahead. Yeah, they're touching grass as the internet instructs them to do. Exactly, but I will say that Jerry Garcia
Starting point is 00:32:03 of the Grateful Dead was a little freaked out by Deadheads. He was not totally sold into this whole cult following idea. The Grateful Dead really started as people having fun, people doing this like counterculture. It was about equals. It was not about elevating themselves above people to have these people feverishly follow them around the country. And Jerry is like pretty on the record saying like he was a little surprised by it. He was taken aback by it all. He wasn't a huge fan of it. He also thought that they were constantly misinterpreting his songs, misinterpreting his lyrics. He was a little like, hey guys, maybe you should show just a little bit. I feel if Jerry Garcia
Starting point is 00:32:39 can be a little wigged out by Deadheads, so can I. Totally, totally. This is the risk that cult worship celebrities do run is that even if they don't consent to serving as this cult leader figure, a cult can still form around them. I think the more dangerous ones surround celebrities who do lean into it. And I think it's maybe a green flag or reflects well on the deadhead culture that this guy was like, I'm not leaning in. Yeah. And there was an article that came out in Slate in 2002 talking about how the deadheads ruined the dead. And I kind of feel like Jerry Garcia would have been a-okay with that article. And he just wanted everyone to be equal and
Starting point is 00:33:21 have a good time. And just having that sort of cult following, it wasn't for him. It wasn't what they set out to do. They wanted equality. They did not sign up necessarily for that. They didn't want power dynamics. No. And I think that happens with musicians a lot, like you were saying, but it happens a lot, a lot with jam bands. I mean, I hope Dave Matthews uses his powers for good. Yeah, it is truly like greater than the sum of its parts because when you see all the ingredients, like, okay, it's just an extra long song and like a little bit of acid,
Starting point is 00:33:52 you're like, those don't seem like the ingredients for a group this fanatical. But I think something that takes it to the next level in terms of a cult following, in addition to it being born out of this incredibly fraught period in history, is the sense of purpose that it gives people. So there are definitely these sort of compound utopia vibes that are suggested by jam band culture. Fans famously congregate outside
Starting point is 00:34:18 these live shows for hours before and after the performance to interact with others. Summer months are typically festival season with temporary utopian cities erecting across America for several days at a time. Attending a festival has almost become a religious experience for fans serving as kind of a pilgrimage of sorts. People will travel great distances to these remote and often truly beautiful locations
Starting point is 00:34:43 to just be with other fans to share in this rapturous obsession and identity together. Dropping LSD is their holy communion. And fans claim that this spirit of being open-minded and open to new experiences is not only an approach to music, it's a philosophy of life. And that's what makes the community so alluring. It's this MO that follows them outside of the compound, if they ever make it outside. Some interesting stories that I came across are that it's very common for married couples to meet through jam band culture, either on the message boards or while tailgating or in the live shows.
Starting point is 00:35:23 One fan from that New York Times article said that she met her spouse in the mosh pit of a Dave Matthews band show. Wait, Dave Matthews band has mosh pits? Apparently. I have never heard a Dave Matthews song, but I did not know it was mosh pit. Well, take Mosh with a grain of salt. You're like the former pseudogoth, so it might not count as moshing, but like definitely like swaying pretty intensely. Oh, intense swaying pit. Okay. What would you call like swaying in a cult-like way to the point that it can like force you to fall in love? It's not moshing, but it truly is like getting married to someone from the same religion. Another thing I found interesting is how moved by social action and charitable action they are.
Starting point is 00:36:11 There is a trend within jam band communities toward social and environmental consciousness. There's a band called Hot Buttered Rum and they travel in a biodiesel fueled tour bus that string cheese incident uses their Gouda causes. The branding is consistent through and through to leave a positive legacy in every city through charity. So there's definitely a sense in this genre that being a jam band fan means a greater purpose for your life, which is culty because that sense of greater purpose and like doing good in the world keeps people loyal. Yeah, so as much as this brings people together,
Starting point is 00:36:49 I have to say as someone who's become a little bit of an expert in the music of exes and of breakups, a lot of these tear people apart too. Tell me. I cannot tell you how many people have come on the show and been like the string cheese incident ruined my life or the Grateful Dead destroyed me. Tell me, spill the deets. How so?
Starting point is 00:37:06 Well, I think it was the writer, Rachel Brodsky, who came on and was talking about the string cheese incident, which is actually not the song that was ruined for her by an ex, but it was relevant to the story because this guy was obsessed with string cheese incident and was constantly talking about it to the point that she lost her mind. When something else happened, you have to tune into the episode to find out, she was like, you're done, we're done. And I never have to hear about the string cheese incident ever again.
Starting point is 00:37:31 Right, so there's an insularity. It's like, if you are not in the religion of the string cheese incident, we can't be together because I will drive you insane. Yeah, absolutely. And like, as much as I kind of joke about the great hole, I don't think I could date somebody who is really into them because I don't want to, and I don't want to hear about it, and I don't want to be forced to listen to it, and I don't want to be involved in the culture. You can be a really, really nice person. I am
Starting point is 00:37:57 still not listening to the Great Whole Dead. And I do feel like that is something that is very jam band specific, where I don't feel like people who are fans of like Phoebe Bridgers or The Cure are being like, what? You've never heard them? You must sit down and listen to 72 outtakes recorded at various concerts between the years of 1977 and 1987. Right. Like it doesn't happen. Do I own a bootleg album of The Cure? Yes. Do I force anyone to listen to it? Or have I ever mentioned in public? Absolutely not. No, you're right. Okay. Still, almost everything that we've discussed thus far is culty, but not necessarily dangerous other than the drugging people and the whatnot. And you did mention disappearances and murders, so fuck me. But I do want to ask, what are, in your opinion, the worst culty consequences that you can imagine coming from the average jam band cultural experience?
Starting point is 00:38:53 Well, I think there's a very large subculture of people whose lives are built around touring with these bands. They really just check out of society and like, look, capitalism sucks. I get it. But when you are leaving your family, leaving your friends, leaving your jobs, engaging in nothing but a subculture for decades, like there's something a little weird about that. It is. And these sacrifices of time, money, and even your bodily autonomy can't be sort of minimized. This New York Times piece interviewed a Dave Matthews band super fan named Miss Miller Hall, hello Miss, who saw her first show in 1992 after becoming a passionate tape trader in college.
Starting point is 00:39:32 She said she's now traveled over a hundred thousand miles and spent nearly $200,000 to see the band. At least $60,000 of that was on tickets alone. She said coordinating tickets is like a part-time job. Speaking of money, in 1998, Dave Matthews Band launched its official fan association, which is called The Warehouse. One fan, who now, by the way, runs a whole Facebook group of about 850 Dave Matthews Band followers, said that he literally stole his mom's credit card to join. So we're stealing. Not great. Another fun fact, a lot of people, another New York Times source said,
Starting point is 00:40:06 if they're crazy enough, if Dave signs their arm at a show, they will get it tattooed that day. Wow, wow, okay. What musician do you love enough that you would like vaguely consider getting a tattoo of their autograph on your body? Did I sit blinking in silence? I honestly don't know.
Starting point is 00:40:29 I cannot think of anyone. Would you? I mean, get the entire cast of Six Feet Under, all over their names. Oh my God. Actually, no, for sure. It depends on the body part, I guess. But if Lauren Ambrose, who played Claire, by the way, my cat is named after her. This is how hardcore I am, hardcore and alone. But if Lauren Ambrose, who played Claire on Succeed Under, signed my arm where I already have a lot of
Starting point is 00:40:59 tattoos, I would consider it. Because it feels really good to surrender to worship. It does. It's maybe not healthy if you cross a line, but until a point, I think it's actually very human to want to engage in that level of fanaticism because it gives our brains a break for a second. I get that, but I have to say, this goes back to like how I was raised very much in a cult-like Christian church. But I thought your parents were hippies.
Starting point is 00:41:30 Oh, this is a great backstory. I also went to Rajneeshie preschool. Oh my God. Oh, because Oregon, holy shit. Okay. Oregon. Yeah. Growing up in Oregon, man, this is what you do.
Starting point is 00:41:41 But no, my parents were full on hippies. There was a whole experience with a Ouija board and they found Jesus. This is a different story. Okay. Now I'm starting to contextualize your hatred of jam bands because I feel like you've gone all the way in the other direction. You're like, I have had so many brushes with cults that now whenever I get even the slightest whiff of this shit, I fucking hate it. Yeah. No, 100%. A lot of this is a me problem. And then you add on top of all of these things that I grew up with going to this high school where I was like the poor, uncool, awkward kid, and all the cool bros on the ski team were super into the dead. And like, yeah, I am not set up
Starting point is 00:42:18 to be a jam band fan. And you know what? That's just how it's going to be. And that's okay. So growing up with this like kind of very like Christian upbringing, I don't believe in surrendering to your faith. That does not appeal to me whatsoever. For sure. I don't want to get involved in your fanaticism because those are the same fanatics who will tell you that like, oh, your grandma's going to hell because she didn't get baptized.
Starting point is 00:42:37 Sorry. And you're like, hmm, I'm good. Thanks. Right. And that is what we would call a get the fuck out level cult. I mean, I'm like you, you know, I grew up with a cult survivor in my family. I thought growing up like, oh, red flag, red flag, red flag, that level of delusion, that level of mysticism is not only a turnoff, but like deeply disturbing and threatening
Starting point is 00:42:56 to the human race for me. But writing about the subject and unpacking the subject for all these years has unfortunately inspired me to drum up a little bit more compassion for that style of belief and communality. I think it is natural for us to want to have at least like a soul cycle level of surrender where you like show up to class, you pedal for your life for 45 minutes while someone like screams foe-spiration at you and then you leave. But I'm with you where I still get really cringed out by it. And yet at the same time, we contain multitudes, we contain contradictions. I want it for myself. Like I want to somehow find a way to engage with it, but I'm afraid. Like all these things are happening at the same time. Yeah, no, I totally get it. Like I said,
Starting point is 00:43:40 my parents were like full on hippies. Like to the point where, like I know my dad lived on some weird farm outside of DC and I was researching a podcast that is still in production if anyone wants to fund a really cool podcast about how every single cult leader puts out an album. Yes. Oh my God, that is so fucking true. They all put out albums because music has this incredible power to bring people together and to get people to unite in song. Nothing like a really good chord progression. Yeah.
Starting point is 00:44:07 I mean, the gyms, Joan, he loved to pick up the microphone and swing. Why not? But when I was doing this, I had found about this cult who was going to pick up middle-class white kids in Washington, DC, and they took them out to go work at this farm. I actually had to call my dad and be like, were you in this cult? Just out of curiosity, before I start reporting on it, I do kind of need to know if you were in it. And he's like, oh, I don't think so. I don't actually remember. So your parents were these cult hoppers and you are a reaction to that. I fully understand. 100%. I'm glad we got here. Yeah, I'm not joining your cult.
Starting point is 00:44:40 And also, like, I'm just going to keep saying this. I don't care if you're super into these bands, just quit trying to make me listen to them. That's the thing is that I do have like a general fluid rubric of culty red flags in the back of my brain that I use to help me determine whether a group is a live your life a watch your back or get the fuck out. And when a group is so missionary, which is kind of what you're describing, that's definitely one of those boxes that gets checked off. Yeah. And it's like, it just starts to get weird. It's just like, okay, why do you keep asking?
Starting point is 00:45:13 Why do you keep trying to get me to go to your shows? Why do you keep trying to make me listen to this song? If you play like, Never Have I Ever, one of the things I always win with is I have never heard the Dave Matthews song. People are just so shocked. People are so stunned. It's like, how could you not have heard that? You totally have to hear song. People are just so shocked. People are so stunned. It's like, how could you not have heard that? You totally have to hear it. I'm like, do I? I don't think so. I'm good.
Starting point is 00:45:31 Right. No, you do not have to. So here's a little piece of hypocrisy for you. While they are constantly trying to recruit, recruit, recruit more fanatics, there is also a lack of inclusivity in jam band culture that I read a little bit about in preparation for this episode. One downside to this quote unquote cult could be its lack of diversity or representation within the scene, which has been described as less welcoming to women and to fans of color. Many of these bands originally developed kind of similar to what you were describing with a base in elite Northeastern colleges which are disproportionately white and wealthy. I know, shocking, hard to imagine. Fish scene so white is a concept that has started to be discussed a little bit because as some fans have
Starting point is 00:46:19 pointed out, the scene does have a foundation of white privilege. A jam band festival is essentially 30,000 predominantly white people running around, openly consuming all manner of illegal drugs, all while police officers mostly sort of stride around on horses just making sure that everyone is safe. And that's not exactly an indulgence that every group in the United States of America would be afforded the same way. Right. You don't see that made in America festival. Absolutely not. I found a quote from one avid fish fan who noted, when I have brought up the issue of race and racism in the scene,
Starting point is 00:46:56 I'm either silenced or derailed with love and light rhetoric. It's disappointing because for a group that is generally socially conscious and left- left leaning, a lot of white fans spelled with a PH seem to turn a blind eye to racial disparity. Just something to note that sort of tension between the love and light hippie stuff and the fish so white stuff. Yeah, no, it's actually surprising, but also not surprising. My friend, Lena Dawes, PhD, she wrote an incredible book about her experience as a black woman in metal culture and people are always just completely shocked that she's a metal fan. But metal seems a little more on its face insular and you would think that these like hippie love and inclusive jam band people would be much more involved. So it's a little
Starting point is 00:47:39 surprising but also not totally. What is her book called? Lena's book is What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal. Amazing, everyone go order that from your local indie bookstore and not The Cult of Amazon, or The Cult of Amazon if that's accessible to you. Anyway.
Starting point is 00:47:55 Ha ha ha. ["The Cult of Amazon"] ["The Cult of Amazon"] Hi, sounds like a cult. I am a big jam band girl, but my husband is not. However, he has come with me to a couple of fish shows and a dead-in-company show. So I asked him what he thinks is the cultiest thing about jam bands. And he said it's that fans to non-fans insist that if you just keep going to shows or if you just keep listening to the music
Starting point is 00:48:27 Something will click and you'll become a fan too. Speaking about fish Specifically, I think the cultiest thing about fish is the non-standard use of language I can have a conversation about where the best shakedowns are I can say Tahoe tweezer or Mexico's CDT and people know what I'm talking about I can bitch Tahoe Tweezer or Mexico's CDT and people know what I'm talking about. I can bitch about tarpers. I can meet the grocery store with my husband and see a sign for a sale and look at him and say, hey, three for 20, no deals. And he knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Starting point is 00:48:52 And it's not breakfast cereal. I could talk about fish all day. I am so sorry. I had to send a second one specifically about the donut print, the red and blue donut print that the drummer John Fishman wears on his moomoo that he performs in, you can find that print on anything on dress shirts on bumper stickers on things that hang on the wall in your house. And it's one of those if you know, you know things, right? So I'll see a stranger in public and they
Starting point is 00:49:16 have that donut print somewhere on their person or their car. And I'm like, hey, we're the same people, right? We get each other. So now we've reached the point in our episode when I wanna play a little game. This is just a game of would you rather cult of jam bands edition. I'm gonna name two scenarios
Starting point is 00:49:36 and you're gonna tell me which one you would rather do. Would you rather follow fish for a year in a VW bus with a fleet of fish heads or visit Disneyland every weekend for a year with a gaggle of Disney adults? Oh, Disney adults for sure. Are you a little bit of a Disney adult? No, not at all. I've only been to Disneyland once, I think, as a five-year-old.
Starting point is 00:49:59 Yeah, I would do the same. Yeah, no, not a problem. Just the idea of being in a van surrounded by fish heads 24 hours a day, seven days a week for an entire year sounds like my actual idea of hell. It's like how I said I was promised an all expenses paid VIP trip to Bonnaroo and I still turned it down because absolutely not. So by default, Disney wins. Would you rather, oh, I forgot I wrote this.
Starting point is 00:50:24 This is funny. this is scary. Would you rather debate a Gayler for an hour about why you think Taylor Swift isn't gay? Okay, a Gayler is a subset of Taylor Swift fans that is vehemently convinced that Taylor Swift is gay. They're like a conspiracy theorist for Taylor Swift. They are so intense. So would you rather-
Starting point is 00:50:46 I love them so much. Yeah, we know, we love them, we love them, we love them. Would you rather debate a Gaylor for an hour about why you think Taylor Swift isn't gay or debate a Deadhead for an hour about why jam band music is not a real genre? With a Gaylor for sure. Like, yeah, sure, the entire Swifties
Starting point is 00:51:03 will come out against me and that's fine. But just the idea of having to listen to some deadhead talk for an hour sounds horrifying. And honestly, if I wanted to do that, I could just go to any street in Portland and just ask the question aloud and someone will come find me. That is so telling. I love that you propose this topic just because you wanted to talk about your trauma. That is what this ultimately is, and I respect that. Okay, last round. I know the answer, but would you rather date a Dave Matthews stan for six months or date a Scientologist for six months? Oh, that one's actually really hard because they're both going to try and make me do things I don't want to do. Definitely. I don't want to go talk about my N-grams. Although
Starting point is 00:51:49 actually the Scientologist wins because one time I took one of their personality tests. They told me I was a super genius and I was really excited about that. That's insane. I took one of their personality tests too and they were just pointing out my flaws and telling me that Scientology could help me with that. I actually felt pretty called out. Maybe Scientology could have helped me with that. I felt really seen. I was like, finally someone recognizes my inner genius. God damn it. You got the love bomb version. Yeah, but joke was on them because I was too broke to ever sign up for any of their classes. That's the risk.
Starting point is 00:52:23 up for any other classes. That's the risk. Okay. Now we're at the point in the episode when I have to ask you, Melissa, and bring the most levelheadedness and compassion that you possibly can to the answer. That's asking too much, but okay. I know, I know. Okay. Out of our three cult categories, live your life, watch your back, and get the fuck out. Which do you think the cult of jam bands falls into? I'm actually going to go with live your life, but quit trying to make me live your life. Don't make me live your life. Go ahead and do whatever the hell you want. Just quit trying to make me live your life. Don't make me live your life. Go ahead and do whatever though you want. Just quit trying to drag me into it.
Starting point is 00:53:08 I love that poll quote. Yeah. I mean, like murder aside, we like didn't really get into it. I do think you're absolutely right. Overall net result is live your life. But yes, stop being Mormon missionaries about it. Like, stop getting others to try to live your life. Relax. Yeah. Go ahead. I don't really care if you want to check out and go on the road for six
Starting point is 00:53:32 months and follow a band and never shower or do whatever it is you want to do. Go ahead. Just quit trying to make me listen to a 47-minute song or trying to insist that my life will not be complete unless I go to one Grateful Dead show. I assure you, it'll be fine. I can already hear the hashtag not all jam bands mob coming for us, but that's implied. That's implied. You know what? I have been hearing this forever.
Starting point is 00:53:57 It's fine. Do your own thing. Just quit trying to rope me in. It's a great general tip is like do your culty thing, but stop trying to convert people. Love that. Thank you so much for your trauma dumping, for you know,
Starting point is 00:54:14 being willing to share your triggers, being willing to admit that ultimately this may just be a live your life. I agree. If folks want to keep up with you and your work, your music journalism, your podcasts, where can they join your cult, Melissa? I am on all social media as wooly knickers. That is wooly knickers. Why is it that man? I don't know. Just go with it. But I'm wooly knickers on pretty
Starting point is 00:54:37 much every platform and you can listen to songs by X Bruin wherever you listen to podcasts. Beautiful. Well, that is our show. Thank you so much for listening. Stick around for a new cult next week, but in the meantime, stay culty, but not too culty. Sounds Like a Cult is hosted and produced by Amanda Montell and edited by Jordan Moore of the PodCabin.
Starting point is 00:55:05 Our theme music is by Casey Cold. This episode was made with production help from Katie Epperson. Our intern is Reese Oliver. Thank you as well to our partner All Things Comedy. And if you like the show, please feel free to check out my books, Word Slut, A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, Cultish, The Language of the Natacysm, and the forthcoming The Age age of magical overthinking, notes on modern irrationality. If you're a fan of Sounds Like a Cult, I would really appreciate
Starting point is 00:55:30 it if you leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts.

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