Fare Well: On Passion, Jamming, Inclusivity and Goallessness

25 06 2015

I love music, especially live, improvisational music. It’s the soundtrack to my life, and it’s greatly informed how I try to live, whether I’m playing guitar, rapping with friends or taking part in any relational interaction — we’re jamming.

This weekend begins the 5-show Fare Thee Well run, where Trey Anastasio (of Phish) will be playing with the four living members of The Grateful Dead and other friends. I don’t see these 5 shows as a “passing of the torch,” as some people have posited on social media. Rather, I see these shows as a celebration of Music — the black blues, the bluegrass, jazz, rock and roll, classical compositions, the “Americana” music that has been influenced by so many other cultures; the past 50 years that The Grateful Dead has been an integral part of a cultural revolution, and the new music they have inspired that has evolved the possibilities of the cliché-only-by-stigma “jam band.” These shows will be a celebration of music-past and music-future, taking place the only way improv music can — in the present.

I’ve learned so much about how to live by listening to Phish, The Grateful Dead, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others. For instance, in the new documentary The Other One, Bob Weir describes the ethos of playing with the Dead:

If Jerry had the line with the most energy, the most life to it, we’d fall in behind him. If I was that guy then they’d fall in behind me. That was what the band was all about: supporting whoever’s moving the story furthest, fastest.

There’s a fluidity of roles in the jam, where anyone can be a leader, and everyone’s voice is equally important to the complete sound and story being expressed. Everyone is supported, and listening to each other is key. Apply this to social circles and any group dynamics, and the possibilities are radical. Perhaps white men will stop being the loudest and most-listened to voices. It’s a bummer and a drain when any one person or group is dominating a conversation or experience. If men, especially white men, could open space for more voices and activity of women, trans folk, people of color, and anyone whose voices are looked over, ignored or ridiculed, our human community would be so much richer and more alive. The jam would be fuller, more integrated, and a whole lot more exciting and energizing.

In a Rolling Stone interview that came out yesterday, Trey says about Phish:

But I don’t think anyone cares anymore what the result is, as long as it’s inclusive of the other three… We all kind of see the value for everybody to have whatever kind of space they need.

It’s empathy and it’s compassion in action. It’s sharing with each other and the world. And it’s about the process, not about the result. In my life, I’ve found that if I trust the process of whatever I’m doing and focus on doing it with integrity, authenticity and respect, the end result will be worthwhile, and usually something very different and better than what I may have been expecting. So by letting go of my little hopes of how things will turn out and going with what’s actually happening… well it’s a beautiful thing.

I’ll be celebrating music in Chicago at Fare Thee Well. I’ll be honoring the lineage I feel most connected to — the lineage of live, community-oriented, improvisational music. For ever and ever.

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod,
Big wheel turn by the grace of God,
Every time that wheel turn ’round,
Bound to cover just a little more ground.

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