Summer Jam Bands | Summer Jam Bands

Billy Martin, John Medeski, and Chris Wood of MMW

How hot is hot? Across the USA and Western Europe, summer music festivals abound. This month, we bring your attention to two accomplished yet “rarely-heard-on-radio” jam bands, both American groups: Widespread Panic and Medeski Martin & Wood.

Widespread Panic

Founded by John Bell and Michael Houser in 1986 in Athens, Georgia, Widespread Panic has risen to elite status among American jam bands today, even though many people are still unfamiliar with their music. Like the Grateful Dead and Phish, they have developed an avid fan base that follows them on concert tours. With a reputation for never performing the same playlist twice, they allow bootleg exchanges between fans at their concerts, and continuously spring delightful cover songs upon the audience. WP music is influenced by Southern rock, blues, progressive, and funk styles. Long improvisational instrumental sections with piano, organ, guitars, and percussion get your feet moving.

Recommended Tracks. To begin your exploration, sample and download these original songs: “Angels on High,” “Bear’s Gone Fishin’,” the live foot-tapping version of “Nebirtha” with its false ending that brings three minutes of additional blessings, and finally, the classic road tripping “Shut Up and Drive.” Then check out a few splendid cover songs: Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.”

Medeski Martin & Wood

Medeski Martin & Wood is technically classified as a jazz band but this instrumental trio is a regular participant in the jam band concert scene. Some critics have described their style as “avant-groove.” Formed in 1991, the band consists of John Medeski (keyboards), Billy Martin (percussion), and Chris Wood (bass). They frequently collaborate with noted guitarist John Schofield. These talented musicians move deftly through jazz, funk, and blues styles easily. The improvisational music hand-offs are seamless, as you would expect from seasoned jazz musicians.

Recommended Tracks. For a taste of their jazz side, listen closely to MMW’s instrumental cover of The Beatles song “Julia.” Then dive into funky organ riffs on “Queen Bee” and Jimmy Smith jazz reflections on “Note Bleu.” From there, you will find an extensive music collection that spans rock, jazz, and children’s music genres. Take your time with this band. Each listen draws you more deeply into their seductive spell.

By the time you complete your excursion into the worlds of Widespread Panic and Medeski Martin & Wood, don’t be surprised to find yourself packing the car with concert tickets in hand. When your partner asks, “What’s happening?” just say, “Road trip!”        

To acquire an audio file of this review, go to  Join Andy Bargerstock’s Fringe Toast radio show every Wednesday from 8-10 p.m. on KRUU-LP 100.1 FM in Fairfield, and available worldwide via  

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