Midway through the marathon Jammy Awards, after performing with the likes of Buddy Guy, Keller Williams, John Mayer and Phil Lesh, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of the hip-hop band The Roots was asked what he thought about some of the winners.
He thought about it for a second, then said with a sheepish grin: “I didn’t even know it was an awards show.”
Well, yes, technically, the Jammys are awards show. And yes, there were award winners — the recently disbanded Phish won tour of the year, The Dead best download, and Keller Williams nabbed best live album, among other awards doled out Tuesday evening.
But the highlight of the event, held at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, were the memorable collaborations between seemingly divergent acts, resulting in dazzling performances that could never be duplicated in a studio.
“It seems very diverse, and at the same time very cohesive,” The Dead’s Phil Lesh, undoubtedly one of the jamband scene’s most important founders, said backstage during the five-hour concert. The event also featured Mavis Staples, Ryan Adams, Travis Tritt, Bruce Hornsby, Huey Lewis, Nellie McKay — and enough pot smoke from the eclectic crowd to make Snoop Dogg proud.
“Have you ever had a sandwich like that in your life? A Huey Lewis, Mavis Staples, Sinead O’Connor sandwich?” said Jeff “The Dude” Dowd, the inspiration for the cult film “The Big Lebowski,” after a performance featuring the trio.
A Guy's duetPerhaps the night’s best moment came as blues great Buddy Guy performed a spellbinding freestyle guitar duet with John Mayer, with Thompson playing drums in the background and Lesh on bass.
During their performance, Guy — who was given the lifetime achievement award — told the crowd this about Mayer: “I just invited this young man out because I don’t want the blues to die. Every once in a while, a young man comes along to make sure it can survive.”
The evening was not a celebration of one genre of music, but an example of how effortlessly different styles can blend. Country star Travis Tritt played with the Disco Biscuits; Mavis Staples sang along with the North Mississippi All-Stars; Sinead O’Connor jammed with Medeski Martin and Wood and reggae artists Burning Spear. There was even oldies pop, as Lewis sang “Heart and Soul,” his ’80s hit with the News, to the delight of the crowd. And the disheveled-looking Adams stirred the crowd with his performance with Lesh and Jeff Caffin.
Lesh was the evening’s host, and an awards recipient, for best live performance of the year. The awards were voted on by fans who visited www.jammys.com.
When the awards were first presented five years ago, it was held in a much smaller venue, B.B. King’s club in midtown Manhattan. Thompson noted how much the show has grown in stature since then: “For it to come from there to here in five short years is pretty awesome.”
Surprisingly, this year’s Jammy was Lesh’s first. He joked that there was “very little noodling tonight” — a criticism he said was often leveled at jamband artists for their unrehearsed style.
When asked about what jamband act now could match the drawing power of The Dead or Phish in the future, Lesh said: “I think they’re all finding their own following. I think it’s also happened that people will follow more than one band now.”