Though this year's Jammy Awards brought out the familiar faces from the jam-band scene — including the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, and Mike Gordon, formerly of Phish — the annual celebration of improvisational music may have been more noteworthy for the newer faces on the bill.
The acoustic-pop group Guster was among the performers at the four-hour event, while the San Francisco group Tea Leaf Green won song of the year for "Taught to Be Proud." It beat out established acts like North Mississippi Allstars and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals.
Trevor Garrod of Tea Leaf Green said the group's win was just the latest example of how the jam-band scene, long defined by groups like The Dead, Phish and the String Cheese Incident, has become more diverse.
"I think it's growing, it's becoming less specific — dare I say cooler," Garrod said backstage at Thursday's ceremony, held at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. "Now there's a whole lot of bands and a whole lot of different sounds."
The Jammys, now in its sixth year, have not only been defined by its jam-band music but also for the eclectic, electric performances by divergent artists. Among this year's key collaborations: Dweezil Zappa on guitar, joined by jazz legend Chick Corea, Umphrey's McGee's Jake Cinniger and others performing a tribute to Dweezil's late father, Frank Zappa, who was honored with the lifetime achievement award.
Other highlights included Blues Traveler's performance with soul veteran Bettye LaVette, who is celebrating the biggest success of her long career with the recent album, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise."
"I'm 60 years old, and I'm here with these children who tell me they listened to me in high school!" an elated LaVette said after the performance.
Among the evening's award winners were Widespread Panic, Baaba Maal, and Leo Kottke and Gordon. Jammy winners are determined by fans, except for the Lifetime Achievement award and honors for world music and industry.
Guster performed with Pete Frampton and Martin Sexton, while Bob Marley sons Stephen and Ky-Mani closed the show singing "One Love," with Little Feat, Charlie Musselwhite, Hubert Sumlin and others.
Guster lead singer Ryan Miller said the jam-band community's acceptance of the group shows how much the scene has changed.
"What it means to be a jam band is different than what it was five years ago," he said.