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Five Great Jamband Lyrics

by Rob Slater on November 21, 2013

Every jamband naysayer you come across will tell you the same thing--the lyrics suck. While stating this so eloquently carries a certain amount of irony, they're right, sort of. Jambands have never been lyrically based, at least not right away. Sure, bands grow into themselves and their sound over time and thus learn how to craft a catchy line or two, but odds are their "classic" material isn't revered for its lyrical content.

However, there are those examples that disprove that theory. Because jambands can construct a lyric, and the lyrics are meaningful to the artist as well as the audience. Sure, the bread and butter is in the jam (pun intended) but there isn't anything wrong with tipping your cap to songs such as these that express the lyrical depth of some of our favorite musicians.

Umphrey's McGee: "Words"

As far as current lyricists go, Brendan Bayliss just might own the crown. This particular selection, a cut from 2006's Safety In Numbers, is one of his finest offerings. Bayliss has the gift of vagueness in his lyrics, leaving a certain amount of open-endedness to his words. This song, aptly titled "Words," personifies that as you can't figure out just what Brendan is trying to say, but you know whatever it is--it's pretty important.

"Your words occur to me sometime/align the reasons why we're here" is the type of helpless musings you'll find in this incredible Umphrey's tune. And sometimes it's okay to be obvious and direct, as you'll find in a line such as "could you pretend that you care just once for me?"

Phish: "Lifeboy"

Yes, the "and you don't get a refund if you overpray" bit is a little cheesy, but it wouldn't be Phish without a little wordplay. "Lifeboy" is simply stunning in so many ways--lyrics being one of them. This Anastasio/Marshall collaboration might rank as the duo's best, combining a helpless, fleeting feeling with a rare foray into religion. "Entangled in the remnants of the knot I left behind and asking you to help me make it finally unwind" might be the best line in any Phish song, and single-handedly squashes the "jambands can't write lyrics" theory.

Now, if only the band would play the song more often.....

Grateful Dead: "Help On the Way"

There isn't much to say about "Help on the Way" that hasn't already been said. It is simply a lyrical masterpiece. Even the more obvious lines (Don't fly away, cause I love what I love and I want it that way) have so much life to them. While the first two selections on this list took a darker spin, "Help on the Way" shows the light at the end of the tunnel, finding comfort in love and companionship.

"Making it too, without love in a dream it'll never come true" is quite honestly a perfect way to end this song as the band fades into the ending section.

Dave Matthews Band: "The Dreaming Tree"

There are few songs ever written that elicit the type of raw emotion that DMB's "The Dreaming Tree" does. Lyrically, Dave penned one of his masterpieces that are devoid of trite cliches that most DMB naysayers point to quite often. Anchoring the band's best record, 1998's Before These Crowded Streets, "The Dreaming Tree" tells a story of the loss of a child in the most poetic and heartbreaking of ways.

Lyrical examples include the heart-wrenching flashbacks: "She thinks when she was small, there on her father's knee, how he had promised her, 'you'll always be my baby.'" The song ends with Dave pleading "take me back" and "save me please." The whole song is full of lyrical genius, bouncing around between different emotions. The main character is struggling to deal with the loss throughout this song, and it makes for some powerful imagery and is backed by Matthews' classic growl.

Widespread Panic: "Barstools and Dreamers"

I imagine whatever bar Billy Joel was sitting in when he wrote "Piano Man" was the same one John Bell frequented when he wrote "Barstools and Dreamers," except the Southern version of that bar. With much more whiskey. Panic is one of the more underrated storytellers in the game today, and this song is a prime example of their lyrical ability.

The first few lines (The barstools built for dreamers/We'll fit fine and fine/All the worlds dreams have died/But tonight they're only taking thirsty people/Who've been pullin' on their drinks) include some stellar imagery and really paint the picture, as is the norm in Widespread Panic tunes. What separates "Barstools and Dreamers" is the chorus, where Bell really brings in the "Piano Man" similarities.

Heir to an open barstool, right there's one by "Mary the Fool"
Mary sees the bartender's knees
And she says that it's a bottle that she was born to be
And I say, "that's cool.. just right, right for a fool."
Thinkin' whiskey, she bought me a drink
I won't cross a word of what the lady thinks


Haha this his hilarious, apparently you guys can write about anything hah, when was the last time you heard DMB being a “jam band”!

By Haha - 11/22/13

I prefer the lyrics to Party Time by Phish. So moving!

By Spotted Striper - 11/22/13

It’s the quality of the singing that gets bashed more than the lyrics, I’d say.

By CC - 11/22/13

DMB a “jam band” hahaha

By huh - 11/22/13

“i hate lazer beams”

By Ray Banastasio - 11/22/13

I would also throw Umphrey’s Mcgee’s “Puppet Strings” into this discussion.

“I tried to fill these holes with other roles I never learned to play
It seems like they always falter
How the hell should I know
Cuz it always seems to disappear so quickly you can’t see
Could somebody tell me where does the time go
I’ve got a bigger pile of questions than I could ever need
There’s no explaining these to me “

By UmphLove - 11/22/13

This list could go on and on. I would add “Said and Done” by Max Creek.

The children of our children
Will shiver in the chill
of the shadow of the master
that we chose.

By FoJo - 11/22/13

90% of Phish lyrics are pure nonsense and the source of the stereotype. Best lyrics in my opinion is Vic Chesnutt with “Aunt Avis” course WSP does it incredibly well.

By KevinBe - 11/22/13

Silly lyrics are perfectly acceptable.  Just like poetry:  Just because i like Whitman doesn’t mean i can’t enjoy all the works of Shel Silverstein.

By Jeff - 11/22/13

I know the Relix is contractually obligated to put a Phish reference or call out in any of their communications but this is taking it a step too far.

By Snafunk - 11/22/13

I do not understand how people on here don’t consider DMB a jam band??? They are the epitomy of a jam band, there jams last over 20 minutes on some songs.  They have the best drummer alive and an amazing violinist.  Have you ever seen DMB live?  I mean literally, half of their concert is one big long jam.  It boggles my mind that you don’t think they are a jam band.  They even modeled their success after Greatful Dead.  They went on tour before they even had their first album out, playing dive bars, college parties, and would let fans record their music for free to spread the word.  You are completely out of touch with music if you don’t think DMB is a jam band

By DMB for life - 11/22/13

Panic’s “Pilgrim’s” Nuf-Said!!!

By Panicman - 11/22/13

That would be “Grateful” Dead! Mind your manners!

By hamfam67 - 11/22/13

DMB is the epitomy of jammin’!! Get to a live show and prepare to be blown away!!

By Cecilia - 11/22/13

A) Phish lyrics? you’re kidding, right? Phish lyrics are about as profound as “The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round”
B) DMB is a jam band? Traffic played 20 minute songs. Hendrix. Pink Floyd. You can’t just slap the jam band label on any band that thinks it’s a good idea to play extended jams. Also, DMB’s songs suck.
C) “Help On The Way” was co-written by Robert Hunter, who was a frequent collaborator w/ Jerry, Bobby, Phil but was certainly not a member of the Dead. Give the man some credit. And who needs convincing that Grateful Dead songs had great lyrics?

Step up your game!

By WHAT? - 11/22/13

Stella Blue is all I can say. If you hear Hunter song it and tell the story behind it you will understand what it is all about.

By Keith - 11/22/13

Robert Hunter is and will always be a member of The Grateful Dead.

By Archivist - 11/22/13

WSP Pigeons

By WERZMYMULE - 11/22/13

Ohh yea, I forgot… we are all super cool jam band fans… DMB sucks, yea!!  DMB is awful.    Right guys??

By Too cool for school jam band fan - 11/22/13

Saying DMB is not a jamband because you don’t like them is a lame argument.  DMB has had more “mainstream” success than pretty much any other jamband, and their fratboy crowd is not as populated by just hippies or hipsters, but they fit so well in the jamband mold.  The have a very large and extensive song list which the use regularly, they extend songs, vary the style of their songs, improv within and around songs, they transition musically from one song to another.  Their songs DO NOT fit the pop mold at all and are not mainstream at all.  Their time signatures, cross genre infusion can only be classified as a jamband.  Are they my favorites?  No, 3-4 shows which I really enjoyed and most of their albums, some I liked more than others.  the point is: Sound Tribe Sector 9 is considered a jamband, so is Leftover Salmon and they sound alike only in the ways I just listed with DMB.  Don’t be a jamband snob…just enjoy live music as often as you can and support your local jambands!!

By jmals - 11/22/13


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