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Jungle Jam: Playing Dead in Costa Rica
Jaco, Costa Rica
Many a festival promoter has opened shop based on the imagined principal that if you build it, they will come. Not always true. However, throw a jam fest in the middle of a sketchy jungle-shack beach town in a third-world country – bait it with the drummer of the Grateful Dead and the bassist from The Allman Brothers Band – and even without the full experience of either of those bands, enough people will indeed come, shake their bones and go home raving about it all.
While Cloud 9 Adventures – with Jam Cruise, Holidaze, Panic en La Playa and Strings and Sol all under their wing –still holds the gold standard for destination festivals, Jungle Jam wins the award for best boutique, destination festival of its size. It’s a small-scale event with big-scale thinking. For a crowd barely a couple hundred people deep, Jungle Jam offers a couple bells and whistles (fire dancers, face painting, an opening-night luau) without any of the corporate bullshit so prevalent now at the bigger events. This one’s still organic. And pure – or, rather, pura vida.
Costa Rica is supposed to be a destination until itself and, indeed, many of its sights are world-class. But the town of Jaco, where Jungle Jam is held, is like a Cental American version of Tijuana, complete with hookers, thieves and thugs. Throw in Jungle Jam, and you throw hippies in the mix. This makes for a mixed crowd during the late nights, which spill over into the seedy downtown strip including a couple shows at the Monkey Bar – a hooker pick-up joint. Really, a brothel minus the rooms. Zach Deputy played there. Damn right he was doing the hustle. And pulling it off better than any of the $40 whores lining the bar, ready to get down with anyone who would buy them a drink, especially if they were stupid enough to carry their wallet in their back pocket.
Don’t be fooled by the Jaco address, however. The festival is based a couple miles down the road at the seemingly isolated, and picture-postcard worthy, Doce Lunas resort and spa. Owned and operated by a Deadhead, the resort is the kind you daydream about when you’re stuck in a cubicle, in the thick of a winter snowstorm, wondering just how many vacation days you have left. It’s the type of place you’d want to stay at even if there wasn’t a music festival taking place in the quad between cabanas.
Like most destination festivals, Jungle Jam doesn’t offer a lineup that reads down the page. Instead it offers a few really high-quality bands, in high quantity throughout the weekend. And it also lives up to its name more than any other jam band fest since Jam Cruise – everybody jams with everybody. This year’s lineup was anchored by the annual appearance of the BK3 – Bill Kreutzmann’s trio featuring Oteil Burbridge on bass and Scott Murawski on guitar – and was bolstered by daily sets from Ryan Montbleau Band, Zach Deputy and Max Creek. Oteil, on loan from the Allman Brothers Band, was there on official business as BK3’s bassist. But he moonlit as the festival’s artist in residence, sitting in with nearly every band on the main stage during nearly every set. “I love it here,” he told Relix at the end of the weekend. “This is like my New Year’s Eve.”
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
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