Music

Jonathan Shank’s ‘The Jam’ Podcast Connects The Dead to a New Audience: ‘We Live in a Golden Age’

Few Millennials can boast of having seen the late Jerry Garcia live in concert and yet no generation of jam band fans have benefited from the success and fellowship of bands like The Grateful Dead than those born after Garcia’s death in 1995.

“Today we live in a golden age for the jam scene,” said veteran music industry executive, producer and artist manager Jonathan Shank, host of The Jam, a new podcast from Osiris Media exploring the bands, the fans and the jams that make up one of the live music’s most enduring musical legacies.

From Phish and Dead and Company’s successful run of shows at The Sphere in Las Vegas, to the emergence of jam superstar artists like Billy Strings, Goose and even EDM pioneers Odesza as mainstream festival headliners, the music born from artists like the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers Band, the Meters and Dr. John is more accessible than ever.

Billboard recently caught up with Shank to discuss his long history in the jam scene and hear about his new Osiris Media podcast, which launched in March with interviews from legendary bassist and producer Randy Jackson as well as Relix magazine editor and jam scene scholar Dean Budnick.

Why did you decide to jump into podcasting?

I was inspired by Dan Steinberg and Luke Pierce’s Promoter 101 podcast and the idea of elevating people’s stories in the industry. I wanted to find some untold stories with artists that I love and create a platform to tell those stories in a very organic, free form way, and maybe find a few nuggets that people haven’t heard before.

Besides naming your company after a Grateful Dead album, what are your bona fides in the jam scene?

I’ve managed a few jam bands; first Particle in 2001 and then the Disco Biscuits for quite a little while, who are our guests on the podcast. And then around 2004, I started managing (Grateful Dead percussionist) Mickey Hart, who I met through Irving Azoff and went on to manage Mickey and Bill Kreutzmann in the Rhythm Devils and then later Global Drum Project and the Mickey Hart Band for several years. I love Billy Strings and Goose and I’ve seen The Grateful Dead with Jerry Garcia over 50 times. I still put the Grateful Dead as the benchmark for all live music that I’ve ever experienced.

Where do you see the fingerprints of what the Grateful Dead built in today’s music industry?

The Grateful Dead’s approach to direct to fan marketing through fan club ticketing and community around their live experience is a blueprint for what artists like Beyonce and Taylor Swift are doing today and how they’re connecting with their fans via social media. The Dead were the first to engage fans in a newsletter. They were the first to establish a tape trading practice, which now has really developed into Setlist.net where people go and find sets from different shows. So much of how we think about the connection between artist and fans originates with the Dead.

What does the rise of artists like Billy Strings and Goose say about the longevity of today’s jam band scene?

I think we’re in a new golden era of jam and a lot of that really has to do with the emergence of those two artists — Billy Strings and Goose. They are true headliners that can navigate the mainstream and headline major festivals, like Lollapalooza, that are not just jam centric. They’re the ones who will continue the jam scene into future decades.

Let’s talk about some of the guests you’ve had so far, starting with George Porter from the Meters. What does it say about the jam scene that a New Orleans funk band is part of The Jam podcast?

It’s a great example, actually, of how the jam scene encompasses bluegrass, funk, R& B, and jazz into this large gumbo of influences and different styles of music. George Porter Jr. is somebody who has collaborated with Dr. John, with Robert Palmer and with some of the greatest New Orleans musicians of all time. But he also has collaborated with Widespread Panic and The Grateful Dead. George really has embodied that spirit and does his own Grateful Dead covers now on his set with a cover of “Eyes of the World.”

How do you find guests for your podcast?

I’ve known Robby Krieger since the nineties. I’ve known Randy Jackson for over 10 years. He’s been a great mentor to me. You know, Billy Cobham I worked with in Jazz is Dead. Bill Payne and I have mutual friends. I want to give the people that I’ve crossed paths with over the years a forum to thank them for the part they played in my career path and for inspiring so many others in the music industry.

Who is helping you produce The Jam?

I have great partners on this project. We record the podcast inside the Sony studios and then Osiris handles all of the marketing, editing and distribution. It’s an incredible team. Osiris has a great collection of artists and podcasts that super serve the jam audience. My goal is to feature great artists and some industry folks that have stories to tell and and also some tastemakers and people that you don’t hear from very often and help. I feel very blessed to be highlighting these stories and having conversations with some of the greats in this business.

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