music / Columns

Jam Central Station: John Butler Trio

June 9, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski



As far as Australian musical exports go, the John Butler Trio is far removed from what people normally think of as popular Australian music. Despite being from the same continent, The John Butler Trio bears little resemblance to classic hard rockers AC/DC. Their music crosses genres from roots, funk, and bluegrass to heavier alternative. Over the past decade, John Butler has gone from busking on the streets of Perth to releasing platinum albums in Australia and embarking on numerous successful tours of the U.S. They’ve become Australia’s most popular jam band export, and developed an extensive fanbase along the way.

Although he identifies as an Australian native, band leader John Butler spent the first 11 years of his life in Torrance, California. He moved to Australia with his father after his parents divorced, and settled into Aussie life. He became close with his maternal grandmother, and, at 16, he began playing guitar. His grandmother gave him his late grandfather’s 1930’s dobro guitar, and he began playing in earnest. He began studying art in college in 1996, but also began writing and recording his own music. He spent more time with his music than his art, and soon dropped out of college to pursue music full time.

His first album, the self-released Searching for Heritage, was the launching point for his career. The instrumental album only sold about 3,000 copies (making it a highly-sought-after collectors item for fans today), but it also caught the eye of people in the local music scene. He used the success from that album to begin playing clubs, and he began developing a fanbase. By 1998, Butler was ready to do a professional album. He enlisted the help of drummer Jason McGann and bassist Gavin Shoesmith to record John Butler. They began touring Australia, both opening for established acts and playing their own club gigs.

The band was having success on the Australian touring circuit, but they hadn’t been able to get onto the radio. With the release of 2000’s JBT EP, the band changed that. “Pickapart” became a radio hit for the band, and allowed them to begin playing bigger venues. Their appearance at 2000’s “East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival” was a huge success, and there were high expectations for their second full-length album. Three didn’t disappoint fans, and quickly went platinum in Australia.

Three won a variety of Australian awards for the band, and the album was re-released in the U.S. in 2002 on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records. The band did their first U.S. tour in 2001, and followed that with a 2002 tour that included stints opening for John Mayer and The Dave Matthews Band, along with a well-received performance at Bonnaroo. They released Living 2001-2002 early in 2003, which debuted in the top ten in the Australian charts, a huge feat for

Butler returned to the studio late 2003 with a brand new “trio” backing him up. He made it clear at the time that he no longer viewed the John Butler Trio as a set band, but instead as a dynamic group put together for the songs that he wrote. The strategy appeared to work, as Sunrise Over Sea debuted #1 in Australia and saw significant worldwide success. “Treat Yo Mama” and “Betterman” became successful singles, and Butler continued to gain popularity in the U.S. as well as Australia. They followed Sunrise with Live at St. Gallen,which consisted of a one performance in Switzerland and another at the Sydney Opera House.

Grand National was released in 2007, and had considerable Australian and American success. The album was the first John Butler Trio album to include extensive use of horns and strings, and a variety of percussion instruments. The band took the success of the album on the road, and played festivals in Australia along with playing Lollapalooza in the U.S. and touring with G. Love in 2008.

Butler took a break from the Trio in 2009, instead embarking on a solo tour in the U.S. and Canada. He played a variety of festivals, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, and sold out headlining shows. After his summer performances, he returned to Australia and announced the formation of a new Trio, this time consisting of Byron Luiters on bass and Nicky Bomba on drums. The album that resulted, 2010’s April Uprising brought him not only continued success in Australia but even more American exposure. He responded by touring the States and hitting up festivals. The highlight of this was a headlining show at Red Rocks in Colorado that was streamed live and subsequently released as a live album.

It took Butler 4 years and another adjustment to his trio to release a new album. Butler began previewing songs from 2014’s Flesh & Blood in 2013 on tour, but the album had plenty of new material for fans to enjoy. The album had more of a rock edge to it and less of the bouncy pop format that Butler had employed on some other albums. While the album didn’t have extensive commercial success in the U.S. it did keep the trio in the limelight, and his version of the song “Happy” became a staple both for his TV performances and in concert. He announced a 2018 US tour after a handful of dates in the states in 2017, and is expected to release a new album sometime in the next year.

Butler’s unique style has allowed him to reinvent himself and his band on a regular basis. He’s most well known for his finger picking guitar style, but he’s also an accomplished slide guitar player, banjo player, and he’s even known to play the traditional Australian didgeridoo. He’s taken to wearing acrylic fingernails in order to allow him to play his music without destroying his hands. He also helps run his own record label, which allows him extensive creative freedom for his recordings. His live performances often mix his acoustic instrumental pieces with more electric songs that use a variety of pedals and effects. While he may take on a variety of labels, predictable is definitely not one of them.

John Butler’s career extends far beyond his music. He’s extremely politically vocal and active, and his lyrics reflect his beliefs. He’s won a variety of awards from political and environmental groups. He’s also started his own foundation, known as the JB Seed Program, that grants money to artists and organizations focused on artistic and cultural diversity in Australian society.

John Butler has become a new face for Australian music, and has given fans a different perspective on the music of the continent. His Australian success has translated well to the U.S., and he’s become a favorite of American and Australian festival-goers. In the jam band scene he’s gone from festival filler to an upper tier act for major festivals. Although he’s always changing and updating his backing band, Butler’s staying power is evident, and he should be making music for quite some time.



STS9 announce “Wave Spell” Festival
STS9 announced a new festival that they will be hosting in Belden Town, CA on August 16-19. The festival will feature 9 STS9 sets including 3 improvisational “Wave Spell” sets, as well as sunrise music all 4 days. The festival also features many names in electronic music including Edit, Ooah, Manic Focus, Michael Menert, Tel Aviv, and many others.

Gov’t Mule announce Island Exodus 10
Gov’t Mule announced their 10th annual Island Exodus festival. They’ll be heading to Runaway Bay, Jamaica from January 20-24. The festival will also feature a solo Warren Haynes set, The Marcus King Band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Ron Holloway.

Phish to release a full Baker’s Dozen set
Phish announced that they will be releasing a massive Baker’s Dozen set featuring all of the music from their Baker’s Dozen shows at Madison Square Garden in 2017. The set will feature 36 CDs, an 86 page booklet, and a variety of other goodies for fans. There will also be a smaller selection of songs from the run chosen by the band released either on 3 CDs or 6 vinyl albums. The sets will be released on November 30, just in time for Christmas for Phish fans.

Primus adds dates
After adding that their current run will be the final Primus tour for awhile, the band announced a handful of additional shows. These dates are at the end of September and include a pair of festival dates.

September 22 San Antonio, TX—River City Rockfest
September 25 Athens, GA—Georgia Theatre
September 26 Asheville, NC—Highland Brewing Company
September 28 Biloxi, MS—Hard Rock Live
September 30 Louisville, KY—Louder Than Life Festival

Leftover Salmon add dates
Leftover Salmon will continue their current tour into early fall with recently added dates. The band is touring behind their recent Something Higher album.

June 7 Sandpoint, ID – The Hive w/ Dodgy Mountain Men
June 8 Whitefish, MT – Great Northern Bar w/ Moonshine Mountain
June 9 Haugan, MT – Silver Cloud Campout
June 22-23 Telluride, CO – Telluride Bluegrass
June 28 Owensboro, KY – ROMP
June 29 Laytonville, CA – Kate Wolf Music Festival
July 1 Buena Vista – Ivy Ballroom at the Surf Hotel
July 2 Center for the Arts – Crested Butte, CO
July 20 Scranton, PA – Peach Fest
July 21-22 North Plains, OR – Northwest String Summit
July 27-28 Floyd, VA – Floyd Fest
August 10-11 Taos, NM – Fish Out of Water Festival
August 17 Garresttsville, OH – Smokin’ Seafood Bluegrass Fest
August 18 Wellston, MI – Hoxeyville Music Festival
August 30 Plymouth, NH – Flying Monkey
August 31 Beverly, MA – The Cabot
September 1 Charleston, RI- Rhythm & Roots Festival
September 2 Huntsville, UT Blues, Brews, & BBQ
September 13 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl
September 14 Greenfield, MA – Wormtown Music Festival
September 15 Norfolk, CT – Infinity Hall
September 16 Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
September 21 Atlanta, GA – Tabernacle w/ Infamous String Dusters, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
September 22 Black Mountain, NC – Pisgah Brewing Co
September 23 Ponte Vedra, FL – Sing Out Loud Fest
September 27 Oak Hill, WV – Adventure Grass Festival
September 28 Falls Church, VA – The State Theatre
September 30 Philadelphia, PA – Mann Center for the Arts
October 2 Pittsburgh, PA – Rex Theater
October 4 Covington, KY – Madison Theater w/ Rumpke Mountain Boys
October 5 Indianapolis, IN – Vogue w/ Rumpke Mountain Boys
October 6 Chicago, IL – Park West w/ Amy Helm
October 7 Nashville, TN – 3rd & Lindsley


June 7-10
Manchester, TN
Eminem, Muse, The Killers, Bassnectar, The Revivalists, Rebelution, STS9, Mavis Staples, Trombone Shorty, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Blue Ox Music Festival
June 14-16
Eau Claire, WI
Greensky Bluegrass, The Devil Makes Three, Sam Bush, Del McCoury Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Margo Price, Billy Strings

Mountain Jam
June 15-17
Hunter Mountain, NY
Jack Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, alt-J, The War On Drugs, Portugal. The Man, The Decembrists, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Rag n’ Bone Man, Turkuaz, The Record Company

Electric Forest Weekend 1
June 21-24
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Andy Frasco & The UN, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

Road Jam
June 22-23
Two Roads Brewing Company
Stratford, CT
Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Motet, TAUK

Electric Forest Weekend 2
June 28-July 1
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Fruition, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

High Sierra
July 5-8
Quincy, CA
String Cheese Incident, Sturgill Simpson, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, Turkuaz, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Fruition, Spafford

Camp Bisco
July 12-14
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
The Disco Biscuits, Bassnectar, Excision, Bonobo, The Floozies, Lettuce, TAUK, Lotus, Papadosio

The Ride Festival
July 14-15
Telluride, CO
The String Cheese Incident, Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Something

Peach Festival
July 19-22
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Gov’t Mule, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Dicky Betts, moe., Twiddle, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Blackberry Smoke, Turkuaz, Leftover Salmon, The Main Squeeze,

Northwest String Summit
July 19-22
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller Williams, Fruition, Mandolin Orange, Steep Canyon Rangers

July 25-29
Floyd, VA
Foster the People, The Infamous Stringdusters, Hiss Golden Messenger

Element Music Festival
July 26-29
Snug Lake Ampitheatre
British Columbia
Lotus, Spafford, Particle

Werk Out Festival
August 2-4
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
The Werks, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Lettuce, Papadosio, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Turkuz

Summer Meltdown Festival
August 2-5
Darrington, WA
Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Greensky Bluegrass, Lettuce, Beats Antique, Papadosio, Twiddle, Pimps of Joytime

August 17-19
Wellston, VA
Dawes, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Larry Keel, Steppin’ In It, Jon Stickney Trio, The Crane Wives

August 23-26
Arrington, VA
Dead & Company, Widespread Panic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Sheryl Crow, Lettuce, George Clinton & P-Funk, Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Waterloo Festival
September 8-9
Carson Creek Ranch
Austin, TX
The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Railroad Earth, The Motet, Boombox, TAUK, Marco Benevento

FreshGrass Festival
September 14-16
North Adams, MA
Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Indigo Girls, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Steep Canyon Rangers

The Festy Experience
October 5-7
Arrington, VA
Greensky Bluegrass, Gillian Welch, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush Band, Della Mae, Fruition, Carbon Leaf, Bonnie Paine

Hillberry Music Festival
October 11-14
Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, Sam Bush, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Split Lip Rayfield

Suwannee Hulaween
October 25-28
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Jamiroquai, Odesza, The Revivalists, STS9, Lettuce, Trampled by Turtles, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, Turkuaz, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Strings & Sol
December 7-11
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon

December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, MX
The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Ghost Light

Winter Wondergrass Vermont
December 14-16
Stratton, VT

Tropical Throe.down
January 10-14
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
moe., The New Mastersounds, Big Something

Island Exodus
January 20-24
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes, The Marcus King Band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Ron Holloway

International Incident
January 25-28
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 22-24
Steamboat Springs, CO

Winter Wondergrass California
March 29-31
Squaw Valley, CA


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!