music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Galactic

May 11, 2019 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

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One of the things that I enjoy most about the jam band community is the diversity. The diversity in the music, and the diversity in the people that follow the music. Unlike many other genres, where the bands all branch off from the same root, the jam band “genre,” such as it is, is composed of all sorts of musical styles. Rock and hip-hop, R&B and funk, rap and jazz all blend together. Some bands focus primarily on one area in particular, while others mix genres to form something wholly unique. One band that fuses a variety of elements into their own unique sound is Galactic.
Galactic got their start when a pair of childhood friends, Jeff Raines and Robert Mercurio, moved from the Washington D.C. area to New Orleans to attend school. They began exploring the local music scene and soon met up with a variety of established New Orleans musicians. Their choice of colleges had originally been based more in their desire to be in New Orleans than the particular schools at they would attend, and they quickly formed the octet Galactic Prophylactic with some of the other musicians they met.
As the band was getting started, Raines and Mercurio befriended Theryl deClouet, a funk singer that had spent years in the New Orleans music scene. “The Houseman,” as deClouet was known, was a regular on the New Orleans funk scene and had fronted numerous groups throughout the years. He became friends with the band, who were cutting their teeth as an instrumental act. Within a few months, the band had shortened their name to Galactic and paired down their membership. Their friendship with deClouet caused the band to consider whether or not their instrumental funk style could be used to back a prolific vocalist. They began working with deClouet, and the lineup for Galactic was solidified.
The band quickly rose up in the ranks of New Orleans funk, and began recording in 1994. They toured throughout Louisiana and the South, and released their first album in 1996. Coolin’ Off was released on Frog City Records, a label initially founded specifically to release the Galactic album. The album was successful as far as funk albums go, and the band began touring nationally. They would often open for larger acts while playing their own headlining gigs in small clubs. Galactic’s energy paired with deClouet’s soulful voice provided a unique experience that drew fans into their music. They followed up with 1998’s Crazyhorse Mongoose, an album that led to even more success among funk and jazz fans.
Early in their career, the band was intentional about building relationships with other musicians. They shared the stage with a variety of different acts, including New Orleans legends like The Meters, notable jam band members like Jon Fishman and Warren Haynes, and contemporaries such as Medeski, Martin, and Wood. They toured with a variety of acts in the late 90’s. They spent time on the road with 90’s alternative bands like Live and Counting Crowes, as well as touring with up-and-coming jam bands like Widespread Panic and Ben Harper. This eclectic group of touring partners helped Galactic build a diverse fanbase that wasn’t just tied into their jazz and funk roots.
2000 saw the band release another studio album, Late for the Future. The album didn’t have quite the success that Crazyhorse Mongoose did, but the band wasn’t too concerned with album sales. For Galactic, studio albums were a way to capture the “Galactic groove,” and providing material to play live. The band continued touring the country, and released their first live album, We Love ‘Em Tonight: Live at Tipitina’s in 2001. The album was recorded at a New Orleans club, allowing Galactic to pay tribute to the city that helped them get their start.
The band changed their approach to songwriting with 2003’s Ruckus. The band brought in noted hip-hop producer Dan “The Automator” for the album. The band focused on shorter, more well thought out songs for the album, and the focus showed. The band sounded more focused and put together than they ever had before in studio, and the album was a major success for the band. They played Bonnaroo in 2002, 2003, and 2004, and continued to draw diverse crowds.
In 2004, the band was struck with a major blow. Theryl deClout, vocalist and mentor for the band, decided that he could no longer tour due to health issues. The band had a difficult decision to make about whether or not to continue, and if they could replace deClout. Instead of looking for a replacement, the band went back to their roots and continued on as an instrumental group. This ambitious decision didn’t curtail their success. They played Bonnaroo in 2005, and again with a number of guests in 2007.
2007 also saw the band release their first album without deClout. The band brought in a different vocalists for each track on From the Corner to the Block. Many of these vocalists had also joined the band for their Bonnaroo performance that year. The album was well received both by fans and critics. They toured throughout 2007 and most of 2008 with guest MC’s, before resuming touring primarily as an instrumental group.
Ya-Ka-May was released in 2010, and once again included a variety of guest vocalists and other musicians. Allen Toussaint appeared on two tracks, and Irma Thomas’s vocals on “Heart of Steel” brought the band some recognition in more mainstream circles. Cyril Neville joined the band on tour for much of 2010 and beyond, providing vocals and serving as a frontman for the group. They followed this up with 2011’s The Other Side of Midnight, a live album that was recorded on the Ya-Ka-May tour.
The use of guest vocalists has become the standard for recent Galactic albums Carnivale Electricos features a variety of different styles and bounces between instrumental tracks and tracks featuring vocals easily. Into the Deep is much more vocal-heavy, and features some significant names such as Macy Gray and Mavis Staples, among others. The big benefit to Into the Deep compared to other album that featured guest vocalists is that the band had worked with most of these vocalists prior to writing and recording the album. This existing relationship meant that the songs on the album felt much more collaborative and fit the various styles that the singers brought to the songs than previous efforts. Already Ready Already featured again featured primarily guests that Galactic had worked with in the past, giving it a similar feel to Into The Deep.
Whether they’re playing as an instrumental band or in a more collaborative setting with vocalists, Galactic continues to bring their New Orleans vibe wherever they go. They’ve had some major changes throughout their career, but they’ve continued to stay true to their love of funk, brass bands, and New Orleans music and culture. They’ve built up an extremely impressive resume and they’re still going strong. With the success of their recent releases, I don’t see any sign of them slowing down.
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Jam Cruise announces lineup
The 2020 Jam Cruise lineup is out, and the festival at sea looks as exciting as ever. The festival will take place from January 7-12 out of Miami and will include The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz, moe., Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Lettuce, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Turkuaz, Dumpstaphunk, and many other artists.

Dark Star Orchestra announce Jam in the Sand
Jam in the Sand, Dark Star Orchestra’s destination event, will take place in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, from January 14-18. The festival will feature four full nights of Dark Star Orchestra as well as three shows each from Melvin Seals & JGB and Donna the Buffalo.

Woodstock 50 in limbo
The 50th anniversary event of Woodstock, scheduled to be held at Watkins Glenn, is in serious limbo at this point. Both the major investor and producer have pulled out of the event, and there’s been no announcement as far as when tickets might go on sale. The chaos of the event has created a lot of negative buzz online, with comparisons to the Fyre Festival debacle. Promoter Michael Lang insists the event will go on and is claiming that investors illegally took money from the Woodstock bank account. How all of this wasn’t finalized years ago is beyond me, as everyone knew the 50th anniversary was coming up.

jcsevents

Domefest
May 16-18
Marvin’s Mountaintop
Masontown, WV
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (x5), Aqueous, Litz, Mungion, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers

DelFest
May 23-26
Cumberland, MD
The Del McCoury Band, The String Cheese Incident, The Travelin’ McCourys, Trampled by Turtles, Railroad Earth, The Marcus King Band, Billy Strings

Summer Camp Music Festival
May 23-26
Three Sisters Park
Chillicothe, IL
moe., Umphrey’s McGee, Big Gigantic, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Trampled by Turtles, Blues Traveler, Lotus, TAUK, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Spafford, ALO

Dark Star Jubilee
May 24-26
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
3 nights of Dark Star Orchestra, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Leftover Salmon, Billy Strings, Dumpstaphunk, The Lil’ Smokies, Donna the Buffalo, The Nth Power

Camp Greensky
June 6-8
Wellston, MI
Greensky Bluegrass (3 nights), Del & Dawg, Stephen Marley, Billy Strings, Hiss Golden Messenger, Circles around the Sun, Ghost Light, The Rebirth Brass Band, Bombino

Bonnaroo
June 13-16
Manchester, TN
Phish, The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers, GRiZ, Nahko & Medicine for the People, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Jim James, Trampled By Turtles, The Wood Brothers, Shovels & Rope, The Record Company

Mountain Jam
June 13-16
Bethel Woods
Bethel, NY
Willie Nelson & Family, Phil Lesh & Friends, Gov’t Mule, The Avett Brothers, The Revivalists, Twiddle, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Dispatch, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Michael Franti & Spearhead

Keller in the Caverns
June 21-23
Pelham, TN
2 Keller Williams performances as well as Pettygrass, More Than A Little, and a Grateful Gospel Brunch

Telluride Bluegrass Festival
June 20-23
Telluride, CO
Brandi Carlisle, Sam Bush Band, Jim James, Greensky Bluegrass, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon: Stories from the Living Room, Punch Brothers, Railroad Earth

Electric Forest
June 27-30
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
3 nights of The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Lettuce, The Floozies, TAUK, Spafford, Twiddle, Ghost Light, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Nth Power, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Smoky Run Music Festival
June 28-30
Butler, OH
Gov’t Mule, Trampled by Turtles, Railroad Earth, Deer Tick, Son Volt, The Travelin’ McCoury’s & Jeff Austin Band present Grateful Ball, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Rumpke Mountain Boys

moe.down
July 4-6
Snow Ridge Ski Resort
Turin, NY
moe., Drive By Truckers, Spafford, God Street Wine, Everyone Orchestra, Cory Wong, Max Creek

High Sierra
July 4-7
Quincy, CA
Greensky Bluegrass, Umphrey’s McGee, Dispatch, Del McCoury Band, Jim James, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, TAUK, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, ALO, Marcus King Band

4848 Festival
July 11-13
Snowshoe Mountain
Snowshoe, WV
Greensky Bluegrass, Umphrey’s McGee, The Infamous Stringdusters, Lettuce, Railroad Earth, Marcus King Band, Billy Strings, Turkuaz, Fruition

Ride Festival
July 12-14
Telluride, CO
Widespread Panic, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Big Head Todd & The Monsters, Big Something

Camp Bisco
July 18-20
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA

FloydFest 19 “Journey Home”
July 24-28
Floyd, VA
Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, The String Cheese Incident, Brandi Carlile Tyler Childers, Margo Price, Fantastic Negrito, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grace featuring Love Cannon

Peach Music Festival
July 25-28
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Phil Lesh & Friends, Trey Anastasio Band, The String Cheese Incident, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, moe., Greensky Bluegrass, Lotus, Lettuce, Infamous Stringdusters, Yonder Mountain String Band, Allman Betts Band, Billy Strings

Werk Out
August 1-3
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
The Werks, Big Gigantic, Claypool Lennon Delirium, The Floozies, Twiddle, Matisyahu, Turkuaz, Melvin Seals & JGB

Woodstock 50
August 16-18
Watkins Glen, NY
Dead & Co., Santana, Robert Plant & The Sensational Shape Shifters, Sturgill Simpson, Brandi Carlisle, Hot Tuna, Gary Clark Jr., John Fogerty, Margo Price, Marcus King Band.

Lockn’ Festival
August 22-25
Arrington, VA
Trey Anasasio Band w/ Derek Trucks, Tedeschi Trucks Band w/ Trey Anastasio, Bob Weir & Wolf Bros. w/ Susan Tedeschi, Otiel & Friends w/ Bob Weir, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, The Revivalists, Gary Clark Jr., Old Crow Medicine Show, moe., Twiddle

Borderlands Festival
September 21-22
Knox Farm State Park, NY
Greensky Bluegrass, Gov’t Mule, Shakey Graves, Mavis Staples, The Wood Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller Williams Grateful Grass, Rayland Baxter

Strings & Sol
December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, Mexico
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, The Del McCoury Band, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon, Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman

Jam Cruise
January 7-12
Miami, FL
The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz, moe., Galactic, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Dumpstaphunk, Lettuce, Lotus, Circles Around the Sun

Jam In The Sand
January 14-18
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, Melvin Seals & JGB, Donna the Buffalo

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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!