You’re probably thinking “Well, yeah. I knew that from the moment they transitioned into 'Simple.'” While your predictive abilities are impressive, that particular jam winning the tournament is pretty far from the point. We vote on "Jam of the Year" not just for the sake of finding an answer to the “What’s the best jam of the year?”, but rather for the sake of improving our critical listening and getting closer to the music. [And having fun. - Editor's note.]
To catch you up: a small group of .netters put together a bracket that pitted 64 of 2016’s finest jams against each other. Each week, we created a forum thread in which people could vote on these individual matchups, with the “winning” jams advancing into further rounds.
Click here and zoom for a full resolution image, including the score (vote totals) for each matchup.
The real fun of the contest, though, is the questions you ask yourself when participating. Do you consider the wandering middle section of the 7/1 "Chalk Dust" to be “exploratory” or “meh-andering”? Is the 9/3 "Simple" enhanced by Trey’s Marimba Lumina rolls, or is it completely out of place? Is the Lockn’ "Ghost" a transcendent musical journey, or is it just another major-key 3.0 "Ghost"? By asking yourself these questions, you learn more about what appeals to you about Phish, thereby deepening your connection to the band.
So how’d it all go down?
For the tournament to work, we needed to pick which 64 jams to use and how they would be seeded in our tournament format. We broke the year into a series of small chunks, usually of four or five shows, so that we could gather the best jams of the group with input from the community in threads like this one. The seeding committee (@JargonX, @jahroy, @CavalierGirl, @Fluffihead, and @Zimmerman) kept track of everyone’s top interests in a spreadsheet.
Once we were done with our warm-up, the committee took two weeks to individually rank each of the jams, then came to a consensus seeding and placed the jams in their relevant brackets.
We distributed each jam with an eye toward future matchups — for example, we knew that we wanted the 7/18 "Sneakin’ Sally Thru The Alley" to square up against the 9/2 "No Men in No Men’s Land," since both are high-energy jams in relentless pursuit of their respective peaks — in an attempt to create interesting questions for the listeners. Once we were done, @jahroy designed our beautiful bracket and, after a short play-in round, the tournament was on.
A sports tournament is nothing without its narratives, and "JotY" 2016 certainly had its share. In the early rounds, doubts stalked the 9/3 "Simple" wherever it went, with many forum members crying foul at the “gross injustice” of seeding it at #1. It almost went down in the first round, sneaking ahead of the 10/31 "2001" by just three votes, but pursued until the Sweet Sixteen, where the 7/1 "Chalk Dust" took it out.
We had a couple of big upsets early on: the eleven-seed 7/23 "Tube," which of course marked the return of Tube’s funk-filled jam segment, took out the six-seed 8/26 "Gin," one of the big highlights from Phish’s two nights at Lockn’. In another #6 vs. #11 upset, the Mexico "Cities," a jam essentially forgotten for its role in a lukewarmly-received run, overtook the 6/26 "Light," a very popular early summer jam. Perhaps most interesting was the 6/26 "Disease," a ten seed, defeating the 7/9 "Disease," a seven seed. While these two jams came out of the same song and the Hartford version got more press during the summer, the people seemed to prefer Wrigley in retrospect.
Most of the upsetters got cleared out by the Sweet Sixteen, where the lowest-seeded contender was the 12/30 "Tweezer," a five seed. From there on out, it was a battle between juggernaut jams whose run times all cleared the fifteen-minute mark.
If the Sweet Sixteen was predictable, the Elite Eight and Final Four were anything but. Notable races included the 10/30 "DWD" -> "BOAF" split, in which "Disease" came out victorious, only to lose to the 7/3 "Moma Dance" in the following round. The thunderous 9/2 "NMINML" overtook the BGCA "Sally," arguably one of the most-hyped jams of summer tour.
Many users saw the 10/21 "Down with Disease" as one of the few jams with a legitimate chance to take out the 10/28 "Golden Age" in the final, but it ended up going down in the Final Four at the hands of the 9/4 "Crosseyed and Painless." While "Crosseyed" had vocal support at the beginning of the tournament, its following grew over time until it was able to sneak into the finals.
Some notable stats
It was a long stretch, but we wouldn’t do this kind of thing if it weren't worth it. Comparing jams to each other is not about a cold calculation and an attempt to find “the best.” It’s instead an inquiry into one's musical values. I learned a lot about how I feel about music over the course of the tournament, and I continue to work on the tournament so that other people can have that experience. If you did so this year, we hope you had a good time. If not, we hope you join us next year.
Once again, I'd like to thank the seeding committee, @JargonX, @jahroy, @CavalierGirl, @Fluffihead, and @Zimmerman, for their indispensible contributions to this project. It would've been impossible to do alone, and their insight and sense of humor made the whole process more enjoyable. We'd also like to thank @BurningShoreProphet, for putting on the first "Jam of the Year" Tournament for 2014. And of course we'd like to thank The Mockingbird Foundation and Phish.net for keeping this webspace free to use, which allowed us put this whole contraption on in the first place.
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Mike Gordon: September 22, 2017
~1 hour from now
The Georgia Theatre
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