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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Jam Bands

See what group of shaggy legends managed to outrank Phish, the Allman Brothers and Widespread Panic

Jerry Garcia and Trey Anastacio

Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead and Trey Anastacio of Phish

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty; Douglas Mason/Getty

This summer is going to be a bittersweet time for fans of jam bands. If the pain over the end of the Allman Brothers wasn't fresh enough, the Grateful Dead are now about to bow out with a series of farewell shows. Thankfully, Phish hit the road in late July, so all is not lost. With all this in mind, we asked our readers to select their favorite noodlers. 

Tabulating the results forced us to make some judgement calls. Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers received many votes, but they simply don't improvise enough at their shows to qualify. Led Zeppelin was a tougher call. They did have some songs that would stretch beyond 30 minutes and they did improvise in these moments, but the vast majority of their show was rehearsed and unchanging. In the end, they did not make the list, though other groups that were on the fence did. Feel free to voice your disagreements in the comments.

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NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01: Scott Murawski and Mike Gordon perform at Webster Hall on March 1, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/Getty Images)




Creating this list involved a couple of judgement calls, but not when it came to Phish. They are the dictionary definition of a jam band. Indeed, since the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, they have emerged as the premier jam band on the planet. They're so massive they throw their own three-day festivals where they are the only group on the bill. Phans follow them all over the country, obsessing over old tapes and rumors of upcoming gigs. Trey Anastasio is going to spend a week or two this summer fronting the Dead at their final shows, which is really the ultimate honor in the jam band universe. 

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MACON, GA - MAY 5: Rock group The Allman Brothers (L-R) Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Gregg Allman, Jai Johanny Johanson, Berry Oakley and Butch Trucks sit on some rairoad tracks on May 5, 1969 outside of Macon, Georgia. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)



The Allman Brothers

The Allman Brothers were such a powerful force that one of the two brothers died in 1971 and the group still lasted another 43 years. Duane may have been missed the vast majority of their run, but he laid the groundwork for everything that followed. Just listen to At Fillmore East: Live music just doesn't get much better than those insanely jammed-out versions of "Whipping Post" and "Mountain Jam." The lineup shifted around a bit, but fans flocked to New York every March to see the group's annual stand at the Beacon Theater. The whole thing ended last October, but Gregg Allman continues to play the music at his solo shows. 

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UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1960: Photo of Grateful Dead Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty


The Grateful Dead

Could any other band have conceivably won this poll? Back when most rock groups played the same carefully rehearsed 25-minute show over and over for months on end, the Grateful Dead were playing two-hour sets that changed wildly from night to night. They often didn't even have a set list, choosing to simply walk onstage and see where the music took them. Jerry Garcia has been dead for nearly 20 years, but the surviving members have played together in various permutations ever since. It all ends this July at Chicago's Soldier Field, though the guys will surely be playing this music on their own until they drop. 

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