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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.

Grateful Dead

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.