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Jam-band magazine celebrates 2-year anniversary

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MISSY SHEEHAN / For The State Journal MISSY SHEEHAN / For The State Journal
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By MISSY SHEEHAN

For The State Journal

Appalachian Jamwich, a Shepherdstown-based print and online magazine dedicated to jam-band music, art and culture in West Virginia and the surrounding region, is celebrating its two-year anniversary this month while getting ready for its annual Mad Tea Party Jam in June. 

The first issue of the monthly magazine was published in April 2012.

"The idea started out as a joke," said Eric "Taco" Olmstead, editor-in-chief of Jamwich. "We were always going to festivals and shows, and someone jokingly said they wished we could make money doing that, so I said, ‘we should start a magazine.'"

Soon after, friends started asking him when the magazine was coming out, so Taco, his wife, Elise Olmstead, and their friend, Daniel King, began plans to make their wish come true.

"We asked ourselves what niche wasn't being filled," said Elise, creative director and managing editor for Jamwich. "And there just weren't any good magazines on a fan-base level."

According to Olmstead, the Appalachian region, including West Virginia cities like Charleston, Morgantown, Shepherdstown and Huntington, has a thriving jam-band scene. 

"But there wasn't any way of hearing about the 5,000-plus bands who don't have enough ‘likes' on Facebook or enough record sales to garner any media attention," he said.

While none of the trio had any prior publishing experience, they found their niche in helping to promote jam bands throughout the region. 

"We're supporting the small bands — the people who most need the exposure," said King, publisher for Jamwich. 

"Some of the greatest bands and musicians out there don't necessarily have a lot of fans, so we wanted to step in and lift that whole community up," Olmstead added. "Music lovers don't care about how big a band is, just that it's good."

According to Olmstead, the roots of the jam-band scene stem from the unique culture inspired by '60s-era bands like The Grateful Dead, the original jam band.

Jam bands are inspired by a variety of genres, including rock and roll, psychedelic rock, blues, country, folk, electronica, bluegrass, funk and more. 

"But live, improvisation is how you really define jam bands," Elise said. "They're not based on records; they're all about live shows, about mixing it up and giving unique experiences."

Every issue of Jamwich features a lineup of upcoming shows, band spotlights and reviews, among other pieces. 

"Our journalism is very experience-based," Elise said. "Our reviews are about the overall experience — what was the vibe, what was the energy like, how was the crowd — so you get a feel for what the show or festival was actually like."

While music is the driving force behind Jamwich, art also plays a huge role in the publication. Each issue features an artist of the month as well as paintings, drawings and photos by artists involved in the jam-band scene. 

"The art scene in this community is just booming right now — visionary art is becoming a very big thing," Elise said. "It's a very spiritual kind of art, with themes dealing with the cosmos, gods and goddesses and chakras. It's about reaching a higher consciousness."

Appalachian Jamwich's annual Mad Tea Party Jam, set for June 19-22 this year, is the culmination of the magazine's focus on jam-band music, art and culture. Hosted at a privately owned farm dubbed "The Bavarian Villa" off Tally Ho Lane in Hedgesville, the Mad Tea Party is an "intimate rager" that's grown from 100 attendees its first year to more than 1,000 at last year's event. 

Olmstead said this year, the third installment of the event, they're expecting about 2,500 people, which is about the maximum number they want for the event. 

"We're trying to bring large-festival production value to a small audience, and at the price tag of a small audience," he said. "We want to keep it intimate."

Despite the event's small scale, Olmstead said they've lined up some big-name, regionally and nationally touring bands, such as main headliner Papadosio, The Werks, Dopapod, Moogatu and People's Blues of Richmond.

There will be plenty more going on besides music at the Mad Tea Party Jam, Elise said. They're expecting about 30 live painters — a big trend in the jam-band scene — at the event. 

"You can just walk by and its like a living gallery," she said. "You can watch art being created while the music is happening, and the music is feeding their energy, feeding into their art." 

Attendees also will be able to participate in yoga classes, guided meditation, guitar and art workshops, nature walks and more. Since the festival is family friendly, there also will be a section just for kids.

General admission tickets for the Mad Tea Party Jam start at $85 and include three nights of camping. Ticket prices will increase to $100 on May 1, Elise said. VIP tickets also are available.

Proceeds from the event will go toward supporting the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, a West Virginia-based organization working to end mountaintop removal.

About 5,000 copies of Jamwich are distributed throughout the region each month. The magazine can be found at locally owned businesses such as the Blue Moon Cafe and Mellow Moods Cafe & Juice Bar in Shepherdstown, the Morgantown Brewing Company in Morgantown and The Wild Ramp food market in Huntington. Annual subscriptions also can be purchased for $36. 

To learn about "Appalachian Jamwich" magazine and the annual Mad Tea Party Jam, visit appalachianjamwich.com and themadteapartyjam.com