Rock Music, 1960s–present

In addition to American classical music, my other main area of interest is American rock music from the 1960s to the present. In particular, I am interested in improvisational rock bands (a.k.a. “jambands”) such as the Grateful Dead and Phish, as well as the Talking Heads. For all three, I examine how issues of place and identity interact with elements of the music and fan cultures.

Grateful Dead parking lot in the 1980s

My essay “Nomadic Musical Audiences: A Historical Precedent for the Grateful Dead” was published in the edited volume Reading the Grateful Dead: A Critical Survey and describes the affective bond between Grateful Dead fans and the changing landscape of concert venues, likening this dynamic geography to nineteenth-century American camp meeting culture. Additionally, I have recently presented research on racial embodiment and improvisation in the history of the Grateful Dead, focusing on jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis’s guest appearance with the band, which will soon be revised into an article.

My research on Phish has included ethnographic fieldwork during the band’s Fall Tour in 2018, supported by an online survey that garnered 665 responses. I use this data to argue that Phish’s performance of the Jewish devotional song “Avinu Malkeinu” turns the concert space into a site of diasporic Jewish identity construction for a fan base already given to strong feelings of communitas and spatial articulation of affective authenticity. This work forms the basis of a new article project.

Mike Hamad’s “Phishmap” for the version of “Ghost” from December 31, 2010

I have also presented a poster session titled “Affective Music Theory and Musical Exploration: Michael Hamad’s @phishmaps,” which examines how journalist Michael Hamad uses an artistic notational style to represent harmonic pathways in Phish’s improvisational passages. Fans intuitively connect to Hamad’s images because they are a graphical representation of musical exploration, a highly valued element for Phish fans, despite not understanding their music theoretical content. You can explore the website designed to accompany the poster session, which includes the poster, the conference paper from which the poster was adapted, and three videos that introduce the Phishmaps style of representation.

Talking Heads on the Stop Making Sense tour, mid 1980s

A future book project in the realm of popular music examines the rock band Talking Heads and how they performed a variety of identities throughout their career tied to specific places that carry certain connotations about race, class, and national identity. For example, when the band more than doubled in size in order to accommodate a new style of playing based on African-inspired music, they became a multi-racial band whose music resisted pigeonholing into either black or white genres and marketing strategies. This hybrid identity was particular, though not exclusive, to downtown Manhattan’s arts and music scene, where creative exchange between black and white artists was common despite a growing racial divide in American popular culture.

In addition, I have authored encyclopedia articles on the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Allman Brothers Band, and have written the Grove Dictionary of American Music entries for Phish, Psychedelic Rock, Jam Band, and the 1960s psychedelic band Love.