Why do Jews love jam bands?

The first summer jam concert organized by the Ashkenaz Festival and Magen Boys Entertainment on July 17, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Ashkenaz)

There’s a certain type of Jew, usually Ashkenazi, sometimes Israeli, with a mop of curly hair, an acousitc guitar and an affinity for marijuana, who will inevitably love bands like The Grateful Dead and Phish. Those groups are collectively known as “jam bands”, which play lengthy, musically complex songs, often in concert, always with a hefty reliance on improvisation.

Once synonymous with psychedelic drugs, the jam band scene has gone mainstream in recent decades—and for a myriad reasons we’ll dissect on today’s episode of Culturally Jewish, Jews are buying front-row tickets.

This summer, the Ashkenaz Festival and Magen Boys Entertainment are putting on their first-ever summer jam concert series. Producer Michael Fraiman visited the first show to ask concert-goers why they felt Jews loved jam bands; after that, Ashkenaz artistic director Eric Stein joins Ilana and David for a discussion about the surprisingly deep connections between Deadheads and Yiddishkeit.


Culturally Jewish is hosted by Ilana Zackon and David Sklar. Our producer is Michael Fraiman, and our theme music is by Sarah Segal-Lazar. Additional music this episode by La Banda Morisca and The Other Ones. Special thanks to everyone who spoke to us at the Ashkenaz concert: Jason, Don, Howard, Isabella, Aviva, Max and Sam. We’re a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To support The CJN and receive a charitable tax receipt, please consider a monthly donation by clicking here.