A popular Season 9 episode of South Park titled "Die, Hippie, Die" depicted jam-band culture as a bunch of bleary-eyed people who mumble about saving the world while not ever doing much besides bobbing their heads to "crunchy grooves," all spaced out on the reefer.
If psychedelic-flavored concerts these days are nothing more than ignorance fests, as the episode suggests, then maybe it was irresponsible for David Phipps to devote his life after college to playing music with electro-rock band STS9 instead of pursuing a career in industrial design. That was what he was all set to do when he made the decision to jam.
"There is kind of a generic description of jam culture," Phipps says. "The stoned activist. I could see where people could think that. But not every kid at our concert has got a hemp necklace on. And the fan of jam-based music is one of the most open-minded fans out there."
Those who are familiar with STS9 know that more has happened in their 15-year career than a bunch of head-bobbing. Social work has been nearly as strong a theme for the band as trippy synth and laser lights.
The group has done a carbon neutral tour, generated money to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and in recent years collected lots of food for hungry folks through its work with Conscious Alliance.
In doing so, it's made an effort to use its position to have a positive influence in a responsible manner.
"Musicians are human too," Phipps says. "We all have our own problems and demons that we're all struggling through as well. So just because we have a platform doesn't mean we should be running our mouths all the time. With that platform and with that audience, though, if you are in a stable place and see something unjust, then I do feel that you have a responsibility to speak up and try to rally people."
Among the band's most potent efforts to rally was its participation in the award-winning 2010 documentary #ReGeneration. STS9 provided the soundtrack to the film, which focuses on today's youth, American culture, and social activism and also features Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Talib Kweli.
As the band doesn't fit the stoned-out jam band stereotype, it is also not Rage Against the Machine.
"[Starting out], it wasn't like 'Oh, we're all young and angry and trapped and have a lot of anger to express in the world,' which is another way to make pretty awesome music."
Rather, STS9 shares the heart and intention of those twirling, topless, tripping people who have become so stigmatized as slackers:
"Let's express the joy of life. Peace, love, and happiness."
"I walked away from college and joined this band for that feeling. I'll starve to be able to do this. It was always, 'Let's make music that makes me feel like... this is the best life ever. Let's make music that makes us feel connected. That makes us happy and people around us happy."
This ongoing work, acting as a catalyst for social connection and uplifting moods, seems at the core of the band's social activism. As it plays music, in a room or field of gathered people, change occurs that is profound and positive, just as when food is brought to those who are hungry or a spotlight is put on folks who are acting unjustly.
Crunchy grooves are good for the Earth, brah!
If you're onboard with this idea or need some convincing, head to Revolution Live this Friday as STS9 brings its joyful goodness to Fort Lauderdale.
STS9. 8p.m. Friday, April 26 at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $25 to $30. Visit jointherevolution.net.
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