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Jam for Jam Preview
The three-day festival gets underway in Sullivan.

It’s no Jamaica, but Wisconsin’s weather is finally coming around, and the timing couldn’t be better for the fourth annual Jam for Jam music and camping festival, which starts Thursday. The three-day festival held at Concord House in Sullivan, Wis., features 39 bands from across the region and is a fundraiser for the Jam for Jam coalition.

Founded by Craig Baumann in 2006, the Jam for Jam project seeks to improve living conditions for people in Jamaica. Groups travel there in January (“It didn’t take long to convince people to come with me,” Bauamann says) where they focus on building roofs and other home restoration projects. They provide materials and labor, but also try to involve locals in the projects. Baumann emphasizes that all the volunteers pay their own way, usually returning “broker than when we left.” All funds raised by the music festival go towards buying materials. According to Jam for Jam’s website, the average roof will cost around eight hundred dollars, all materials included.

Before he had the idea to do a festival, Baumann was putting all his musician’s tips towards the project. “I would just have a bucket out, and every night I would go home and put my money inside, and the first year I raised $3,000. And that was enough to get the project off the ground.” Luckily, his experience organizing festivals in Minnesota, such as Fat Fest, allowed him to eventually launch the Jam for Jam festival, which is now the project’s main source of funding.

More than 100 bands applied to be a part of this year’s fest, a pool that was narrowed to 39. In choosing the artists, Baumann looks for a sharp business and promotional sense, regardless of genre. “Some bands are real talented, but their business is lacking,” he says. “We’re always looking for these bands that are a little stronger in their street teaming and their marketing, and obviously their show. Some bands we do book just because they put on a mean show.”

“I’ve been to and performed at large and small outdoor festivals,” says Ethan Keller, a singer-songwriter from Milwaukee, “and this one is my favorite to date, anywhere.” Keller will add his jazzy light rock to a diverse mix of rock, country, roots, reggae and world music from around the region. Baumann, who has been busy planning the festival for months, will reward himself by playing in a whopping six bands, including Milwaukee rock outfit We Are Your Father and jam band Fat Maw Rooney, which will be performing for the first time in several years.

With its unique combination of local music and international outreach, Jam for Jam gives Wisconsin a lot to feel good about. Baumann notes that through playing the festival, many of the bands end up getting involved in the project and then make the annual trip down to Jamaica, bringing the whole experience full circle. “It’s really cool to see that different side of people,” he says. “You’re used to seeing them play the guitar and hang out after the show, but during daylight, they rip their shirt off and get to work.”

Jam for Jam will be held May 16-19 at Concord House in Sullivan, WI. To view a full lineup, and to donate to Jam for Jam, click here.

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