In the evolution of jam bands, it’s Twiddle’s time

From left: Brook Jordan, Zdenek Gubb, Ryan Dempsey, and Mihali Savoulidis of Twiddle.
From left: Brook Jordan, Zdenek Gubb, Ryan Dempsey, and Mihali Savoulidis of Twiddle.Jay Blakesberg

When Mihali Savoulidis traveled to London with his family as a teen, he picked up some key souvenirs at Camden Market.

There was the requisite Bob Marley flag, which he would dutifully hang on the wall for the entirety of his brief college career, like many suburban youths before him.

More consequentially, he picked up a copy of a reggae compilation including a track by Ernest Ranglin, the legendary Jamaican guitarist who played on scores of classic ska and reggae recordings.

“His sound was like a bumblebee exploded,” Savoulidis, 33, recalls on the phone from his home in Middlebury, Vt.

It sculpted a sizable portion of the young guitarist’s style and remains a key influence in the mix that forms the sound of Twiddle, the foursome that’s emerged in recent years as one of the most buzzed-about young jam bands.


Twiddle closes the year with shows at Paradise Rock Club on Monday and the House of Blues on New Year's Eve.

“By no means am I as good and tasteful as him,” Savoulidis — who also performs as a solo artist billed under his first name — says of Ranglin, “but when I play really fast I swing it the way he does, and for the reggae songs, all the palm muting I do with my right hand is right out of his playbook.”

Twiddle is very much a Vermont band. It was nourished in the fertile musical ecosystem of Burlington after forming at Castleton State College (now Castleton University) in 2004, when Savoulidis and keyboardist Ryan Dempsey were seated next to each other during orientation and discovered they shared some musical interests.

Savoulidis was a New Jersey kid who was familiar with Vermont from family vacations and went to college in order to more or less major in starting a band. (Indeed, he made it just one semester before shifting gears into spending all his time playing and writing music.) Dempsey, drummer Brook Jordan, and bassist Zdenek Gubb are all Vermont natives. So too was original bassist Billy Comstock, who left the group in ’07 and focused on studies at Berklee College of Music.


Twiddle’s members are very upfront about the role that musical influence plays in the development of their sound. As a millennial jam band, they’re synthesizing styles from groups that emerged in the 1980s and ’90s as well as legends like Ranglin.

Savoulidis’s enunciation and cadence as a vocalist reflect the hours he spent listening to Dave Matthews Band as a teen. He traces Twiddle’s more intricate compositions to Dempsey’s affection for Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. And things get a bit self-referential when it comes to Gubb, who was already a certified Twiddle fan before he joined the band as a senior in high school. Gubb recalls being denied entrance to Twiddle shows when he was underage but sticking around and listening from the sidewalk outside.

Then there’s the "P" word.

Phish spent at least its first decade or so being understandably evasive about its members’ affection for the Grateful Dead, owing to the music press’s overreliance on comparisons between the groups.

But by the time Twiddle was aspiring to play Burlington club Nectar's — a common goal for emerging Vermont bands — the venue had long been canonized on the unofficial National Register of Historic Phish Places, from the many gigs it played there after forming at the University of Vermont.


Twiddle's members freely acknowledge that Phish's mix of psychedelic rock, general whimsy, and moves borrowed from funk looms large in its aesthetic.

And without engaging in jam band false equivalence, it’s fair to note that many diehard Phish fans — the ones who are vocal on social media, at least — have been resistant to Twiddle’s rise and lobbed some of the same complaints with which Deadheads once dismissed the nascent Phish. Too silly. Not enough soul.

"I feel like our scene is just different in the sense where the music really has such an impact on people that their favorite band is their favorite band," Gubb, 29, says, putting a heavy emphasis on the last three words.

Twiddle first headlined the Paradise in 2015. It played there twice the next year and three times in 2017. Last year it paired end-of-year-shows at the Paradise and the House of Blues, whose capacity is almost three times larger. If the band happens to sell out New Year’s this year, it’ll be looking at multiple nights at the House of Blues next year.

“Obviously the goal was to play at Nectar’s,” Savoulidis says of his band’s earliest ambitions. "We played for like 100 people, and the next time it was sold out. And we moved up to opening for other people at Higher Ground, and our friends would come out in hordes and we’d finish playing and the room would empty for the band we were opening for.


“I remember thinking: Maybe there’s something to this.”

Twiddle's growth has reached the point where there's even some concern about older fans making room for the newbies.

"It's an awesome thing to see so many people coming together," Gubb says. "I just hope that people are accepting of the new fans and welcoming them in. And I think they are."


At Paradise Rock Club, Dec. 30 (sold out). At House of Blues, Dec. 31 at 7 p.m. Tickets $40.50-$50.50, www.houseofblues.com/boston

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.