There's no other genre that Old Shoe fits in, guitarist and singer Matt Robinson says, so you might as well call the five-piece Chicago group a jam band.
"The jam band thing just kind of works because it's an all-inclusive genre," he said. "It allows you to do different styles of music with one common thread that you get to improvise on whatever you're doing."
Robinson, an Augustana College alum, called this week while walking dogs, his day job in Chicago.
He helped start the group four years ago this month, and its current lineup was solidified during the summer of 2012.
While Old Shoe's improvisational style best suits itself in the jam band genre, Robinson said there are several ways in which the group sets itself apart.
"We put a lot of emphasis on singing. I don't think jam bands are quite known for their vocal prowess," he said. "The songs come first. When we're jamming, it's coming out of the context of the song."
En route to a five-city Colorado tour, Old Shoe stops Friday night at the Redstone Room in the River Music Experience, downtown Davenport. Last summer, the group was onstage at River Roots Live in Davenport's LeClaire Park.
Robinson said he and the others in Old Shoe were hesitant about the jam band branding when the group got started.
"I shied away from it when I first started going in Chicago," he said. "People think it's just another Phish or Grateful Dead and don't think you have any originality in you. But I came to realize it's the best music scene out there.
"You have music fans that travel throughout the Midwest, throughout the country and go to multiple shows in a row," he added. "I just don't see any other scene with that active of a fan base."
"Family," the band's third album, was released in October. Over the past weekend, it was named one of the best albums of the year by influential Chicago indie radio station WXRT-FM.
"This is our strongest effort," Robinson said. "We had the lineup set for about a year before we started making it, so a lot of the music was already fleshed out on the road. Everybody collaborated and contributed to the songwriting more."
Although the year also included sharing the stage with Bruce Hornsby as well as with Leftover Salmon and playing some major festivals, Robinson said the acclaim likely will help Old Shoe get its name out to potential fans.
The band has first-hand knowledge of festivals, hosting its own Shoe Fest outside Manteno, Ill., about 50 miles south of Chicago.
In its third year, the event drew 1,600 fans last summer.
"We try to make that our biggest show, do something special for the set in that festival," Robinson said. "That's become a pretty cool thing. It's grown in three years."
The group's songwriting has evolved from Robinson handling a majority of the tunes to more of a team effort.
"Somebody will bring an unfinished song or just an idea to the table and we all collaborate on it together," he said. "It gives it a nice, even group sound."
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Robinson said he has no routine when it comes to writing songs.
"It seems like the best songs are the ones that hit you like a lightning bolt," he said. "But I've gotten used to sitting down and writing, and recognize when an inspired idea happens."
A Pontiac, Ill., native, Robinson spent 1997 to 2001 at Augustana, where he majored in accounting and business.
"I did that for a handful of years," he recalled. "It wasn't my thing, but it did allow me to move to the city and get set up for where I am now."
During his first two years at Augie, he was on the college football team, playing strong safety. "I never cracked the starting lineup, but it was fun," he added.
But halfway through school, he decided that music was his calling more than football.
"I kind of got sick of waking up at 6 a.m.," the 36-year-old recalled, "and then I got some different friends and felt like music was where I wanted to go. I picked up the guitar and went from there."
Robinson's late start comes in contrast with the rest of Old Shoe, which had already piled on years of experience.
"They all came out of the womb with their instruments," he said with a laugh.