By: Jed Metzger
Spring has sprung and there is only one thing left to do but strap on our dancing boots, and get ready for THE jam festival of the season – Mountain Jam number eight. And yes bigger and better than ever, if that is humanly possible. For those who are uninitiated the boot reference relates to the foot-ware fashion favored by many- ladies that means the high multicolor rubber kind, gents this is mountain jam, so look the part- in any event you will be happy you did. In fairness, 2011 was totally dry and hot so the boot thing was more of a fashion statement, but my inner boy scout always wants you to be prepared! In terms of preparation for Mountain Jam VIII my best advice is to get ready to be rocked hard and put away wet, this is a festival done right in so many ways, I bet you will be like me and get to a place where you just do not want to stop.
Mountain Jam is held at the Hunter Mountain ski lodge and slopes. The four day festival runs May 31st through June 3rd. The mountain is located in the beautiful Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. Getting there is both easy- the roads are good condition but they are smaller roads and that always is part of the fun. Twist and turn through some of the most beautiful early summer farms and woods anyone can imagine. Once you arrive you will immediately discover why Mountain jam has been voted the one of best festivals of the year. The festival is completely constructed to make your experience the best it can be. Put together by the CEO, Gary Chetkof and his team from radio station WDST (Radio Woodstock), these folks live and breathe serious tunes every day, so they made a festival for us. So instead of getting hassled, you get a friendly face and some assistance. When you put the music in front of a profit motive, you get a fan experience. Parking is easy, entrance is easy. It is an intimate festival; tickets are capped at 15,000, so you are never “lost” in a crowd and actually can meet and connect with like minded humans. Staying is easy- plus there are a lot of options from an excellent camping scene, but you can also stay at a ski lodge or a hotel or one of the beautiful bed and breakfast places in town. From the get-go the festival has adopted green practices and has a whole awareness village to help us connect to the planet in sustainable ways. What is also really nice is that the main lodge is always open- got a full bar, a late late night jam room, lots of real bathrooms, food inside. The vending is unique so more than the usual stuff you can get some mountain jam homemade Jam, antique silver spoons or a real Jerry Garcia signed watercolor painting. So all and all it is just the best scene and wait, yes then there is the music.
Musically, the festival is co-produced by Warren Haynes. Warren sits in with many of the friends he helps to recruit to the festival lineup. And Warren has had an amazing few months as has been well chronicled- playing with Clapton, Jagger, Richards and Obama (yeah the President- pretty cool). The thing is, topping the Govt Mule sets from last year seems impossible- You tube it and you can feel the mountain shaking through your computer.
During their second set on Saturday night, Gov’t Mule will be joined by the full Levon Helm Band including Amy Helm, Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams and the LHB Horns among others. The set will feature music from Levon’s 50+ year career. Levon Helm, the long-time drummer and singer for The Band, a 2-time Mountain Jam performer and Woodstock resident, passed away in April at the age of 71 after a decade-long battle with cancer.
“Levon was a musical hero of mine,” says Warren Haynes. “His 70th birthday celebration at Mountain Jam two years ago was a magical night and a truly inspiring musical performance. So bringing back that incredible band to share in our tribute seemed like a great way to honor his memory.”
Headlining this year is the original boy wonder- Mr. Stevie Winwood, so Gimme Some Lovin’, I am ready! Michael Franti and Spearhead have appeared every year since the first year and have this special ability to bring such a joyful mood to the crowd, last year sending out a boat load of giant beach balls the hill was awash in color. Tedeski Trucks Band, fresh off the Grammy for best blues disc is back this year and they know how to party. For me a must see will be the Roots. This is typical of Mountain Jam musically, the diversity of styles harkens back to the old Fillmore Auditorium with jam bands, blues band bluegrass bands (the Traveling McCoury’s), Americana, Urban, late night electronica and up and coming bands that Radio Woodstock has scouted out to turn us on to. There are four stages filled day and night with so many choices that your schedule is vital. Some other folks in this year’s lineup that I am dying to see include Trombone Shorty (who also recently played for the President), Lotus, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Ben Folds Five (who are reuniting after 11years, so a real musical treat for all of us) and the Word (featuring the other worldly Robert Randolph, John Medeski and the North Mississippi All-stars). Again that is just a personal list, go on the website and you will see that the lineup is just plain loaded.
Not to belabor a point but what makes Mountain Jam work so well is that it is organized for us and set in an honestly beautiful place. When music and beauty come together, who couldn’t be happy? A good example is that the chair lift is open for rides up the mountain (and to get to a seriously long zip line) and we were coming down the mountain last year as Mavis Staples hit the stage and launched into some of the Band’s tunes they had done in the Last Waltz movie way back when, we all were transformed, and that was early on the first day and we all just stayed in that place of pure joy the rest of the weekend. Take my advice, be kind to yourself and come to Mountain Jam VIII