Writing two weeks out and I feel like I am still recovering from a huge Mountain Jam #8 musical onslaught. There is so much to say but first I just have to say that again the folks at Radio Woodstock throw one heel of a well run party. Warren Haynes deservedly gets a ton of credit but the behind scene work to make this festival so easy and enjoyable is what keeps me coming back. As he has for the past couple years, Moose drove in from Detroit and picked me up, blasted tunes through some beautiful New York farmland and before you know it, we were in good old Hunter, NY. Again no lines getting in, MJ is just so hassle free. With much appreciation to top photographer, Rakes, we got hooked up in a ski lodge and were with a full house rockin’ crew. There are many ways to do Mountain Jam, good camping scene, some stay in the lodge ($), some in town, each way works, our place came with a foosball table which at 3 in the morning featured some serious competition. Anyway, the festival was led off by a teenage rock band- Going Dark who delivered a great set- Funny as the festival would close with a still young but not teenage Stevie Winwood closing. And that is Mountain Jam, so much musical diversity, like the mountain weather, if it isn’t working for you wait five minutes something else will come along. The musical highlight Thursday for our crew had to be the Brooklyn based funk outfit, Turkuaz. Basically if you want to dance and just have fun, these guys bring an army of fun. Later that night the heavy sound of Planet of the Abts and the groove and funk of Karl Denson had wet the appetite for a long weekend.
Friday made it down to hear the sacred steel of the Lee Boys. Coming out of a Florida church, this family band brings some inspired gospel driven rock. They proved to be one of my festival favorites, with the big one on drums destroying the place and the Dr. on the pedal steel constantly take us higher. The Sheepdogs out of Canada bring a mix of the Stones and the New Riders and easily lived up to the hype as one of the top up and coming rock outfits. Speaking of living up to the hype, Andres Osborne did a particularly fine version of Dylan’s Masterpiece. The late afternoon featured another of my personal festival favorites; the Travelin’ McCourys with Keller Williams. Even without brother Rob on the banjo, Ronnie on mando and Jason Carter on the fiddle are as good as it gets on their respective instruments and Keller, is well a nut. They are supercharged and can play anything, from a tip of the hat to recently departed Doc Watson (Tennessee Stud) to current pop hit by Foster the People (pumped up kicks), got some good dancing in with brother Rick. As mountain jam does, quick change into the blues powered rock of Gary Clark Jr. and then onto the Roots. The Roots are show stoppers, billed as hip hops hardest working band, they are propelled by drummer ?uestlove , but it is the horn section who run laps around the band that just kills me, especially the tuba player, gotta be seen, plus their cover of Curtis Mayfield’s people get read y was a musical highlight. Ok night number one of the Mule, what is left to say? They are the last man standing is the world of rock, there is no excuses they are going to bring it for hours. The only real question is could they out due last year? Friday night they came close, Saturday, well yea they did. Friday’s three plus hours featured a huge version of mule, plus great covers of the Who’s love ain’t for keeping, Dylan’s I shall be released and the Dead’s The other one. Big thanks to Butchie for guiding me back home, and also to Nancy and Jason for coming to get me for late night/early morning fun. Somehow Stern and I are in the burlesque tent (dancers long gone) listening to rockabilly at 3am, I don’t know.
Saturday. Here is my advice; make friends with a professional chef who likes to party and is willing to cook up breakfast for the masses, it is a good way to start a morning after. Went for a hike way up the mountain with Kevin and Pete and dug the tunes of Zack Deputy and the forest. Came down the mountain and caught the old school of Charles Bradley, gotta give best outfit to his leather jumpsuit as well as his seasoned vocal chops. The now for something completely different award went to Mariachi El Bronx, a L.A. based rock mariachi band- which either you loved or didn’t (I caught a nap in a hammock). Back up for the Word, so happy to see them again, a true supergroup. The set a groove and mine it until the whole mountain is dancing, which is just what Holz and I did. Early evening enjoyed a fine cocktail party while digging the return to the music performing world of the piano and songwriting brilliance of Ben Folds Five. Then the Mule. First set killed and concluded with a bit of Brit music: She came in through the bathroom window/Bitch. The second set was one of those moments that we all live to say we were at, their tribute to Levon Helm. With tons of guest including his band, download the set, youtube it, just get it. Most time musicians’ play for us, this set they were clearly playing for themselves, they were just happy to share. Emotional and yet tight, versions of Night they drove old Dixie down, Cripple Creek, It makes no difference and the Shape I’m in, were flawless. “Out of nine lives, I’ve spent seven, how in the world am I gonna get to heaven?” Knowing the set closer and having heard it, sung it, played it a million times, still does not prepare for the version of The Weight they laid on us. All this and they played a whole third set as long as any acts set. Late night was great, Nigel Hall Band, Lotus both were great.
Sunday, my head hurts and guess what the strongest day of music awaits. Had to miss some good music as I was slow and the mountain weather not conducive. But by the time Trombone Shorty got on, his high energy beat back the rain and Geoff got me to dance. Next up came another of my favorite sets, I had been dying to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops and they proved to be even better live than on disc. Playing the Black Southern Root music, their show-personship and musical talent puts them in a class by themselves be it on their own material (country girl) or covers (Johnny Cash’s Jackson) this music makes you feel good. Speaking of feeling good, Tedeschi Trucks followed and as they did two years ago, blew up the mountain. As large as a band can be they do not get in each other’s way Susan Tedeschi’s voice is unmatched and Derek Trucks unique guitar style will get anyone rollin’ and tumblin’. Dawes had the tough job of following but did well to keep the crowd with their Americana rock. Then it was time to make some noise, back for the 7th year Michael Franti and Spearhead. He even made the sun come out. You known he is going go into the crowd, the flower guy will do his thing, Franti will get the kids on the stage, the whole beach ball thing, but man is it just beautiful. Great version of ganja babe. Warren came out and tried to sneak some Beatles by Franti and he just grabbed it and ran with it. Dead tired, Spearhead will get anyone dancing. The festival closer was music legend Steve Winwood and his voice remains. A strong set of finely crafted music covering his whole career, the Blind Faith tune Can’t find my way home as well as the set closer with Warren of Gimme some lovin’ were highlights.
Need to give a shout out to the smaller acts as all through the weekend some of the up and comer sets were fantastic. The first rap artist at Mountain Jam; Philly’s Ground Up, were really good, as was soulful Simi Stone, the rock group Delta Rae was as enjoyable to look at as to hear and Franti’s acoustic set in the awareness village is worth the festival price of admission every year. So there you have it, Gary Chetkof and his WDST staff work for a year to make a perfect festival and they succeed because they are music fans that value experience over the almighty dollar, I say bless them for that righteousness and start planning yourself because it is less than 300 days to MJ 9.