Mountain Jam @ Hunter Mountain – 6/6 – 6/9
Photos and Words: Paul Citone
The Ninth Annual Mountain Jam festival took place June 6th – 9th with one the best lineups to date including host Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule, Primus, Phil & Friends, The Avett Brothers and Widespread Panic to name a few. Set on the base of beautiful Hunter Mountain in the Catskills, you couldn’t ask for a better festival space. With some less than spectacular weather in the forecast it looked like a washout, however, the music must go on.
[All Photos By Paul Citone]
The pre-party to the festival officially kicked off Thursday afternoon with bands on the outside stages (one main stage and a small second stage) and the inside Healey Brothers Hall, a small venue inside the main lodge. The rain was pouring down but the festivarians came prepared with rain gear (including the tapers). I arrived in time to catch the set by Rubblebucket. They brought their “A Game” despite the rain. This band knows how to cross between the lines of psychedelic rock, dance and new wave jazz. Their dynamics and dancing on stage reminded me of being at a more modern George Clinton experience. Inside Healey Brothers Hall was Minnesota-based band The 4onthefloor. This smaller venue was packed. I was told to check these guys out and they are down home rockers with a touch of jam. They are also on the road this summer all across the U.S.A. playing medium-sized venues, so be sure to give them a shot.
Promptly at 8:00, Primus took the stage as the rain kept a steady pace but it didn’t hamper the band one bit. They tore into a great setlist starting with Those Dammed Blue-Collar Tweekers off their 1991 album Sailing The Seas Of Cheese. The show continued with Fistifcuffs, Moron TV and the always impressive Southbound Pachyderm. Claypool’s eccentric performance style and stage antics made you wonder if the whole thing is an act, but a good friend of mine once told me that Claypool barged in to a tour bus at a show he was at wearing a red one-piece longjohns, combat boots and a black militia helmet with a chrome spike on top, so I’m a believer for sure. Primus closed with Harold of the Rocks followed by a short encore of Tommy the Cat.
Friday brought more rain and it was looking like a total washout, but the weather turned out to be not too bad. I arrived just in time for fan favorites The Avett Brothers, who are becoming Mountain Jam regulars. They opened with Salina, a slower ballad, then dived into the traditional Avett-style song Go To Sleep. The Avetts have caught some flack for their current album The Carpenter being too commercialized, but the songs thrive in the live setting. The band seemed to be in great spirits pushing and shoving each other in fun onstage. Scott came out to the rim of the stage singing a song and was greeted with a pair of flying underwear in his face. Avett laughed, looked back at the band and held them up. Many in the audience rolled with laughter. Later, the North Carolina-based band delivered such usual Avett classics as Will You Return?, Laundry Room, Murder In The City and Kick Drum Heart followed by the encore of I Am Love And You and Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise. Unexpected highlights were the traditional bluegrass cover Old Joe Clark and The Prettiest Thing by David Childers & The Modern Don Juans.
Widespread Panic headlined the main stage, as this is their only East Coast festival appearance of the summer. Their first set was a little lackluster, possibly due to all the rain as the crowd was a red and yellow board of raincoats. The Georgia jam titans opened up with Give followed by Ribs and Whiskey. The night got started in earnest as soon as they played Junior (which also closed the first set). The band rose to the occasion with their second set, opening up with Little Kin into Pigeons. Guitarist Jimmy Herring’s amazing solo talents make this band a must see. Panic was joined by Bill Evans on sax and Danny Louis on keys for an exceptional cover of Low Spark of High Heeled Boys by Traffic. For their encore, Widespread Panic treated the crowd to Expiration Day followed by a great rendition of Travelin’ Light.
Saturday we woke to a forecast promising two beautiful festival days free of rain. I arrived just as Mountain Jam favorites Michael Franti & Spearhead took the stage. Franti opened with the fun I Don’t Wanna Go followed by customary songs such as My Gangsta Girl, Hey World, Yell Fire and I’ll Be Waiting. While Franti often plays these staples, they never get old. Warren Haynes joined Franti and the band onstage for Life Is Better With You. Franti was a maniac in motion the whole show, bouncing into the crowd from one side of the festival area to the other. At one point he played a song in the soundboard area and pulled audience members to dance with him. The singer also performed All I Wanna Do Is Be With You, before bringing up various members of the audience to fill up the stage for the finale – his usual Say Hey. This man never disappoints.
After Franti’s set Gary Clark Jr. took the stage on the smaller west performance area. The Austin native’s talents are stellar guitar playing with a modernized stage show. It’s hard not to notice Clark’s inner Hendrix when he is playing as his solos flow perfectly and take you back to a different era of music. Speaking of Hendrix, Clark covered Third Stone From The Sun and did it well. His guitar style is grungy and deep, and his bluesy vocals fit his music like a glove. I got a chance to chat with Clark Jr. after the show as I inquired about the set and he said “there is no setlist, we make it up as we go and what we feel the audience wants to feel next.”
First-time Montain Jammers The Lumineers were up next on the main stage. Wesley Schultz and Co. delivered a high energy and vocal-heavy set. The lack of hard electric instruments allows you to really hear and feel what they are singing. The Lumineers’ set included nearly every song from their debut album including the hit Ho Hey. They came out to the crowd at one point and played in the soundboard area citing “this is not close enough” and crossed the barrier into the crowd for another song. Most impressive was their amazing encore of the Talking Heads’ song This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody), which was followed by Stay With Me featuring a sweet transition into Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen The Rain. The Lumineers blew me away, proving they are more than just some one-hit-wonder pop act.
The festival had tons of product and food vendors to choose from as options included Thai, Italian, Chinese and fresh Mexican as well as food trucks, ice cream and “you name it” fried items. If you had the munchies, this was the place for you. The ski lift was in full operation ride mode and it was not to be missed as it presented the opportunity to fly (some higher than others) right along side the main stage, with a great view of the entire festival.
Saturday evening brought headliners Gov’t Mule to the stage. The energy was intense as the nice weather (no rain) helped lead to a lively crowd. The band opened up with the powerful Broke Down on the Brazos, which led into Slackjaw Jezebel. Mule’s set included a slew of nice surprises such as a cover of moe.’s Opium with special guest Bill Evans and the CCR cover Effigy mixed in with an awesome bluesy Folsom Prison Blues jam. Warren Haynes and Co.’s second set was a cover-heavy affair that opened up with David Gilmour’s There’s No Way Out Of Here. Next, Haynes brought out a number of guests including The Shady Horns and Neil Evans from Soulive for a cover of Etta James’s I’d Rather Go Blind. Also covered this set was 1983..(A Merman I Should Turn to Be) by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which led into No Quarter by Led Zeppelin before returning to the end of 1983. It was a stellar night for the Mule. They closed out the evening with the Tom Waits cover Get Behind the Mule. Haynes has a lot of pride in this festival. Backstage Warren told me that he was “excited to get onstage with all these amazing artists” and that “this is his favorite time of year.”
The final day of the festival brought some big names and refreshing sunshine. The crowds were out in full force on Sunday following Saturday’s attendance hitting a record 15,000. I caught a bit of Dispatch belting out a bit of Bang Bang and Friend of the Devil. Dispatch features a talented mix of rock, rap, jazz and funk. Their vibe reminds me of the good old days of Sublime. Jackie Greene took the smaller stage for his 5:30 performance jamming out on both covers and originals. Right after leaving the stage, he was off to his next gig in Europe to join the Black Crowes for the continuation of their tour. Greene opened up his set with a harmonica rich Gone Wanderin. Later, Furthur keyboardist Jeff Chimenti joined him onstage for I’m So Gone, Farewell, So Long, Goodbye and Animal. Jackie closed his hour-long set with Ball and Chain.
The final act of the festival was legendary Phil Lesh & Friends. This year he put together a great lineup of Warren Haynes, John Scofield, Joe Russo and Jeff Chimenti. The band charged in full force from the start beginning with Cosmic Charlie followed by an incredible version of Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love. Haynes’ vocals in this mix of artists is especially rich. The second set began with Shakedown Street and it seemed as if the entire sea of people were dancing and shaking. There were times that one instrument was starting to dominate, but that’s to be expected in a show of complete improvisation at its finest. In this writer’s opinion, the Mountain Jam performance was definitely one of the best Phil and Friends shows to date. For the final encore they came up with Box Of Rain to close out this awesome four-day adventure of music and fun.
The organization of this event was excellent and the entire weekend went smoothly. Every act was just about on time. The beauty of this festival is nothing much overlaps, so when one band ended on the East Stage the band on the West Stage would start minutes later. This kept the crowds excited especially when the weather changed. Sorry if I missed some bands here, but you never get to see them all!