Mountain Jam | 05.29 - 05.31 | New York

Words by: Bill Clifford | Images by: Robert Chapman & Heather Ainsworth

Mountain Jam :: 05.29.09 – 05.31.09 :: Hunter Mountain, NY

Michael Franti :: Mountain Jam 2009 by Chapman
Summertime has arrived and the hills are indeed alive again with the sound of music. For some, music is a direct inspiration in their choice of a career as a musician. For others, it may inspire their best work, whatever the mundane job or chore may be. For many however, music simply inspires us to get up and shake our asses, clap our hands, spin around in circles and holler at the top of your lungs. And where better to be inspired than the great outdoors with spectacular blue skies and stunning mountains, together with a mass of like-minded music lovers who just want to lose the winter blues.

For the fifth year in a row, Radio Woodstock and Warren Haynes hosted Mountain Jam, held at Hunter Mountain in the beautiful Catskill State Park in upstate New York. The lush, rolling, green Catskill Mountains provided a stellar natural backdrop and amphitheater. Several artists made a return visit to Mountain Jam, including Michael Franti (his fourth appearance), Umphrey's McGee and Jackie Greene. But this year's event lived up to the promise to be the most diverse Mountain Jam yet, including acts such as the young jamgrassers Hot Day at the Zoo, rockers The Hold Steady, one-man dance party Girl Talk, as well as the hard rocking Coheed And Cambria.

Friday :: 05.29.09

Crowds continuously rolled in on Friday, while the rain (no downpours this year!) was intermittent throughout the day. The showers made the long stretch between the parking lot and the slopped terrain of tent city especially arduous and treacherous, and the hikes with loads of gear took their toll early in the weekend. Between trips back to the truck, setting up home base and simply getting my bearings in new surroundings, I found myself in front of the East Stage – the larger of two main stages, situated right next to one another – for the Marco Benevento Trio with Reed Mathis on bass and Andy Borger on drums. Sadly, only a small group had gathered for this early afternoon set of highly improvisational jazz.

Warren Haynes :: MTN Jam by Chapman
Railroad Earth fared much better, as the sun had begun to burn through some of the rain clouds, bringing the hobos were out in force. Tim Carbone's violin sounded sentimentally sweet on the slow intro to "7 Story Mountain," which was mellow but got fans on their feet, where they would remain for most of the set. The lovely ballad "Right In Tune" kept the sweet vibe going, and vocalist Todd Sheaffer playfully joked about the last time he was on the mountain and "did a face plant right about there!" he said with a finger pointing towards the slopes. The energy level soared as the band bellowed out the chorus to "Head," one of its most popular concert staples. This up-beat, jovial foot stomper got fans jumping about and clapping, bumping and swaying and dancing with complete strangers. Railroad Earth kept that energy level up, closing with another dust up, "Bird In A House," with playful interludes between Sheaffer on acoustic guitar, John Skehan on mandolin and Andy Goessling on dual saxophones.

In late April, I took in a performance from The Dead with Warren Haynes on guitar. I've long been a fan and supporter of Haynes/Mule, but this weekend offered a chance to experience him in all his elements - as a guest performer in other artist's set, as frontman of his own rock band, and as a guitarist with one of the all time great Southern rock acts, The Allman Brothers Band, who closed the festival on Sunday.

Friday night was Gov't Mule at its blazing, blues-rock best. This was Haynes' night to be as loud as he wanted to be. The late Allen Woody's presence was felt throughout the weekend, but especially so on the bottom heavy, aching ode to a friend, "On The Banks Of the Deep End." The Mule's newest member, bassist Jorgen Carlsson, has been holding down the low end since last October, replacing Andy Hess, who left to pursue other opportunities. Many comments overheard on the mountain this weekend concluded that Carlsson brings needed "oomph," with a fist pump for emphasis, back to the Mule. That "oomph" was certainly felt on deeply resonating versions of "Slackjaw Jezebel" and "Thorazine Shuffle," which closed the first set.

Gov't Mule's second set on Friday included a whole lot of blues-laden guitar wails from Haynes. He crushed the set opener of Radiohead's "Lucky" and other meaty tracks, including Hendrix's "If 6 was 9," which dropped into "Larger Than Life." Bassist George Porter Jr., on hand from his earlier performance with Porter Batiste Stoltz, joined the band for a jam that segued into "Third Stone From the Sun." The rest of the set concluded with Haynes laying it on thick with "Mule," which moved through "Who Do You Love?" and "Superstition" and then arrived back at "Mule." For the encore the band invited Josh Clark and Trevor Garrod of Tea Leaf Green to the stage for a riveting take on Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer," with Clark and Haynes trading searing solos, the crowd responding with drunken and reckless abandon.

Continue reading for Saturday coverage...

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