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...

Saturday :: 05.30.09

Mountain Jam 2009 by Ainsworth
Saturday's lineup was the most diverse of the weekend, and to go with that diversity we had glorious sunshine and blue skies. It was the perfect setting for California-based singer-songwriter Brett Dennen, as well as a throng of young, short-skirted female fans, armed with cell phone cameras, who gathered in front of the East Stage at 12:30 p.m. I was familiar with Dennen's brand of pop having heard an earlier CD and his most recent ubiquitous single, "Make You Crazy," but this was the first time I'd seen him perform. Opening with the reggae tinged "Darlin' Do Not Fear," the barefoot singer impressed early with his presence, twisting his hips in rhythm and moving from side to side and enticing the crowd to sing along and clap their hands. Later, he brought a huge cheer from the crowd when he ad-libbed about it being his bass player's birthday. Just as the band had decided what to play next, a female fan called out for "She's Mine" and Dennen looked up with a smile and strummed the notes on his acoustic. Mid-set, he broke into the radio hit, and much of the crowd responded with an "Oh, he sings this song, I love this guy" reaction. Listening to Dennen's music on the stereo you get the sense that it's rooted in pop, but having seen him perform now I'd say it has much deeper roots, and I'd even go as far as to label his music "Cali-Funk!"

In the early afternoon, British band Gomez took hold of the crowd with oceans of psychedelic swirl. The band opened with trippy songs such as "Shot Shot" and "Rex Kramer." On "Hamoa Beach" vocalist Ian Ball sang with a boyish charm, while keyboardist Tom Gray performed on a melodica. But, the energy really lifted as the band moved into its more recent material, such as the dulcet guitar intro for "Little Pieces," inspiring more than a few dancing fans to stroll down the slope for a closer look and listen. Guitarist-vocalist Ben Ottewell's husky Waits-ian warble was a strong contrast to the band's sweet harmonies. His solo vocals on the introduction to "How We Operate" echoed about the mountain range, and he and Ball shredded on guitars awash with effects. The mellower, acoustic "Sunset Gates" featured haunting keys from Gray, and the three-part harmonies of the band's three frontmen on the closing chorus of "Everywhere She Goes" concluded with Ottewell bellowing the refrain, "I will follow."

Coheed and Cambria w/ Haynes :: Mountain Jam by Chapman
Rhett Miller gave a lovely acoustic performance of both his solo tunes and classic Old 97's' fan favorites over in the Awareness Village. He also threw in a few from the upcoming solo CD he'll release in the coming weeks. After many years performing with both his full time band and solo, he still sings with a youthful, emotional, boyish charm.

By contrast over at the West Stage, Jackie Greene (who at just 29 really is young) sung with the gravitas and confident stage persona of a grizzled veteran. Late afternoon sets from The Hold Steady and the Gene Ween Band each drew reasonable crowds. Coheed and Cambria, maybe the most odd band booked, nonetheless drew huge cheers from the crowd moving in to secure a spot for the next Gov't Mule set. These fans were rewarded with a guest sit in from Haynes on a touching version of Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."

Saturday's Gov't Mule sets were markedly different from the previous evening. While Friday focused on guitar-centric rock, Saturday Haynes brought in more melodic songs that focused the attention on his songwriting. In the first set, tunes such as "Brand New Angel" and "About To Rage" could have been leftovers from the previous evening's performance, but then they played a lovely interlude that wove verses from Prince's "When Doves Cry" into the Mule's own "Beautifully Broken," which then seamlessly moved to the gorgeous "Patchwork Quilt." Songs such as these bring out the aching soul at the root of much of Haynes' blues based music and characterize what a strong singing voice he has.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe :: Mountain Jam 2009 by Chapman
Gov't Mule's second set on Saturday seemed to be the fan favorite of the weekend. They opened with "Morning Dew," a song that both The Dead and The Allman Brothers have performed. It was done with such elegance and beauty that it left a fan next to me asking, "How do you follow the 'Dew'?"' Warren had things covered with an equally moving and near perfect rendition of The Doors' "When The Music's Over." Haynes eerily nailed Morrison's vocals as if channeling the late poet/musician. Saxman Karl Denson joined the band for Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" and then again on the Mule's own "Devil Likes It Slow," where Haynes and Denson went toe-to-toe, guitar vs. sax, note for note. The Mule closed out the night with a beautiful reading of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic "As Long As I Can See The Light" that had a mountain full of people singing along.

Saturday night boasted a fine lineup of late night selections as well. New York's U-Melt grabbed my attention first, performing indoors at the Colonel's Hall, a cleared out cafeteria. They began with the highly improvisational instrumental rave-up "Schizophrenia," and the hall began to fill immediately. They then opened things up with "Air," a catchy tune that had fans twirling and raising their hands above their heads. Sticking around for one more song, I was delightfully rewarded with a dandy cover of Billy Joel's "Pressure." Keyboardist Zac Lasher's vocals were not far off from Joel, though just different enough to make it sound like a U-Melt original. Many of the youngsters in the room probably thought it was. While the sound in the room was not too great, the visuals included a vast array of lighting effects and projections.

Back outside on the West Stage, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe was tearing it up. "Satisfied" had fans pumping their hands to a solid funk backbeat. Not only did Denson let loose on the saxophone but he also added a flute solo. On "Front Money," guitarist Brian Jordan had a very fluid style, rooted in rhythm and blues but fortified with pure funk. And Haynes returned Denson's earlier favor and joined KDTU for a late night sit in.

Continue reading for Sunday coverage...

Sunday :: 05.31.09

Mountain Jam 2009 by Ainsworth
While Saturday delivered on the diversity in the lineup, Sunday's programming was a bit more of a family affair. And while the sky was crystal blue and the sun beaming, the wind came around and over the mountain, bringing a chill to the Jam.

Making their fist appearance at Mountain Jam was New England-based jam-rock outfit The Brew. The band's sound mixed highly energetic rock and soulful, melodic vocals with progressive electric guitar. "Chance Reachin'" was an up-beat tune that got the crowd clapping and moving. Keyboardist Chris Plant sings with a salty dog voice that is soulful and draws the listener in while guitarist Dave Drouin takes a melodic approach.

Sunday, Mountain Jam paid homage to the original music festival, the 1969 Woodstock Festival, which took place in nearby Bethel, NY. The BK3, featuring Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, who performed at Woodstock 40 years ago, took the East Stage shortly after The Brew. For the trio's current tour, they've invited guest vocalist/guitarist Tara Nevins (Donna The Buffalo) along for the ride. The quartet, which also included Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski and bassist Hutch Hutchinson of Bonnie Raitt's band. They opened with "Louisiana Sun," a Max Creek song that showed what an under-appreciated guitarist Murawski is. They also did a Donna The Buffalo song and several Dead covers. They closed with "He's Gone" and "Bertha." Evans has a sweet, innocent voice, but there were points where it seemed she was nervous stepping to the microphone, and her singing wasn't as strong is it maybe should have been for someone with her experience. But, I am sure it's nothing that a few more performances with this lineup couldn't cure.

Martin Sexton :: Mountain Jam 2009 by Ainsworth
Sunday afternoon's sermon was delivered by Rev. Martin Sexton. Okay, so Sexton is not really a Reverend but his solo, acoustic set was a moving and spiritual one. Martin sings with a nasal tone that has gospel strength. "Diggin' Me" was a sweet tune with a fifties swing vibe that got feet shuffling and dirt rising in the air. "Happy" was a cheerful one that kept bodies moving as Sexton called out, "For peace, can I get a little 'Amen'?" which got a strong response from the crowd. The aching blues "Glory Bound" slowed the tempo a bit but highlighted the strength of Sexton's voice. He closed out with a stirring cover of Prince's "Purple Rain," which moved seamlessly to a soulful "Amazing Grace" that hushed the crowd.

The Derek Trucks Band took the stage early Sunday afternoon, and the mountainside was jammed with fans. Trucks opened with "Down In The Flood," which featured vocalist Mike Mattison, whose gritty voice is a soulful match for Trucks' riveting slide guitar. "I Know" was jazzy and bluesy, with Middle Eastern guitar flourishes from Trucks and rich, gospel-rooted keys from Kofi Burbridge. Trucks paid homage to John Coltrane, one of his own heroes, with a long, highly improvisational jam on "My Favorite Things," which was popularized by Coltrane, among others.

The Allman Brothers :: MTN Jam '09 by Ainsworth
The Allman Brothers, who are celebrating their 40-year anniversary and whose song gave the festival its name, were on hand to close the festivities on Sunday night. With a history as rich as the ABB, they had plenty of fan favorites to choose from. They opened their set, fittingly, with "Mountain Jam," which moved to a drum/bass jam and segued into "Trouble No More." After a Hepatitis C scare early in '08, Gregg Allman is singing with strength once again. And the stage camaraderie among these veterans, including three drummer/percussionists and two astounding guitarists - who each can and do manage their own groups - is as strong as any band.

Haynes was on fire on the classic "Ain't Wasting' Time No More." A personal highlight for this reviewer was "Revival," with the gorgeous refrain, "People can you feel it/ Love is everywhere/ People can you feel it/ Love is in the air." It seemed as if the entire mountainside of fans sang along and clapped in unison. Derek Trucks shined brightly with his slide on "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," segueing back into "Mountain Jam" to close out the set, proving beyond any doubt that he is the finest slide players alive. The ABB returned to the stage for an encore of "One Way Out," giving Gregg a chance to shine vocally once more, and allowing the Trucks/Haynes combination to catch fire once more, too.

On the screen behind the band, the words "Dedicated To A Brother" were projected and then a pictorial of Duane Allman ran to the recorded version of "Little Martha." With the power of this festival closing set, The Allman Brothers seem as though they could go on jamming together for another 40 years. And while he may have filled a much needed void for The Dead, Haynes proved to me that he is most at home playing Southern rock with the ABB and Gov't Mule.

And so ended a magnificent weekend in the great Catskills of New York State. With wonderful live music, friendly people everywhere, beautiful weather and much more, Mountain Jam 5 was a fantastic way to welcome summer and begin the festival season.

Continue reading for more pics of Mountain Jam...

By: Robert Chapman

Umphrey's McGee
Warren Haynes with Umphrey's McGee
Warren Haynes with Umphrey's McGee
Gregg Allman - The Allman Brothers Band
Haynes & Trucks - The Allman Brothers Band
Warren Haynes - The Allman Brothers Band
Warren Haynes with Derek Trucks Band
Gene Ween Band
Richie Havens
Karl Denson
George Porter Jr. with Chapter 2
Haynes with Coheed and Cambria
Michael Franti
John Medeski
The Macpodz
Matt Abts - Gov't Mule
Josh Clark with Gov't Mule
Warren Haynes

Continue reading for a few more pics of Mountain Jam...

By: Heather Ainsworth

Gregg Allman
Count M'Butu
The Derek Trucks Band
Michael Franti
Michael Franti
Richie Havens
Oteil Burbridge
Derek Trucks
Derek Trucks
Derek Trucks
Warren Haynes

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