MOUNTAIN JAM | 06.01 – 06.03 | HUNTER, NY

Words by: John Goff :: Images by: Adam McCullough

Mountain Jam III :: 06.01.07 – 06.03.07
Hunter Mountain Ski Resort :: Hunter, NY

Warren Haynes :: Mountain Jam 2007
Where can you hear a musician sing “The Sesame Street Song” to the delight of hundreds of parents and their kids AND an old school rock DJ yell, “Fuck corporate radio,” to the delight of thousands partying music lovers? Where else but the Warren Haynes inspired, Radio Woodstock co-sponsored Mountain Jam III, which once again masterfully injected a healthy dose of southern soul into the land of the yankees.

Centrally nested in New York’s Hudson Valley, Hunter Mountain Ski Resort was again the site for the third installment of what has become Haynes’s northeast homecoming. No livetronica or dub acts at this gathering. Just good ol’ rock icons and new jam pillars. Joining festival hosts Gov’t Mule, were Mountain Jam veterans Robert Randolph & The Family Band and Michael Franti & Spearhead, who both energized a rain-filled Sunday line-up leading up to the main attraction – Phil Lesh & Friends.

Other artists such as New Orleans Social Club, Ozomatli, New Monsoon and Tea Leaf Green served up spoonfuls of rock spliced with spirituality, Spanish siestas and summer daydreams.

Phil Lesh & Friends

Lesh & Haynes :: Mountain Jam 2007
Love was the reoccurring theme of the weekend. The Felice BrothersSimone Felice, drummer for the festival’s under-attended opening act, asked the crowd before their encore, “Who’s in love with someone? Who’s in love with something?” Nearly 60 hours later, Phil Lesh and Friends answered Felice’s question by closing their searing set with Buddy Holly’s words, “I wanna love you night and day. You know my love will not fade away.” Lesh and his recently assembled posse wowed the Mountain Jam audience to disbelief for three straight, glorious hours on Sunday. Phil and Friends brought their A-game on Sunday, which was apparent from the 15-minute first set opening “Shakedown Street.” John Scofield and Particle‘s Steve Molitz made their presence felt immediately, with Scofield finding his mark with some honky-tonk licks and Molitz offering up just a sprinkle of his ‘cosmic piano’ before moving into what initially sounded like “Uncle John’s Band” but quickly morphed into “Friend of the Devil.” A pretty routine tune for the Grateful Dead, this rousing rendition saw Haynes’s Gibson guitar make a soggy crowd wide-eyed. Scofield came alive at the 15-minute mark, and Molitz brought us down gently with some classical piano before rolling into a meandering jam that was my personal favorite of the night.

Scofield, Molo, Lesh, Haynes :: Mountain Jam 2007
A long “Althea” followed that allowed the musicians a chance to highlight their talents, both individually and collectively. “Althea” drifted through blues, zydeco, reggae, funk and jazz. At times in the first set, I found myself wondering where Haynes had gone. In retrospect, I think my ear had been “Mule’d” and I was subconsciously yearning for more.

By the time dawn fully arrived, with new light falling on Hunter Mountain, southern charm returned as Phil dropped “Low Spark of High Healed Boys” into “New Speedway Boogie.” When Phil sang, “Spent a lil’ time on the mountain, spent a lil’ time on the hill,” the crowd, predictably, exploded. After “Mason’s Children” and “Candyman,” Lesh’s dancing fingers provided the road map for fans to follow on the first set closing “Scarlet Begonias” > “Eyes of the World” > “Fire on the Mountain.” Haynes stalled for a millisecond during “Fire” to sing, “You gave all you had. Why you wanna give… more?” These little nuances make each performance unique.

Mountain Jam 2007
After a very brief set break, the band returned with a moving “Unbroken Chain.” Despite hearing the song played live for years, the line “Listening for the secret, searching for the sound” popped out at me. I realized I had heard the secret and found the sound and it was Phil and his new friends. From “Unbroken Chain” they delved into a “Dark Star” that wove in and out of “Mountains of the Moon.” It seemed for the first and only time during their performance, the group lost their groove. The perceived chaos didn’t last long though. Lesh stepped up and “thumped” them back into the tight, seamless changes. Not long after, the rain stopped and a gust of wind came from nowhere during a Haynes solo that evoked Garcia’s original playing. The elements swirled and sheet music blew all around. A nicely mannered 50-something Deadhead dancing near me stopped, looked at me and said, “I think Jerry felt left out and wanted to play, too.”

Following his plea for organ donors, Lesh breathed life into “Not Fade Away.” Once again, Scofield and Haynes exchanged licks like they were fencing with their instruments. Scofield entered onto his tippy-toes while arching his back, a sight out of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” yielding a sweet soprano lick that blended with Haynes’s raunchy, baritone brushing for a sound I’ve never heard before; a sound that blended so well with Molo’s precise pounding, Molitz’s energetic pouncing and Lesh’s ageless efficiency to round out the best set I heard all weekend.

Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule

Warren Haynes :: Mountain Jam 2007
We all know Mountain Jam is Mule territory so it seemed proper that Haynes, Matt Abts (drums), Danny Louis (keyboards) and Andy Hess (bass) used the warm, dry Friday for a Mule-only opening set and Saturday as an opportunity to have guests join them. They won me and countless others over this weekend with their brand of hard-driving rock that attracts everyone from Harley riders to hipsters with a sound that’s at its tightest point since Hess replaced departed original bassist Allen Woody.

Friday’s Mule highlights included an opening cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” which no matter how many times the band plays it always sounds refreshingly strange coming from Haynes. After a “32/20” wake up call where Louis perfectly complimented Haynes’s unbelievable ability, Hess exerted his prowess into a nicely placed, hard hitting “Thorazine Shuffle.” In the second set, Haynes opened with a very soulful, sultry version of “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right),” a great classic from the late, great Luther Ingram. Haynes then warmed things up with “Like Flies,” which included an exhausting 15-minute drum solo from Abts. This was soon followed by a raunchy, oozing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” the highlight of the night. Everyone from the beer vendors to the security guards was nodding their heads, and the night came to a very emotional ending that prompted warm embraces. Louis and Haynes then welcomed back Abts and Hess for an encore of Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”

Haynes & Franti :: Mountain Jam 2007
On Saturday, Haynes proved why some consider him the hardest working man in rock today. The Mule set began with two guest appearances, Machan and Michael Franti for The Rolling Stones’ “Play with Fire,” which received a huge response. After the always anticipated “Soulshine,” Haynes rocked out with “Mule,” then sauntered through “Gameface” > “Mountain Jam” > “Gameface” with notes so heavy they seemed to bounce off the thick stratus clouds hovering at the top of Hunter Mountain. Umphrey’s McGee‘s guitarist Jake Cinninger joined them for an unexpected version of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” before Mule mainstay “Mother Earth.”

The second set was nearly flawless and featured an extra jolt of energy when Ozomatli’s horn players Uli Bella (sax) and Asdru Sierra (trumpet) sat in for James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World.” Later, following a great, meandering, jam-filled “Sco-Live,” Tea Leaf Green’s Josh Clark joined them for a metallic run at Neil Young’s “Keep on Rocking in the Free World.” On a fitting note, Mule’s extended encore included “Out of The Rain,” where uttered, “I feel like I belong,” which felt directed towards all of their closest friends on the hill applauding.

Other Musical Offerings

NOLA Social Club :: Mountain Jam 2007
One act that really caught my ear at Mountain Jam was the New Orleans Social Club featuring George Porter Jr. and Leo Nocentelli from The Meters, Ivan Neville, Henry Butler and Raymond Weber. Having played with Haynes numerous times, Porter knew his way around the festival. Donning a bright tie-dye on the only sunny day of Mountain Jam, he led a southern blues and funk charge for a rousing 90-minute set that took us up and down on a roller coaster of emotions. The Meters’ “Look-ka Py Py” was a great opener that showed these cats were here to have some fun. The Social Club made sure to throw some hometown shout-outs including “Tipitina,” a great version of Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans” and “Talkin’ ’bout New Orleans.” Haynes made his first guest appearance of the festival, sitting in on two numbers including a very boisterous, appropriate cover of Creedence’s “Fortunate Son.”

Luther Dickinson (NMA) :: Mountain Jam 2007
RAQ busted out a barn burning hour set. After discussing things with “RAQ-Heads” after their late night set, many agreed their afternoon set was tighter musically but their night set was intentionally loose. What caught me during the day set was the execution of “Brother From Another Mother” > “Botz.” As with U-Melt, RAQ was a late addition to Mountain Jam but both bands had robust crowds that proved RAQ, and perhaps even U-Melt, now belong with the heavyweights on the main stage.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band were in full effect at Mountain Jam. With a 90-minute opening set Sunday, they were the perfect choice to get people stretching and moving again. Beyond the usual “I Need More Love,” Randolph showed us he can rock with his “Voodoo Chile” > “Purple Haze” mid-set power chords. By close, Randolph was off his pedal steel, standing and holding an electric guitar, showing us yankees how to do a two-step.

G. Love & Haynes :: Mountain Jam 2007
Assembly of Dust brought a loyal contingent of supporters to Mountain Jam. I caught up with Reid Genauer as he signed come CDs and asked, “How does Mountain Jam differ from other festivals?” He looked at me with a half-smile, mumbled several quotes I could never use and then put his arm around me and said, “I love you like a sister man.” Reid is quite the guy.

Rounding out Sunday’s line-up was Michael Franti & Spearhead. The place really filled up for Franti as Sunday-only ticket buyers swarmed in to get a good spot for Phil and Friends. What they saw was the equivalent of an adult film “fluffer” or a musical can of Red Bull. While Franti’s lyrics are socially poignant and politically-fueled, Spearhead’s high energy music and crowd involvement gives “wings” to even the most tired crowd, which is why they’ve become the obvious pre-headliner choice at festivals.

Ozomatli :: Mountain Jam 2007
With a swollen crowd, including plenty of parents and their children, Franti altered his usual chant to “Stop the Freaking War” and later busted out a “Sesame Street” song, which Franti noted was a unifying song to the prisoners he performed for at San Quentin Prison. Out of nowhere, during “Yell Fire,” Franti leapt into the crowd and walked about six-feet into the swell where the 6-foot 5-inch dreaded “brah-phet” and I jumped arm and arm. I was so overtaken with childlike vigor, I palmed Franti’s ‘domepiece’ and we continued to jump with the crowd. Franti grabbed two clumps of mud from the ground, leaned back and smeared it on his t-shirt before returning to the stage to finish his set with an energetic “Everybody On The Move” filled with more chants of “How You feeling?” and “Everybody Jump!” Left sweaty and alert, I realized Franti may be the most intelligent, politically moving hype man of all time.

Ozomatli played to a crowd who didn’t really know what to think of them. With banging beats, salsa explosions, a booming brass section and a frontman whose flow was eerily similar to Jay-Z, the mostly blues-rock oriented crowd did more watching than dancing. Despite the blank looks, Ozomatli provided a great juxtaposition to the other festival acts.

Kamara Thomas (Earl Greyhound)
Mountain Jam 2007
Ironically, prior to New Monsoon something like a monsoon fell on Hunter Mountain, wiping out what would have been a large crowd. After the rain, festival goers saw the whimsical Bay Area jam artists lay down a great version of Hendrix’s “Freedom.”

My biggest surprise of the weekend was New York City’s Earl Greyhound, a nostalgic three-piece power group that’s a time capsule of raw protest rock, ’60s psychedelic threads and real rock ‘n’ roll attitude. Frontman Matt Whyte repeatedly rebuked Mountain Jam organizer’s onstage demands to finish their set so Umphrey’s McGee could play. Watching it play out, it was obvious Earl Greyhound didn’t care what the “suits” thought of them, only what rock fans thought of them – a perfect fit for this independent radio sponsored festival.

Finally, it was time for the “Umphreeks” to get their groove on as the Umphrey’s McGee set began simultaneously with a thunderstorm, which reportedly ended things early due to lightning scares. Following an opening “Push the Pig,” the boys dug their heels into “Partying Peeps,” with guitarists Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss going at it shoulder-to-shoulder. Following the song, the rain stalled to a drizzle. Two songs later, keyboardist Joel Cummins and Cinninger led the charge into “Get in The Van” and “The Bottom Half,” which repeatedly explored valleys and peaks. The rain began to fall hard again and Umphrey’s played a shrieking, raucous “Mulche’s Odyssey” before having to shut down what would have been a mind crushing “Immigrant Song.”

In Closing

From the festival organizers to the bands to the fans, everyone seemed over-the-top satisfied and exhausted following this year’s extended three-day Mountain Jam. The music was rockin’, security was cool, the people were diverse and chill, traffic was light, nearly everything was on schedule and the price was right. Maybe there is something to this whole “non-corporate festival” thing Radio Woodstock and Warren Haynes are doing.

JamBase | New York
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