Review and photographs by Stanley Johnson
Driving down Route 30 past Gilboa through Schoharie County, I was pretty excited to be heading towards Mountain Jam at Hunter Mountain. The devastation of last year’s flood was still evident, as was many of the road and bridge repairs that made the drive easy. I was struck by the many creekside parking areas, which made the area very friendly to tourists and fishermen.
Although unable to attend the first three days of the festival this year, I had accessed some of the music on the internet. Gov’t Mule – made up of festival organizer Warren Haynes, bassist Jorgen Carlsson, keyboardist Danny Louis and drummer Matt Abts – had played two extended sets on Friday and Saturday and were joined by “The Ramble On the Road” band in the second set Saturday for a tribute to the recently deceased Levon Helm.
The Mule has been one of my favorite bands since the mid-’90s, when they were formed by Haynes and deceased bass player Allen Woody as a side project to their roles in the Allman Brothers Band. The eighth Mountain Jam showed the band digging deep into its chest of hard ‘n’ heavy blues-meets-Grand Funk sound with classics like “Thorazine Shuffle,” “Blind Man In The Dark,” “Mule,” “Lola Leave Your Light On” and “Beautifully Broken.” They peppered their sets with enthusiastic covers of the Beatles (“Yer Blues,” “I’m So Tired,” “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window,” “The End”), the Who (“Love Ain’t For Keeping”), Humble Pie (“Thirty Days in the Hole”), Frank Zappa (“Trouble Every Day”), the Rolling Stones (“Bitch”), Nirvana (“All Apologies”) and snuck in the odd tease to songs like “The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix, “Happy Together” by the Turtles and “American Woman” by the Guess Who. They also played a couple of jams from Warren’s other bands – “Kind Of Bird” and, of course, “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers and “The Other One” by the Dead.
The set with the Levon Helm Band featured Larry Campbell, Brian Mitchell, Jim Weider, Teresa Williams Byron Isaacs, Justin Guip, Earl McIntyre, Jay Collins, Kenny Rampton, Blue Lou Martini and Howard Johnson. The large group did several Band classics, including “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Shape I’m In” and “The Weight.” All through the weekend performers honored Helm by slipping in covers during their sets.
But accessing a streaming show on the internet is no real substitute for being at Mountain Jam in the beautiful Catskill Mountains, whether it be rain or shine, and it did both during this festival. So I was very pleased that Sunday started clear and sunny, and except for a couple of brief showers, stayed nice for the entire day.
Ratboy, Jr. and Bari Koral began Sunday with sets on the Awareness Village stage aimed squarely at the youngsters in the crowd, of which there were many at the family-friendly festival.
The first act on the main East Stage was the Simone Felice Band, who had previously played Mountain Jam twice with the Felice Brothers. His new band played a rockin’ set of Americana, closing with “Knockin On Heaven’s Door” and a sweet version of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” dedicated to Helm.
The first, brief shower of the day did not dampen the fire under the Pedrito Martinez Group, who got the crowd dancing to their Afro-Cuban rumba rhythms.
Trombone Shorty continued the dance party back on the East Stage with a funk-rock set with New Orleans and hip hop overtones.
I took another walk by the Awareness Village stage to check out the acoustic set by Michael Franti, who is second only to the Mule in the number of festival appearances. “Michael seems to bring the sunshine with him,” said one of my neighbors. And indeed, just as he began singing “The Sound of the Sunshine,” the sun broke through the clouds.
For me, the surprise band of the day turned out to be the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who were new to me, but they clearly had their fans at the fest. Old-time string band music only covers some of what this minstrel-styled band played, as they also sounded incredible with Scottish and Haitian folk music. “The Milwaukee Blues,” “Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad,” “Country Girl” and “Jackson” were some of the songs, played on historical instruments including an 1855 banjo and cow rib bones, that got this band a happy reception from the crowd in the ski bowl.
There’s simply no way to catch every act on all four stages at Mountain Jam, and this year I never even made it to the stage inside Healey Brothers Hall, so I missed Connor Kennedy, Jimkata, the Brew (who I had seen last year at moe.down) and Sara Watkins. But I did manage to catch some of Zee Avi, who did an excellent ukulele-fueled version of “I Fought the Law.”
The Tedeschi-Trucks Band, an 11-piece band led by husband and wife team Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, played several tracks from their Grammy Award-winning CD “Revelator,” including “Don’t Let Me Slide,” “Midnight in Harlem,” “Love Has Something to Say” and “Bound for Glory,” all of which were extended and amped-up to frantic intensity during the instrumental breaks.
Covers such as Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Rollin’ & Tumblin’” and “Wade in the Water” were interpreted with a undercurrent that mixed gospel and jazz. At one point the band sounded like they were channeling Miles Davis and John Coltrane, while at another was the sound of Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar, before returning to the Delaney & Bonnie-Mad Dogs & Englishmen gospel-rock of the early ’70s. It’s possible to list their influences, but almost impossible to describe the tornado of swirling sound the band makes as each member plays at the limits of their considerable abilities.
The band – which featured Trucks on his cherry Gibson, Tedeschi on guitar and vocals, Oteil Burbridge on Fender bass and an unusual giant banjo bass, his brother Kofi Burbridge on keyboards and flute, Tyler Greenwell and JJ Johnson on drums and percussion, Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers on vocals, Kebbi Williams on saxophone, Maurice Brown on trumpet and Saunders Sermons on trombone – also drew from their new live release, “Everybody’s Talkin.” At the end of their set another of my neighbors remarked, “That has got to be the hottest band on the planet.”
Dawes had the thankless task of following the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, but they forged ahead and turned in a great set of their own blend of Dead/country/Americana with ringing guitars and a pounding rhythm section. Their latest release “Nothing Is Wrong” has received some local airplay on WEXT-FM.
As Michael Franti came to the main stage with Spearhead, he reprised the song he wrote for his father, “The Sound of the Sunshine,” and the sun also reprised its magical breakthrough, throwing a huge rainbow from the top of Hunter Mountain to the top of the stage. Franti has become a crowd favorite in his many appearances at Mountain Jam, and following one of his long strolls through the audience on the hill, he brought two female fans up on stage to jam on guitars and then a whole stage full of children for the finale.
The first and only break in the music came before Steve Winwood took the stage with “I’m A Man.” Winwood’s five-piece band played a strong mix of recent songs, such as “Forget About It” and “Dirty City,” ’80s classics like “Higher Love,” and Traffic favorites “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” The band hit their stride with extended, jazzy jams on “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and “Empty Pages.”
Winwood also honored Helm with a version of “The Weight.” He moved between guitar and keyboards, and the highlight of his set for me was a luminous solo take on “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Winwood called out for Warren Haynes to join him on “Gimme Some Lovin’.” I packed up halfway through and was heading toward the exit behind the stage when I suddenly found myself face to face with Winwood coming off the stage. “Thanks for all the great music,” I said.
And that goes for the whole festival. I’ll be back next year.
Review and videos from Headstash
THE TEDESCHI-TRUCKS BAND SET LIST
Don’t Let Me Slide
Midnight in Harlem
Rollin’ & Tumblin’
Wade in the Water
Love Has Something to Say
That Did It
I Know > Bound For Glory