Review by Dan Hogan
I am a big fan of Mountain Jam. Mountain Jam restored my faith in new music and live festivals. Two years ago, I took a friend’s advice and met him down at Hunter Mountain for Mountain Jam VII. I had a great time, saw that young and old could coexist on the same concert field most of the time and realized that festival promoters were looking for me to attend. You can bring in a backpack with your extra clothes, because it gets cold on the mountain at night. You can bring your favorite lawn chair and sit by the soundboard with the rest of the baby boomers. You can bring a camera and take pictures of all the cool people that you don’t see every day. And Warren Haynes knows how to bring the music. Where else could you start the day with a mariachi band or the Carolina Chocolate Drops before things get heavy?
That’s why I went back last year for Mountain Jam VIII. I wasn’t crazy about the headliner – Steve Winwood – until I saw him play, but the whole two days I attended were amazing – Trombone Shorty, the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, Matt Schofield and a tribute to Levon Helm – all were great and something of a bargain considering concert prices. Sure it rained much of the day on Saturday, but that was part of the fun. The bands seemed to thrive off the vibes of the poly-coated audience. Then it stopped raining, and there wasn’t enough straw to handle all the mud, but having been there before, I had boots and wool socks. I had a poncho, too, and after a few beers all was good.
When the line-up for Mountain Jam IX was announced, I was kind of let down. Phil Lesh & Friends? Widespread Panic? Sure, you get Gov’t Mule in the middle and a bunch of other up and coming bands, but I decided not to buy early-bird tickets. I waited to hear if anyone else I knew was going, and waited… As the concert date drew near, I watched the weather – maybe I would go on Saturday and see the Mule? But the weather looked bad. Sure, I could handle some wet weather, but not for a Dead fest. Got to draw your Red Line somewhere and such.
Having missed all day on Thursday meant I missed Primus. Maybe it was great, maybe not, but who really goes to all four days of festival? Sure, there are the caravan followers who volunteer so they can make a few bucks, see the show, get some hot food and maybe a shower before heading for the next festival. So give me a pass on Thursday – I think I was watching hockey.
Friday was raining hard, and I felt justified in not going to the Jam, besides, I had plans that night. Local band Soul Sky was playing at the Allen Street Pub right in my neighborhood. I was excited that all this talent could fit in one of Albany’s true dives. I was going to take some pictures and maybe another video of the band when I got a message from Mark Emanatian, the guitar player, that the show was cancelled because the Allen Street Pub didn’t have a cabaret license! Damn! My night was ruined, and I searched Nippertown for ideas and saw the blurb about Mountain Jam. Maybe there is a live feed? If it’s not too expensive, I might just pay to watch. Sure enough, there is a live feed… and the live feed is FREE!
I found out too late to see any of the early bands, none of whom I had ever heard, but with names like Roadkill Ghost Choir and Deer Tick, I think I might have missed something big and exciting. When the feed came on line, the Avett Brothers were finishing their set. Young men, if you like young women, learn the words to all the Avett Brothers’ songs, and you too can sway in the rain with all these beauties. You will have instant cred as a sensitive type and through transference … okay, back on track. I saw these guys at my first Mountain Jam, and they were on the cutting edge of the whole Mumford & Sons thing where people happily jump around on stage playing banjos and cellos, singing harmonies about love at the hoedown and taking apart drum kits and bashing the individual drums with the rising crescendo of each song.
Before Widespread Panic started their headlining set, I got set for the whole virtual Mountain Jam experience. I put some beers in the screened porch fridge, got my favorite folding chair (voted best chair at the last Mountain Jam!), wireless headphones and the ole Mac Book. The sound was awesome, it was raining, and I was slightly damp and cold, but the coals were still hot in my Smokey Joe so it created the illusion of being there in the wet campsite. Man, was it pouring rain at Mountain Jam! Every time the cameras took a crowd shot, you would see thousands of swaying ponchos and people shielding their eyes from the pelting precipitation. But they were there, and I felt a pang of solidarity remembering last year’s rain and how we all laughed and had fun regardless of the cold and damp.
I don’t know much about Widespread Panic except that Michael Hauser was one of the guitar players, and he died leaving Jimmy Herring to take his place. Yes, I have heard their songs before and they have great names like “Love Tractor” and “Tallboy,” but there is a reason why they have yet to make it big. Well, in my opinion there are a couple of reasons. Lead singer and guitar player John Bell looks like he just left a stand down for homeless Vietnam Veterans and the rhythm section looks like they only shop in the Candy isle at Walmart. Does anybody believe the bass player’s name is really Dave Schools? I could see him in clear detail, and I’m pretty sure it was Governor Chris Christie in a wig and fake beard. And the drummer, I saw him play Samwell Tarly on “Game of Thrones,” right? Even with a Molson Tallboy in my hands, I found myself wanting to sleep, and when I woke up, the show was over and we would move to another day.
It was overcast, but not raining on Saturday. The webcast started at noon, but I was doing other things, so I just left the show playing as I went about my business at home. Therefore, I only have subliminal memories of Swear and Shake, the Revivalists and Amy Helm. I started paying attention when Michael Franti & Spearhead came on stage. Things must be tough for poor Michael Franti – he used to be a sub-headliner, but this year he was warming up for the Lumineers, and his band wasn’t as big as extravagant as in previous years. I was back and forth doing things and such, but I don’t think he brought his florist with him this year, and only one guitar player and one extra singer. Still, he is a Mountain Jam regular and loved by all. His songs are so deep and they speak to me on level I have missed since the kids were in pre-school. EVERYBODY GET YOUR HANDS UP IN THE AIR!!! Hey, hey, hey, etc., everybody loves you and you need it and give and take and sing-a-long and you are never alone when the NSA is watching you.
Then came Gary Clark, Jr. There is something elementarily good about Gary Clark. He and his band play as if they are on the edge, and even when you’ve seen it before and heard the songs, they jump out at you again. He has a presence on the stage of a natural, something of a warning sign that he has mixed up blues and heavy rock and soul and worked out something old in a way that draws you to him and his music. The highlight of his show was a cover of Hendrix’s “3rd Stone from the Sun.” It was great, but even Jimi turned off the fuzz box on occasion.
When the Lumineers came on stage, I knew what was going to happen even before they started. Mumford &Sons should get some trademark money from these banjo-playing bands that have a bass drum at the front of the stage. Much as I noted with the Avett Brothers, there was much jumping and dancing and a woman on the cello and happy shiny people and blah! They did a nice cover of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with the sign language signer-woman flipping through cue cards just like in the original video, but all I could think was: are there really deaf people going to Mountain Jam? Sorry, but not being a hipster, I don’t get the Lumineers. My bad.
Now it was time for Gov’t Mule. Having seen them live a number of times, there is nothing like seeing the Mule play at Warren Haynes’ annual festival. They played from 9pm until 1am with a single break. There were no bass drums or banjos or jumping around now, instead here was the real deal, a hard rocking band with a great rhythm section. Haynes was in fine form, jumping right in with “Broke Down on the Brazos,” followed by “Slackjaw Jezebel,” “Rocking Horse,” “Temporary Saint …” There was even a great version of Credence Clearwater’s “Effigy,” which featured a side romp through Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” That was just in the first set.
By the time the second set rolled around, I was getting tired and cold. Just like last year, I had to put on warmer clothes and hunker down in my chair. The best part of my virtual Mountain Jam, however, was having the bathroom three steps away and a mini-fridge with Molson Ice Tallboys. When Warren Haynes put away his Gibsons and picked up what looked to be an early version of the Eric Clapton signature Stratocaster, we were in a dreamy place. The nearly half-hour medley of Hendrix’s “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be),” Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter,” back to “1983” rolled over me in waves, and I felt like I was there sitting in the middle of the damp field. Definitely going to have to buy this show on Mule Tracks and make sure this wasn’t a dream made of fatigue and Molson Ices.
Sunday was the reason why I didn’t go. It was Grateful Dead day with headliner Phil Lesh & Friends. I missed the early acts – the Lone Bellow and ALO, but was back on-line on time to see the London Souls. What can I say about another guitar/drum combo where the guitar player doesn’t realize that those fuzz pedals can be turned off? Gary Clark, Jr. meets the White Stripes meets Neil Young (Ohio)? Whatever.
I missed the next band, Dispatch so can’t opine to you, but that’s what is great about virtual attendance at Mountain Jam – I could get up, go in the house, run to the store and when I come back, the show is still there.
If there was a breakout act at Mountain Jam IX, it was Jackie Greene. Playing guitars borrowed from Warren Haynes, with a J. Mascis doppelganger on keys, Jackie just shook the whole place up with some great songs well played. I don’t know any of his songs yet, but his whole set was rock n roll – sounding like some Faces, some Stones, some Black Crowes – and the crowd responded with great enthusiasm. The intensity of the set kept building up and up and ended with a barn-burning boogie called “Ball and Chain.” Did I mention this is a guy to watch?
The sun was shining and in between all the other stuff, I grilled a chicken, took the dogs out, read a book. Because it was Sunday, the headliner started at 6pm. I felt compelled to watch, even though I am not a Grateful Dead fan. Sure, I saw the Dead a few times – on one occasion (in the rain) at SPAC, I had indoor tickets, but about 15 thousand fans didn’t, but that wasn’t stopping them from jamming inside and climbing over seats and smelling like wet patchouli oil. Oh yeah, good times! Another time, AG (After Garcia) I saw the Dead play at the Pepsi Arena, and about half way through as they played “Space,” I realized you have to be blotto to dig this music.
Here comes Phil Lesh & Friends, which means, Phil, the J. Mascis guy on organ, Warren Haynes on guitar, some other guy on guitar and a drummer. After a couple of minutes it was clear that these folks didn’t all play together too often, and they sure could have used a rhythm section to help, instead of Phil and the drummer playing lead bass and drums, respectively. Phil sure likes to play the same scales over and over and over … It was music for people who can’t keep a beat, and both guitar players left their auto-wah pedals on all the time for the burp-fart guitar sound of “Shakedown Street.” Just like the fuzz pedals, they usually have a button on top to turn them off, but no, blop, blop, bloop, blop, infinity. By about the third jam, I was wondering, but for the war on drugs, would these groups even be working? There was even a bad version of “Sunshine of Your Love,” and a cover of the Beatles “She Said, She Said,” but it wasn’t reaching me. About halfway – I think it was during “Franklin’s Tower” – Phil was playing in the same key as the rest of the band for almost a whole song before getting lost in another spacey jam. The Molson Ice was trying, but this was just not my thing, and even though I could see all the happy hippy wannabees swaying in a sea of tie-dye, I was glad I stayed at home.
Who knows what Mountain Jam X holds for me? Will I go or watch for free on the Mac Book? Hard to say, but it was nice of Warren Haynes to give his fans who couldn’t be there a chance to pretend. It was almost like being there… and it was free.