Review and photographs by Stanley Johnson
After attending eight of the previous nine years of Mountain Jam, I knew I could not miss this year: It would be the final area performance of the Allman Brothers Band. I have followed this band since I heard “Whipping Post” from the At the Fillmore East album played on WRPI upon its release in 1971. A few months later I learned of Duane Allman’s death on the same radio station when they played the same track.
The first chance I got to see and hear the ABB was a couple years later at SPAC in 1973. The thing I remember most about that show was seeing an empty whiskey bottle flying in the air from the lawn into the amphitheater because everyone in the amphitheater was standing on their chairs. This prompted Gregg Allman to come out to tell the rowdy crowd that if they wanted to hear the band play then they better settle down. Then they came out and played most of the Brothers and Sisters album.
I’ve lost track of how many times since I’ve seen the band or its members play, but I’ve seen at least one show from every tour, including most solo projects. I’m going to miss this band, but I think it’s wise they leave on a very high note. The music this particular version of the ABB has been making in the last few years has kept the high standards established by Duane, Gregg, Dickey, Berry, Butch and Jaimo in the early years.
And Mountain Jam has consistently brought some of the best music being played to this area since its start ten years ago. I’m not going to spend three days at a festival unless I hear real musicians who can actually sing and play at a level that makes my eyebrows raise, my jaw drop and my body boogie. Thank you for establishing this standard, Mountain Jam.
OK, so what happened this year? Too much to relate here but the most amazing this was the weather. A Mountain Jam without mud. Incredible…
The festival has matured. The venue currently has the largest outdoor stage in use in North America, according to one of the stage crew. It appears that Hunter Mountain intends to stay in the festival business.
This year, all local parking was converted to campsites and everyone else was shuttled in from a lot pretty far away up on another mountain. Fortunately, this resulted in less traffic at the end of the fest if you were savvy enough to know the other main routes back to the Thruway. (Next year, try going through Windham instead of Tannersville.)
In addition to increasing the camping space, the festival site itself was actually more contained by fences, thus causing the crowd to be more compacted. Also, no chairs were allowed in front of the sound board, making for a very large dancing area. With the giant video screens, this permitted those who wanted to sit, or needed an occasional break from dancing, to avoid being jostled too much while dancers didn’t have to worry about tripping over chairs and feet.
The acoustic stage was moved inside the lodge and functioned mostly as an open mic. Also in the lodge was an art and photography exhibit. The adjoining Healy Hall also featured performers, workshops and lectures by writers and photographers.
I can’t review every performance, but I will mention some of the many highlights. I wasn’t there for the Thursday night festivities with Dark Star Orchestra and Umphrey’s McGee and the distant parking situation caused me to miss most of the early afternoon on Friday. I started the fest with a ride high up the mountain on the chair lift and heard the familiar sound of Robert Randolph on the descent. No stranger to Nippertown, Randolph and the Family Band turned the main stage into a revival tent with their high energy, pedal-steel-fueled set.
I had missed Antibalas, but then discovered they were giving an Afrobeat workshop in Healy Hall.
Back to the main stage was a band I didn’t know but quickly became very impressed with: Trampled By Turtles. To say that they play breakneck bluegrass would be an understatement. These guys were fast. Reignwolf was next and a change of pace: loud and hard. On my way back into the lodge, I found myself talking to Sam Cutler, former promoter for the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, who was selling a book about Altamont and beyond. Next I talked with Kirk West, former tour manager of the Allman Brothers and an excellent photographer, who had a gallery show inside. On the way out I checked out the open mic stage in the bar, where Copious Jones was trying to catch the attention of the barflies who were watching hockey.
After some shopping I had to catch the Avett Brothers, who have been festival regulars for several years. Their set of wonderful Americana induced Bob Weir to join them for several numbers, including a spirited “The Race Is On.”
The main and side stage so far seemed to be alternating between Americana and hard rock, with Moon Taxi shifting back to the heavy side, sort of like Floydian metal. This brought Warren Haynes out to jam. Bob Weir and Ratdog, which included Rob Wasserman on bowed double bass, brought the spirit of the Dead with versions of “West LA Fadeaway” and a swinging “Deal.” Jonathan Wilson came out to jam on “Don’t Let Go.”
Ratdog’s second set included an extended jam with Haynes on “Dark Star.” I watched the Shilly Shally Fire Troupe juggle and twirl real fire while Weir and company completed a long medley of “Terrapin Station,” “Standing on the Moon” and a reprise of “Dark Star,” which slid into “Sugar Magnolia.” Haynes was back on the encore of “Johnny B. Goode.”
That was just the first day…
Stay tuned for Stanley Johnson’s upcoming reports on Days Two and Three of Mountain Jam X…