Review by John Mikeska

Photos by Nathan Ekis

The first day of Mountain Jam had arguably one of the better lineups of the weekend. Railroad Earth > 2 sets of moe. with Marco Benevento in between. Warrren Haynes came out for a few token performances with moe. and RRE. One of the more interesting cuts to come out of this arrangement came from moe. with a later night rendition of “Loser”. The intimate nature of opening night performances usually make for a fun start to the weekend, and this Thursday night was no exception. The majority of patrons still yet to arrive, the smaller crowd was a welcome change to the masses that inevitable come to the weekend performances.




This was my inaugural journey to the decade old festival at Hunter Mountain, so the first night didn’t permit a comprehensive view of the festival grounds. The cool mountain air and enticing musical lineup made up for an evening that left a satisfied grin on your face; somewhere between silence and a smile. There were, naturally, many in attendance who took full advantage of the contiguous lineup and roused a lively celebration this Thursday evening. Undoubtedly, worthy of any other weekend romp but merely the first night here in Hunter, NY.




In many ways, Friday feels like the opening day because of the amount of arrivals coming in throughout the day. The vibe of “WE’RE THERE :)” that pervades throughout the festivalian populace during the early days is truly a unique blend of awesomness. The Friday lineup consisted of a strong afternoon showing starting with Jackie Greene’s latest outfit with Joan Osborne and drummer/co-founder of the Black Crowes, Steve Gorman; Trigger Hippy.

Jackie Green sat down at the organ for the majority of the set and provided notably compelling accompaniment. Able to aptly lay down chordal textures and rip searing B3 lines; Jackie shines on the organ bench.

Towards the end of the set, he reverted back to the 6 string and reminded all of us that he’s still got it. Being the catalyst that reverted my attention back to stage from my notepad, his smokin’ lead lines are musically inclined AND attention grabbing. All-the-while, Joan makes her way about the stage contributing a raucous radiance and otherwise rounding out this outfit with her characteristic vocal presence.


Mother Hips

The Mother Hips took the West stage for an afternoon set and were able to portray an astonishing assembly of influences and styles within their limited time allotment. The band has overtones of folk/Americana, interspersed with influences as varied and vast as hypnotic/repetitive shoegazer soundscapes and a down home flavored electric blues. Jackie came out and sat down at the Noord for quite sometime before I realized it was a Noord and not a Hammond B3. Despite the obvious sacrilege of the aforementioned statement, this isn’t an effort to alienate my devout “staunchy jazzhead” readership; I got nothing but love for those cats, ya dig?! No, this is more of vote of confidence to what I understand to be the best “non-organ” organ on the market. Dully noted, and rightfully stated.

Moving right along..

Jackie continued to impress with his skills on the keyboards as the Mother Hips traversed an inspired set complete with deep bass grooves and expansive yet travelin’ guitar melodies.




Grace Potter 

Grace came out to the swooning praise of her adoring audience. Seriously.. That’s the best way I can think to put. Coming in third place behind the deification of Warren, and “mesiafication” of Michael Franti (we’ll get to both of those later). She jumped, jigged, jived, tossled, turned, twisted and I’m pretty sure I saw a singular “twerk” in there somewhere during her set. She has captured the hearts and minds of the older festival going generations by managing to achieve a enticing sexuality, that remains wholesome while being entirely provocative. An act of marketing genius quite possibly on par with the “savior of the world” image the marketing department in camp Franti has managed to affect so convincingly.

She treated her crowd to an energized rendition of “Paris” followed by a solo guitar performance punctuated by improvised vocal-lines that showcased her impressive vocal sensibilities. In an effort to remain objective, I’ll give Grace a positive review with the annotation that her show has undoubtedly evolved from the Hammond B3 babe, shining star of the jam-scene to a sensational display of physicality and musical choreography. Admittedly, this evolution is much to the delight of her exponentially increased audiences of late, but undoubtedly a marked change in direction from the days when you might have caught a late night Grace set where she plays “It’s Your Thang > Use Me, Nothing But The Water” sometimes with The New Mastersounds and the like.

I offer this if only to say that personally, I miss the allure of an exceptional beauty seated on a piano bench understated by the surprising prowess of her soulful expressions on a Hammond B3. That’s an archetype that will always be near and dear to me. Especially when I remember that when I used to tell people about Grace, they would hear her first and then I could say “And you wont’t believe how gorgeous she is!”. Now, it’s always the other way around when I try to convince someone that she can actually get down and groove; adeptly making her way through jazz changes. Alas, it is what it is.. All things considered, she is one hell of a performer and I enjoy watching her get up there and…ehem… Perform.




Robert Plant

Coming in at the headline slot on Friday was Robert Plant’s newest group. According to one Mountain Jammer I spoke with “ a lot of people are going to like Robert Plant just ‘cause he’s a legend. I felt like veiled slights directed at the once voracious vocalist were the cool thing to do on the weekend. I heard him someone say he looked and sounded like “an old English lady”, and another say that “he has no voice at all and doesn’t have any business being on stage…except as a figure head like the English Monarch.” Who is, in fact (you guessed it) an OLD ENGLISH LADY. “This is preposterous”, I thought as the final minutes passed before show time. “I’ve got to see this for myself”. He opened with a Zeppelin tune and appeared to be a nimble, confident showman worthy of the slot bestowed upon him (arguably). His vocals were heavily saturated with effects bet retained the tonal qualities necessary to pull it off.


Without the range and power of youthful vocal chords to rely on, Plant got the job done by appealing to a wide range of musical sensibilities, re-arranged Zeppelin tunes to better fit his vocal style, and by giving an intimate performance complete with a “Going to California” where he commented multiple times how we were “In the Misty Mountains”. Followed by a ceremonial “no kidding, we actually are in the Misty Mountains”. Which allowed me the opportunity to say to myself “We know Robert, we know”, with the sort of once-in-a-lifetime satisfied grin reserved for moments such as this.



Dopapod played a high-energy late-night on the inside stage at Mountain Jam. They provided a fitting backdrop for those looking for a dance party. Watching them take the stage at this cool indoor venue reminded me just how far these guys have come since we shared the stage in a dingy downstairs bar in Athens, GA. They fit like a glove in the late-night slot and massage the funk-pocket with the essential oils of jazz, blues, and rock.. all night long. Or more rightly stated, to about 3:30 AM.

Early afternoon on the Mountain consisted of unusually timed but welcome set from Dopapod and a throwback performance from Rusted Root.




Rebelution/The Wailers

There was a definite “reggae on the mountain” vibe to the late afternoon block at Mountain Jam with sets from Rebelution and The Wailers. Highlights from The Wailers set include “Could You Be Loved” and “Three Little Birds”.




Gov’t Mule

Warren took the stage with Gov’t Mule in the late afternoon on Friday. Mule came out strong but not over-bearing in their sound. I make this distinction, because the sonic variation between acts this weekend was allegedly “extreme” at times, according to one festival goer. I particularly enjoyed the balance of their set and wondered whether or not they had a house engineer or changed between acts. In obligatory news, at Hunter Mountain NY during the week of Mountain Jam (and quite possibly all others) Warren Haynes is God. Not a ruler, monarch, or figurehead mind you, but an omnipotent spiritual force that is solely responsible for all life of the festival, much in the same way as the Sun is to Earth as I understand it.

The Warren-ites recounted the tale of a man who had a vision for a musical gathering in the Catskills with an upward gaze and thousand-yard stare that at times made me question their sincerity. Invariably, they were all serious about their love for Warren. As a native Georgian, and avid enthusiast of The Allman Brothers – I can appreciate their love for Warren (or Wah-Ren, as some of the more New Yorkers call him) even though I may not fully understand it. Mule played a thorough and satisfying “Dreams” towards the end of their set that provided a welcome reminder to The Brothers and times gone by.




The Black Keys

The Black Keys played the headline spot on Saturday night to raving fans. Being up towards the middle of the mountainside, I thought the sound wasn’t mixed well relative to other bands. To the credit of the sounds engineer, the heavily distorted sounds that abound in a Black Keys set came through clearly. It’s possible that some people stayed to watch the set that may have left otherwise because the sound wasn’t as “offensive” as lets say Big Gigantic; whether or not that was the intention. All sound aside, the set took a heavy turn with a deconstructed, gritty version of the blues classic “Leaving Trunk”. This is what the Black Keys are all about in my opinion. The distorted, minimalistic approach to blues music that comes off heavy, gritty and as relevant in contemporary music as the traditions that gave it birth. Although the Black Keys may not have made many new fans on Saturday, the creative duo (4 piece in the live setting) proved that can get together and put on a show that, at the very least — strengthens the resolve of it’s devotees.


Big Gigantic

Big Gigantic crushed their set at mountain jam. And if you ask anyone who has seen them lately, that’s apparently all they know how to do. They were the only band that I saw allowed an encore at Mountain Jam (admittedly they were the last band on Friday). They throw it down hard!! I feel confident saying that they probably gained more fans this weekend than any other act. I heard several people attest that even though it wasn’t “[their] type of music, that was an awesome set”. There able to achieve and interactive element to their sets that’s infectious in a participatory kind of way. They seem to make an intelligent effort to “play the audience” through the hills and valleys inherent to electronic sets. The ebbs and flows of energy allow you to “take a breather” rhythmically (without even realizing it, when it’s done well) and facilitate the most energized moments and exciting possibilities of “Livetronica”.


The final chapter of Mountain Jam 2015 might as well have been titled “The Hudson Valley Ho-Down” considering the performances Larry Campbell and Amy Helm gave on Sunday. Campbell put on a quality show featuring a couple Little Feat covers in the mix; “Oh Atlanta” and “Dixie Chicken”. Alongside the folksy, bluesy, boogie breakdown Larry never strays too far from the soul shinin’ country they do so well. A screamin’ juke joint rendition of Johnny Cash’s indelible “Big River” gave life to the second half of their set with some smokin’ Tele work.


Amy Helm

One act that truly tugged at my heart-strings this weekend was Amy Helm. Her band works through a songbook steeped in Americana and folk traditions. Highlights from their set included an inspired vocal presentation of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and an acappella quintet serenade around a condenser mic. Amy gave a passionate vocal performance with a welcoming, soulful ebullience that set her apart during a weekend of stunning female vocalists.




Lake Street Dive

Lake Street Dive are a talented group of musicians making big strides on the festival circuit. The band itself is really good. Musical timing and changes are executed with such style and precision that you can assume the musicians are playing within their comfort zone. The frontwoman of Lake Street Dive contributes sultry vocals with impressively controlled vibrato. She appears to have an intimate understanding of her voice and how to best use her polished vocal range.




To close out the festival Michael Franti & Spearhead and Alabama Shakes fit the bill. In the words of in impassioned festival goer “We love Michael Franti because he gives us hope. Despite the rumors of his “realer-life” persona, he allows us to believe that a message of peace, hope, and helping your fellow man is getting through to the younger generation.” A heartfelt and valid sentiment from the understandably well-versed New York litigator. A reminder that the message is pure and unadulterated within the soul and not able to be convoluted by judgements and preconceptions unless we allow it. This pebble of wisdom that the universe kicked my way seemed to be all around Hunter Mountain. All music aside, Mountain Jam is a truly festive occasion. Good vibes and an infectious sense of camaraderie permeated the final hours as Alabama Shakes took the stage and closed out the 11th annual installment of Mountain Jam.