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Mountain Jam 2006 – Festival Review


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Mountain Jam 2006 – Festival Review

Hunter Mountain, Hunter NY June 3rd – June 4th

by Lara Purvis

Warren Haynes

Music festivals are about so much more than the music. When you're coming from Ottawa, Ontario the journey is always long. So music festivals become a massive excursion – they're about the journey, the camping, the lot, the energy, the crowd and always your sight is set on the bands. Mountain Jam was a choose-your-own-adventure. With two stages, ongoing music, bands milling about freely, indoor and outdoor bars, camping and cheap bed and breakfasts, greenery and mud – about the only thing you couldn't choose was the weather. You were stuck with rain.

So on that note, if you're the type to battle heavy fogs, high mountains, police officers, broken roads and ominous omens continue on to The Journey. If you'd like to avoid the earlier obstacles and be subject to cold, wet weather, mud up to your ankles, heavy security but inspiring music, skip ahead to The Show.

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The Journey

Mountain Jam is held at Hunter Mountain, a beautiful ski lodge in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The drive should take about six hours from Ottawa, if you're not rushing and should be pretty simple in terms of directions. So it looks… It seems every time I do one of these drives I swear I'll buy a big fat mapbook, but instead I scan my mapquest directions, think “this looks pretty clear,” and hit the road (enter music of doom…).

I was traveling by myself. My travel companion had cancelled earlier on the phone, with a croaky heavy voice. I did not doubt her sickness. But I was slightly concerned about the six hour drive with the babe. Little did I know it would end up taking me about eight, and the Aslan would be the least of my problems.

It was an uneventful drive until I left the security of the highway. As I passed through the toll I was smiled at and waved on by the police officers that stood at the side, pulling over cars that were obviously full of festivalgoers. This young women and her child were certainly not destined for such an event. Already it seemed, the weekend was ending before it had already begun for some, as there were two groups of obviously frustrated and upset individuals standing beside their cars. Feeling for them and wishing them luck, I entered the mountains and within only a few minutes I was lost.

The Scenery

photo by JessK

I must preface this by saying, it was not my fault. Truly. I followed the directions closely, merging onto 23 but it seemed everywhere I looked was a Hwy 23, some had a letter before them or after them and many had a foreboding orange ‘detour' sign above them. I blame it on the state. Was there really such a lack of imagination that each road couldn't have its own name? That they all had to be a version of Hwy 23? It was drizzling and it appeared I was heading up a steep incline. The clouds had dropped from the sky and surrounded my car, either that or I was seriously on my way to heaven. Now and then an orange 23 detour sign popped out of the haze but most of the time I felt like I was in a hippie version of White Squall.

Pulling over at a decrepit diner, I passed a wet and skinny cat curled up in the rain. Omens everywhere…I shook my head, scattering drops of water. I was starting to wander if this was a bad dream and I was still in Ottawa, warm in bed, planning on leaving the next morning. I could only hope… A group of us ran into the diner at the same time. Evidently there had been cars of festies in front and behind me, impossible to see in the heavy fog. We were wide-eyed and frustrated, blurting out at the same time “Where's the 23?” “Mountain Jam, know where it is?”

Enter the new reason why getting lost was not my fault – the locals have their own little pet names for each road. Having broken down the ‘ask for help' barrier I relied on the local's directions for the remainder of the journey. According to my original directions the festival was about 30miles from the big ‘ol 87. It took me almost two hours. Thanking each local profusely, I proceeded to try follow their directions and ended up winding up mountains, whipping back down headlong, breathless and cursing just about everyone along the way. When I finally stumbled across the town of Hunter, NY, it was by mistake.

The mountain loomed out of the mist, well sort of… the bottom half at least. I never did see the top of the mountain but I hear it's nice. While I'd kept the option of camping open along the way, I pulled into the quaint Snowed Inn bed and breakfast without a doubt in my mind. This was a good choice. At only $40 night I had a warm dry place to come back to at the end of the day. With hot showers, coffee ready in the morning and really laidback hospitable hosts, I can highly recommend this spot.

The Show

Mountain Jam is in its second year. It is the joint effort of Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes and Radio Woodstock. The line-up this year looked great so I hurried to the festival grounds. There had been no lack of parking officials, but no one seemed to know what to do with press. The first group sent me through to the hotel, the hotel group sent me back down to VIP. I was happy with VIP. I could see my car from the indoor area which would make baby-toting car runs easy. Nice score. Security was tight getting in, they checked my name and went through my bag, efficiently pulling aside diapers and pitas. They were not charmed by Aslan's antics and thus, I was not charmed by them.

Keller Williams

photo by JessK

It would have been nice to catch some of Keller Williams. I didn't. He was playing at around mid-day and since the live music only started Saturday, Friday being DJ Logic, folks were still arriving. I'm sure many were sorry to miss him. I learned later that what I missed had been an unusual show. Keller's pedalboard had been misplaced by this airline so he ended up playing an entirely acoustic step without his signature looping. He apparently did not seem fazed.

I hit the second stage within a few moments of entering. Situated right between the ski lodge which housed a cafeteria and bar, and the vending area – it was well placed to collect a crowd I could hear a sound-check happening at the main stage. A rich, soulful voice cut through the buzz of activity. Shannon McNally was on. Her alt-country style flirted with a touch of pop. As I wandered about the vending area, I enjoyed her sophisticated yet laidback sound and her steller band.

Attracted to the bright green ski hill, I made myself comfortable high up on the hill, under the ski-lift. Already the area in front of the stage was brown with mud. A crowd had gathered tight around the stage, and people dotted the hill. From my vantage point, I watched the crowd surge away from the second stage as Shannon finished up. Looking back, Spearhead had one of the largest crowds of the weekend, possibly even outmatching My Morning Jacket's. When Michael Franti came on stage, the rain stopped. The clouds did not part, the sun did not shine. But the rain stopped as Michael started to freestyle. I had seen Spearhead several times before, with no particular impact. But in that moment…maybe it was the weather, maybe the joy of having finally arrived, but for that moment I loved Michael Franti. The inspiring ‘one people, one universe' lyrics touched me and I finally ‘got' Spearhead. Even if the rest of weekend was a disaster, this moment stood out, golden and worth the journey thus far.

Michael Franti

The little man had fallen asleep in my arms as I danced. I placed him on a blanket in the grass and he relaxed in true festival style. Aside from a couple of acoustic pieces, Michael Franti kept the energy up, leaping, dancing, spinning, jumping he played the audience - they were receptive and grateful. It was once of those sets that ended far too soon. Within moments it was raining again.

The temperature had dropped and rain was starting to drip down the back of my neck. I picked up the babe from where he lay covered and sleeping and decided that rather than trying to brave the weather and risk souring myself on the entire festival I would start heading back to the inn. Sunday was to be a big day for music and I wanted to see as much as I could.

On the way out I passed Benzos on the second stage. Their ambient beats had quite a few bodies moving dreamlike in the rain. Mud was oozing up between their toes and coating their legs. I took in the sights before moving on to the warmth of the Snowed Inn.

Up early on Sunday with quite a few hours before the music I decided to investigate the area before heading to the festival. I took a side road and found myself winding up and around mountains, the same mountains I had cursed the day before. The sun even came out for a moment. It was easy to see why Warren Haynes had chosen Hunter Mountain. The scenery was breathtaking. Fields of long grass and abandoned farmhouses separated the deep green forest. I knew I would return.

The day's music began with Woodstock local and solo artist, Joey Eppard. He opened with an instrumental piece. Kaki King style, he was plucking and slapping his guitar like it had a serious behavior problem. I was intrigued and stuck around. His second song however, had me wishing he'd stick to instrumental pieces.

Throwing down a tarp in front of the main stage, we got comfortable, waiting eagerly for the Benevento Russo Duo. I had high expectations for the duo, and although it wasn't quite what I had expected, I was not disappointed. Initially, I could only wish for a bass player, their sound needing to be grounded. But I grew accustomed to it, and soon with only keys and drums, their sound grew large and expansive, gently luring the insiders out into the mist. The set was loose, ambient and heady. Disarmingly, they chatted to the crowd and despite the ongoing miserable weather, it was the perfect way to spend the afternoon.

I spent a few moments soaking in the Wood Brothers and the light drizzle before heading inside. The bluesy vibe of Wood Brothers upright bass and harmonica gave the rustic music festival a particularly classy feel. The bar area in the lodge was an inviting spot to relax and dry off. The cafeteria housed the entrances to the ‘artist only' areas and the Radio Woodstock office. At any given moment there were bands moving through the area. In fact, it seemed the bands were particularly laidback and willing to interact with fans. Later in the afternoon, instead of hanging in their exclusive area, Mike Gordon, The Duo and The Slip all sat comfortably in the midst of the cafeteria, seemingly oblivious to the ogling fans.

Marco Benevento

Mike Gordon and his new collective, Ramble Dove enveloped the mountain in twanging Vermont style honkytonk blues. An already large band, with guests; guitarist, Mark Spencer and keyboardist Marco Benevento there was one huge party going on onstage. The rain began to pour, but the band didn't back off for a moment. Matching the intensity of the rain they rewarded the folks who braved it out by playing a rollicking version of ‘I got loaded.'

All day I'd been impatiently anticipating The Slip's set. That moment had finally arrived. The band had only arrived an hour before and were setting up when I returned to the second stage. I headed inside hoping the rain would ease off in time for their set. Already wet, a large crowd gathered as the band went through their soundcheck. Opening with a brief jam they leapt into ‘Even Rats' and flew from there. Not able to resist, I ventured into the rain and found a perfectly dry spot sidestage. There were some serious devotees in the crowd who greeted the first chords of their favourite songs with shrieks and whistles. ‘Sleepyhead' was magical, as was watching Aslan's face, his eyes glued to Marc's bass. The set was enjoyed by all, including My Morning Jacket's Jim James, seen dancing up front. Afterwards, I took a breather from the music to enjoy an interview with The Slip's Andrew Barr, who proceeded to share the news on the upcoming album. Having just named the album the day before, the band was full of excitement over their new material. The interview can be read here.

My Morning Jacket was preparing to hit the stage when I ventured back outside. Knowing Aslan would need something to help him get through the last hour of the day, I headed over to the kids corner and convinced the sweet hippie lady running the show to sell me a toy for $5. The little man was totally excited about riding his scooter up and down the muddy slope while I enjoyed MMJ. The band opened with a roar and thankfully after a day of folk, jazz and blues, they proceeded to give the most rocking show of the day. Exceptionally loud, My Morning Jacket pulled out all the stops and proceeded to play a long and energetic set including a ferocious ‘What A Wonderful Man.'

I was grateful that I'd remembered Aslan's ear plugs. I left the venue with a sleeping baby over my shoulder, and my unplugged ears ringing. The day had been a full one and a good one. We slept well. Stopping for coffee on my way out of town, the owner of the sweet little caf� updated me on Gov't Mules set the night before. With Mike Gordon and John Medeski joining them on stage, the night had apparently been one to remember. Well, next time… I consoled myself as I readied for the long drive. The drive home ended up being surprisingly easy and without complications, almost suspiciously so.

Marco Benevento

The weekend had been an adventure and a success – an amazing success, considering the dismal weather and the closed highway situation. What helped make the festival enjoyable for myself and several others with wee ones alongside, was that you could see all the bands but Gov't Mule and crazily, still be in bed for 8:00pm! This and the children's area gave the festival a clean family atmosphere vibe. And those who wanted to seriously enter the darker realms of partying were still able to ride that pony down Gov't Mule road, till the sun came up. While you can't please everyone, this certainly pleased a lot of people. And that's what it's all about.


Mountain Jam Festival http://www.mountainjamfest.com

Snowed Inn http://www.snowedinnhunter.com

Catch a few moments of Mountain Jam!

From Archive.org:

Benevento Russo Duo http://www.archive.org/details/duo2006-06-04.km184...

Using BitTorrent:

My Morning Jacket

Ramble Dove (featuring Mike Gordon)

Keller Williams

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Great review.

I had such at blast at the MTN jam, after the last Mule set I went to a motel a few miles away where they had a "live band"

The band turned out to be: Mike Gordon, DJ logic, Grace Potter, Russo and another guy on Guitar. There were about 25 people in the crowd for the show, such a good time.

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