Weathered but not Worn: A Recap of Mountain Jam June 6th-9th

“Pri-mus sucks,” was the battle cry of die-hard fans waiting to see Thursday night’s headliner.   By this point it was hard to know if the sky was black because darkness was falling or the rain clouds took over or if Primus was channeling the shadow Gods in preparation for their performance. Two giant inflatable astronauts flanked the stage and a large screen in the backdrop, “Pri-mus sucks,” was heard again and again.  Albeit an odd welcoming and kick off to the ninth installment of Mountain Jam, it’s hard to imagine a band like Primus filling a headlining spot at a festival (it’s not the first) given that they are not the stereotyped festival band, but it worked.  It would mark the beginning of a long and very strange trip.

Primus is a master of the presentation of music, holding the patent on the craft.  The music is to be heard, and that is what we did, listened.  The band members were cloaked in darkness while the screen played reels of various fitting images in sync with the rhythm.  Appealing to a varied crowd, Primus played some widely known songs such as, “ Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” and encored with “Tommy the Cat.” Appropriately, they included, “My Name is Mud.”   Spirits were soaring high and Primus was no match for the weather.  The dance party was just getting underway on the Healey Brothers Stage with Kung Fu hosting.  The funk-fusion electro-pop quintet was full of energy and simply fun.  The Kung Fu Band handed the baton over to Big Gigantic who kept the party going until the early morning hours.

The second day of the festival was an unfortunate doozy as a result of terrible weather.  Sideways, torrential down pour for hours upon hours dampened spirits, made for a super-saturated ground and prevented many from re-entering the mountain site for more music, at least the majority of the day.  Some folks packed up their camping gear and went home, others stayed in their hotel rooms and streamed the festival and of course there were the purists who ventured out for their must-see-live band of choice.  There were a few positives to the wretched weather.  For one, Mountain Jam is located at a ski lodge which offered a warm place for people to dry off and socialize, complete with a full bar and a cafeteria type food fare.  Albeit, music was sparse except for periodic noodle-ers on a small, corner stage and muffled bass emanating from the attached Healey Brother’s Hall.  Another positive is that Healey Brother’s Hall was jam packed with people getting out of the rain.  Both David Wax Museum and Futurebirds had a large draw, mostly by default.  However, both performances were well received.  Many people started filing back in to the mountainous amphitheater in spite of the continued downpour to catch both Avett Brothers and Widespread Panic.   Mountain Jam organizers accommodated Jammers accordingly by providing towing services for vehicles that became stuck in the mud.  Organizers also laid hay and added stones to more worn pathways.  The stage equipment was protected as well.  Silent Bujak was even moved into the ski lodge to avoid the mud at the Campgrounds Stage. Scott Avett’s energy on stage was exuberant and contagious, not unlike the catchy folk rock sounds of Avett Brothers songs.  The crowd consumed his rawness like they had been held captive and just given permission to release.  He cried out, “The rain/it fell/and we got down” making the old adage, “learn to dance in the rain” ring true as the brothers jumped around dancing, playing, singing and stomping.  The revival was underway.  The Avett Brothers moved through a set of mostly fast tempo songs.  Highlights are the extraordinary vocal harmonization as exemplified in David Childer’s, “The Prettiest Thing.” After a power paced set, the brothers closed out with two slower songs, “I and Love and You” and “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise.” Widespread Panic was highly anticipated as they rarely venture to the northeast.  The sonic sounds emanating from the stage were smooth and mellow and subtly hinting that these fellas were southern rock.  The first set comprised mostly of original songs and the second set consisted of a batch of covers with a few sit-ins.  Both Bill Evans of Soulgrass and Gov’t Mule, and saxaphonist Danny Louis joined Widespread for a rendition of Traffic’s, “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” a popular song choice played multiple times throughout the weekend. Evans stuck around for a “Surprise Valley” sandwich that included a drums segment before moving into Talking Heads’ “Papa Legba” before returning to end “Surprise Valley.”

By the time Saturday rolled around, Jammers were calling upon the sun Goddess, and she answered, finally! Ponchos and boots were traded in for sun-kissed shoulders, pretty little dresses and a jubilant vibration of absolute appreciation.  Saturday meant a full day of music, no exceptions and no excuses.  Swear and Shake, shook the West Stage in a relatively early slot.  Looking dapper in their suits of blue, while the lady of the band, Kari Spieler, sang folk songs in her checkered blue skirt.  It would seem that folks took notice, in a big way, of The Revivalists, a soulful band all the way from New Orleans.  A jam-packed Healey Brother’s Hall for round two was a testament to their music and perhaps gaining a few more fans. Mountain Jam has always been a festival that includes the Woodstock, NY family of musicians and it was only fitting that the Amy Helm Band performs.  Miss Helm invited the cream of the crop to join her on stage with Marco Benevento on keys for the entire set.  Mike and Ruthy, and Connor Kennedy sat in for “Long Black Veil.”  Amy Helm dedicated a song to her daddy as well as others that had passed in The Band with a heartfelt, “It Makes No Difference.”

With Mountain Jam under full swing, the decent weather allowed for all activities to resume.  Vendors were happy people were shopping, food was selling like hot cakes, beer was pouring from the taps and the sky ride was now open.  Riding up the mountain to take in the scenery is always a big hit.  For five dollars, Jammers can relax comfortably on the chair lift, breath in the mountain air and hear their favorite artists’ songs as the sound waves ascend the lush green incline.

Gary Clark Jr. has been at his craft for a while but he is just now breaking through on scene.  His set was full of fire and brimstone but without judgment and eternal damnation.  He is rock and roll and he made sure we knew it.  The Lumineers have expanded their song catalog to include snippets of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bob Dylan’s, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” paying homage to their roots in folk music. Festival host Warren Haynes and his band, Gov’t Mule took the stage as Saturday’s headliner for two sets.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of a festival is the ability of a band to include collaborations and Gov’t Mule was no exception.  Bill Evans played for moe.’s “Opium.”  Gov’t Mule played Creedence Clearwater Revival’s, “Effigy”, adding a “Folsom Prison Blues” jam.  Including an all-star cast of musicians: Bill Evans, Eric Bloom, Neil Evans, Ryan Zoidis, Hook Herrera and Eric Krasno, Gov’t Mule encored with Tom Waits, “Get Behind the Mule.”

As Sunday rolled around, sleepy campers emerged from their tents and shuttle buses dropped off hotel guests ready for another full day of music under the blue skies.  A lively and fun set from both Dispatch and Jackie Greene primed the crowd for the much anticipated closer, Phil Lesh and Friends.  The Friends included: John Scofield on guitar, Joe Russo on drums, Jeff Chementi on keys and of course, Warren Haynes on vocals and guitar.  As always, the last day of a festival is bittersweet.  But, to quote The Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip its been.”

Note: the author was not able to stay for Phil Lesh and Friends due to a work obligation.  It is with hope that those reading this article were able to watch the live stream. Check back tomorrow for Jim Gilbert’s photo gallery of Mountain Jam 2013.