Saturday was one of the best days at Mountain Jam with endless blue skies, electric green Catskills and another day full of incredible music to ponder. The thousands of festival goers happily greeted the day, feeling recharged as they hiked up the mountain with arms full of drinks, blankets, chairs and sunscreen.
It’s a brilliant concept to have vendors walking thru the music area, dragging coolers of cheap water and Gatorade, ensuring the best policy to rage is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
One of the most charming acts of the afternoon was Benjamin Booker, who brought an earthy back roads set on the West Stage with his sincere loud whisper of a voice. The violin and mandolin added a bluegrass tinge as Booker wailed on his guitar for a dirty rockabilly feel.
A light-hearted, upbeat island ambiance grew from the East Stage and climbed up Hunter Mountain as Rusted Root performed their worldly jams reminiscent of the 1990s. Michael Glabicki nearly broke his strings as he beat the hell out of his guitar and Patrick Norman laid out deep bass bombs. The music is a light mixture of Alice and Chains set in the Outback with a cowbell and washboard. It was Rusted Root’s first time at Mountain Jam and they were eager to share music from their latest album with “Save Me.” It was a new age funky groove with high vocals from Liz Berlin, a heavy percussion solo and frog-in-throat vocal effect from Glabicki. The set ended with their top hit, “Send Me on My Way,” that got the whole mountain stomping before casually coming down with an acoustic serenade.
Texas native, Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known as Shakey Graves, dominated the West Stage. Performing with a drummer and bass player for most of the set, Graves was left alone for a few songs to be the one-man band he is infamous for. The trio gave off a high energy, down home fun as they jumped with rodeo flair all over the stage. Rebelution brought the West Coast vibe with their swells of brass, beach like melodies and layers of hip hop. An enthusiastic traditional reggae sound with skater park boundless horn peaks. The Rasta atmosphere blazed thru the day as The Wailers awakened the crowd with deeply rooted, rock steady reggae. They performed Bob Marley classics such as “Is This Love?”, “Could You Be Loved?” and “Stir it Up,” spreading island vibes all over the mountain and feeding off the crowd’s radiating appreciation. Festival partner and veteran, Warren Haynes took center stage for a second night with his band, Govt Mule. After the previous night of Dark Side of the Mule, many were looking forward to a set of original Mule tunes that as in the tradition of the festival. One of the highlights of the set was a nostalgic “Million Miles From Yesterday” with special sit ins from Elaine Caswell and Machan Taylor plus a Stevie Wonder’s cover of “Superstition”.
Once the sun went down under the mountain, the temperature significantly dropped causing many to immediately layer up and wrap themselves in each other in hopes to keep warm. The clear night sky revealed hundreds of stars and the captivating color changing forest surrounding the festival grounds. As bitter cold as it was, the sight was breathtaking. Headliner of the night, The Black Keys packed a heated set as drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist Dan Auerbach threw down a hard-hitting rock and roll session. The duo was joined by Richard Swift and John Wood for to create a powerful violent surge of solos that blew the roof off the East Stage. Carney and Auerbach shine best as a duo, proving all you need is a drum kit and guitar to move mountains. Thrashing about the stage with a soul-absorbing sound, it’s no wonder that the Black Keys are considered rock giants, having earned multiple Grammy Awards and platinum albums. The crowd screamed along with dusty garage favorites “Lonely Boy” and “Howlin’ For You,” soaking up the raw talent before them.
The Main Lodge served as a great refuge for the hour set break for those eager to warm up with a full bar, plenty of table seating and an art gallery featuring show posters and photography. Arc Iris took over the Healey Hall with eccentric girl next door pop with a twist of sorcery plus an impressive stand-up electric bassist. The Budos Band closed out the Hall with heavy metal horns and dark ska, sound beckoning the crowd closer to the small stage with big band momentum.
Big Gigantic was one of the top acts of the night with the heavy EDM tunes pumping out classic hip hop mashups with new school flavor. They are closest thing the festival saw to a rave, with hurtling glow sticks and peaks of bass drops that kept security on their toes. The electronic duo from Colorado featured Jeremy Salken pounding the hell out of his drums and Dominic Lalli doing his best Kenny G jazz saxophone work while jamming on his laptop, cranking out funky bass. The final day of Mountain Jam approaches with a buzzing lineup of Lake Street Dive, Amy Helm & The Handsome Strangers, returning act Michael Franti & Spearhead plus headliners Alabama Shakes. Stay tuned for our Sunday Recap of the festival with closing thoughts on the 11th annual Mountain Jam.