Mountain Jam marked its 15th year by migrating to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, the site of the original 1969 Woodstock Festival. When the change was announced earlier this year, Mountain Jam co-founder Gary Chetkof shared with the Poughkeepsie Journal: “What could be more amazing than Bethel Woods and the home of the Woodstock festival… It was really just a matter of going to the promised land.”
Driving up on Friday (day two of the four day event) I turned off NY Route 17 onto 17B. Headed down this one-lane road affectionately named “The Woodstock Way,” I started to imagine what it was like in 1969 as people abandoned their cars on the road and started walking the final 10 miles to the festival. The closer I got, I could hear Arlo Guthries’s iconic “THE NEW YORK STATE THRUWAY’S CLOSED, MAN!” in my head.
Festival organizers took advantage of the great expanse that Bethel Woods had to offer. The box office was located on the southern perimeter of Bethel Woods in a remote field with tall grass and mud. The flashback was suddenly becoming real. After hiking up a hill toward the festival, I found myself looking out over the site of the original Woodstock. Images of 1969 started flashing before me.
I was quickly brought back to 2019 as I strolled past campers and RV’s of various sizes and shapes with glamping professionals nestled in their folding chairs, munching on BBQ, and consuming their favorite beverages. At the entrance pockets were emptied, bags checked, and metal detector wanding was carried out by security.
Mountain Jam, spelt out in 10-foot tall letters with teepee bookends, greeted me. The sound of music was immediate. The first stage I encountered was the Valley stage, a medium sized stage with a Ferris wheel parked next to it. Acts including The Nude Party, Hollis Brown and Tyler Ramsey performed there. The Valley stage also served as the location for late night jam sessions by Andy Frassco & the U.N. and Consider the Source held on Friday and Saturday nights.
Headed farther into the festival you came upon the Mountain Stage (main pavilion amphitheater) which hosted featured performers Gov’t Mule, Willie Nelson, Dispatch, The Avett Brothers, and Phil Lesh & Friends to name a few. Add to that the Terrace stage; a performance space with seats built into a hillside, VIP stage where special acoustic sets were performed by acts who had played bigger stages earlier that day, and an event gallery space. With this cornucopia of musical riches it made it difficult to chose who and where to go to listen to music. On Saturday and Sunday the Hudson Valley based band Yard Sale busked throughout the site, injecting a free form feeling reminiscent of 1969.
The vibe, the location, the history, the people
Intended to celebrate radio station WDST/Woodstock’s 25th anniversary, Mountain Jam started as a one-day event in 2005 by principle station owner Gary Chetkof and Warren Haynes. After 14 years at Hunter Mountain the decision to move to Bethel Woods was made. A move of 70 miles from its original location at Hunter Mountain, proving to be light years away from the previous home. The vibe from the original three days of Peace and Music festival was palpable. Tie dye, bare feet, singing and dancing was the norm. A “Wish Tree,” part of Yoko Ono’s ongoing Imagine Peace art installation series invited people to make a wish; write it on a piece of paper and attach it to the tree. The on-site security and support staff wore t-shirts with Peace Patrol emblazoned on their backs. Babbling brooks illuminated in multi-colors, open fields and dream catchers situated throughout the site augmented the vibe.
Those in attendance ran the gamut from old to young. Parents were there with their adult children, sitting on the hillside, sharing beers together while new parents introduced their young ones to the experience of live music. Many took advantage of the beautifully maintained grounds of Bethel Woods seaking out remote spots, allowing them to chill out and absorb the spirit that was Woodstock.
In addition to over 40 bands performing at this years Mountain Jam, rock and roll photographer Jay Blakesberg, know as the photographer of the Grateful Dead, shared a slide show telling presentation of his work to a packed event gallery audience. An easy to use Mountain Jam app was available to help you track of all the performers, their set times, locations, and help you plan your daily daily schedule. It also updates you to special activates happening in real time.
A highlight of the festival was Gov’t Mule’s Saturday night appearance (they played Friday night also) paying tribute to the bands that had performed at the original Woodstock festival. Warren Haynes, backed by percussionist Tato Melgar of Lukas Nelson & The Promise of The Real, opened the set with Richie Havens’ “Freedom.” The band’s set included The Who’s “Eye Sight to the Blind,” CSNY’s “Find The Cost Of Freedom,” and Sly Stones “I Want To Take You Higher.” Throughout the night Gov’t Mule was joined on stage by special guests including Lukas Nelson, and Arleigh Kincheloe and Jackson Kincheloe from Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. They ended the evening’s tribute with a blistering encore of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Sight Return).”
Rain did find its way to the festival late Saturday night and sporadically on Sunday, but with all stages having protective covering (the amphitheater has a permanent roof over the seats) the music never stopped. Being the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, who wouldn’t have expected it to rain at some point. After a successful four days and establishing a new location, Mountain Jam has secured the future of Peace & Music in the Hudson Valley.