Friday morning beckoned even more fans to Mountain Jam as the Catskills were greeted with blue skies, sunshine and a killer lineup. Festival goers were still establishing campsites and beginning to organize the daily schedule so as not to miss a moment of music. The chair lifts were operational, giving a bird’s eye view of the festival grounds and breathtaking scenery that decorates Hunter Mountain.
One of the top acts of the afternoon was New York’s own and returning act, Spirit Family Reunion brought everything but the kitchen sick. Performing with kitchen utensils and a washboard rhythm, their deeply rooted harmonies provided a funky backwoods start to Friday’s lineup. Trigger Hippy gave a heavy dose of soulful rock and gospel doo wop with Jackie Greene raging on a trifecta of guitar, harmonica and organ. Joan Osborne strutted herself up and down the stage as her sweet voice caused the crowd to sing along. There was no such thing as personal space on that stage as the musicians consistently engaged each other, tightening the music and spreading smiles.
As soon as Trigger Hippy’s set ended, Greene ran one stage over to join four-piece California Soul band, The Mother Hips. Lead by guitarists Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono, they wasted no time wowing the crowd with psychedelic folk melodies and charming desert vocals. A musical festival isn’t complete without a Grateful Dead tribute band and Mountain Jam was lucky to have Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Drummer Joe Russo was front and center as he effortlessly wailed his sticks. The beautiful weather wasn’t meant to last as the traditional rain storm gradually made its way across the mountain. The refreshingly drenched crowd didn’t seem to mind as JRAD performed in sync with the wind and rain.
One of the highlights of the day was rock goddess Grace Potter who paraded on stage after flying in from Minneapolis after performing with The Rolling Stones the night before. “A festival like this is just like a woman, she ain’t the right kind of excited unless she’s WET,” Potter teased the soaked fans as the band erupted into “Queen of my Heart” and “Hot Summer Night” before she quickly threw her beautiful high heels clear across stage. The bare-footed siren was all confidence and soul as she went into a never-before-heard song “Fill Up Your Empty Heart,” a romantically assertive ballad which was quickly fawned over by fans. It was no surprise that Potter’s “Best Friend” Warren Haynes joined her onstage for Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” embracing each other in open arms and classic rock ‘n roll just in time for the sun to peak thru. Another strong female fronted group, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers entertained the audience with folksy songs off their new album, Loved Wild Lost. Her gentle stage presence makes her a class act as she swoons music lovers with “Queen of the Rodeo.” (Full interview coming next week).
The big headliner of the night, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Robert Plant, of Led Zeppelin, gathered a huge crowd that no one could afford to miss. Plant and his Sensational Space Shifters are a multi-instrumental machine that went above any and all fan expectations. Plant’s vocals are still so pristine echoing off the hillside especially for the enchanting lullaby of “Going to California.” Jammers weren’t the only ones happy to be here as Plant said, “It’s good to be back in this part of New York.” Performing a few new tunes for an exotic tribal rhythm was “Little Maggie” off of Plant’s and the SSS’ first album together Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar. Fans of all ages soaked in the familiar chord progressions of psychedelic blues, metal and Appalachia folk from the Zeppelin classics of “Whole Lotta Love” and the encore of “Rock n Roll” all with high peaks and roaring guitar. You can never get enough Zeppelin especially with Zapparella, a four piece all female Led Zeppelin cover band, performing right after Robert Plant at Healey Hall. Their precise timing and female presence spiced up classics such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Trampled Underfoot,” giving a new appreciation for old favorites. Lead vocalist Noelle Doughty said it was “exciting and terrifying” to follow the master, Robert Plant’s set.
The intermission on the East Stage featured progressively hallucinogenic visuals on the main screens before Gov’t Mule presented a special Pink Floyd tribute dubbed Dark Side of the Mule. A thick foggy mist had rolled over the festival, amplifying the light show and heightening the Floyd experience. The keyboardist laid out heavy piano chords throughout the set as Haynes “Warrenized” the excessively stretched out jams. The trio of female vocalists were clear-cut hitting the signature high notes. Folks looking for a more energetic party vibe headed to Healey Hall for the late night set of Dopapod who recharged the crowd with livetronica bliss. Stay tuned to NYSMusic for another day full of music on the mountain with Rusted Root, Rebelution, The Wailers, Gov’t Mule and The Black Keys.