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Mountain Jam 2011

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A few weeks ago I attended the seventh annual Mountain Jam at Hunter Mountain in New York.  It was my first time at this, or any “jam band” festival; in fact, the only other jam band I have ever seen live is Dave Matthews Band.  This was also my first time going to a festival for more than one day, and although I was not familiar with most of the bands, I was very impressed by the music as well as the festival as a whole.

For me, one of the most memorable performances was Friday’s headliner, Warren Haynes Band.  Haynes is the producer of the festival and performs every year.  This year he headlined both Friday and Saturday nights and played as a guest with many of the other musicians as well.  For this performance, I decided to get up from my seat on the lawn and make my way to the front of the crowd with my brother, who is a true music fanatic, and some of his friends who are big fans of Warren’s.  I was told before I went that Warren Haynes is one of the great guitarists of our time.  They were right.  Every single time he played he was unbelievable.  His fans were also a lot of fun to be around.  One of the people standing behind me told me that all together, he has probably seen “Uncle Warren” close to 200 times – unbelievable.  That night, he played for four hours, two two-hour sets.  What was so amazing about him was that after four hours, I could have gone for more.  He was just that good.

The late night performance that night was Lotus.  I had never heard of them before but my brother told me that I had to stay at the festival for them, and I’m really glad I did.  They were a lot of fun.  It almost reminded me of being at a rave or techno concert, but it focused more on the music.  The instrumentals were great, which is rare for music of this type.

On Saturday, I got to the mountain in time to see Mavis Staples.  She was definitely good, and I think that it’s important that I saw her because she is such a legend, but her music didn’t really make me want to stand up or dance.  What I liked most about her is that after so many years of being in the industry, she still has such a great voice.  It was also great to see how much she clearly loved being on stage and performing.  Overall while she definitely didn’t give my favorite performance, it’s always nice to see someone who has had such a long career.

After Mavis Staples was Portugal. The Man.  Before I even saw them, I knew I was going to love them because of the way their name is written.  Portugal. The Man is just SO much better than if it were just Portugal The Man.  I was also looking forward to seeing them because they were noted as being perhaps the most  unexpected choice for the festival’s line-up since they’re not a jam band.  I stayed in my lawn seat by the other stage for this band because I wanted to have my good seat for the Avett Brothers, but after listening to them I definitely regret my choice.  They put on a really fun and interesting show.  It also would definitely have been nice to see something different from what I had been hearing the rest of the weekend.  They’re a really talented band and they definitely have a lot to offer.  They’re original.  I hope I get the opportunity to see them again.

Though I regret not having seen Portugal. The Man up close, I do not regret keeping my good seat for the Avett Brothers.  They are Mountain Jam regulars, and they were AWESOME.  I think that their awesomeness came partly from their amazing fans.  They were all so much fun- everyone was dancing and jumping around and it brought such a great energy.  I like them a lot but I don’t know them well enough to consider myself a huge fan–I was jumping and dancing too.  They played a lot of fun songs and they brought out a banjo which the audience really loved.  I think that the banjo is making a definite comeback and the Avett Brothers did a great job with it.

Next was Michael Franti and Spearhead.  They’re actually one of the bands I was more familiar with because of that silly song that was so popular on z100 – “Say Hey (I Love You),” and I would have been the first person to tell you that I wasn’t a fan of theirs.  I’m almost embarrassed to say this because of that one song, but they were really great.  The crowd absolutely loved him and he played his songs with SO much more energy than on his recorded albums.  Before I would have said that his music is mundane, but his live performance definitely made me change my opinion.  I’m not saying that I’m going to go out and buy his next record, but I definitely would be happy to see him on another festival lineup.

Warren Haynes headlined Saturday night too, but this time he was with his band, Gov’t Mule.  I didn’t think I could have more good things to say about Warren Haynes than I did the night before but Gov’t Mule gave a truly unbelievable show- one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen.  The best part of their show was their chemistry.  They’re a band who has been playing together for a really long time and it showed.  Most of the concerts I go to are with newer bands and the fact that they know each other so well made a huge difference.  Their were so many talented artists on the stage.  At one point I think that four different instruments were going back and forth doing solos for twenty minutes.  It was really awesome to watch them.  I was standing by the front during this set too, and I had the best time.  This was, by far, my favorite part of the festival.

The next day was less exciting for me.  I saw Grace Potter and the Nocturnals for my first time, and honestly, I like their songs better on the albums.  It’s fun to watch her though because she’s so pretty and having such a great time.  She definitely knows how to perform and get the audience’s attention.  I just wish I had liked the way her songs sounded better.

One of my favorite performances was an unusual one.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans was really talented.  I enjoy listening to jazz music but I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan- they gave a really awesome performance.  They did a really long rendition of “St. James Infirmary,” which included so many different and great versions of the song.  I loved this because one semester at school I was part of a band and I sang this song with them.  They did a really awesome job with it.  Most of the other songs were unfamiliar to me, except they did play “You are My Sunshine,” which the crowd really liked.

The last performance of the concert on Sunday night was My Morning Jacket.  I had never seen them live, but I like their music and my brother talked about them almost twenty-four hours per day in the weeks leading up to the concert.  I really enjoyed their set.  They played a lot of great songs, and the few that I know they did a really, really great job with.  I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but according to my brother they played a really unusual set: They catered to Mountain Jam and “jammed a lot harder than they normally do.”  Though I didn’t know this at the time, I think it’s great to do different sets when you’re performing for different crowds.  It keeps it interesting and you’re not just doing the same thing over and over again all the time.

As for the festival itself…

The crowd  included a combination of “Dead Heads,” hippies, and wannabe-hippie-posers.  (I fell into the third category.)  There was no shortage of tie-dye, flowery skirts, and the smell of pot permeated the mountain air for three days straight.  There were people of all ages, all types.  Some were on every drug in the book, and others were completely sober.  Everyone was really nice and friendly and young or old, drugged out or not, just wanted to have a good time.

In spite of all the peace and love, however, capitalism reigned.  I thought that hippies were supposed to be totally grungy, but it’s expensive to be a hippie these days!  My slice of pizza inside the festival cost five dollars, and a beer cost six.  It was totally ridiculous, especially since everyone at the festival seemed to promote weaving your own clothing and growing your own food and pot.  Oh well…

Overall, I had a really great time and it was a fun experience.  The music was great and it was definitely something to see!

Hopefully I’ll get to Lollapalooza this summer.

Ciao, until next!