Mountain Jam

Hunter NY

June 6 – 9 2013

review by Jeff Stapleton

We arrived at Hunter Mountain on Thursday around 5:00 pm and it had been raining for about a steady hour.  I came with my 2 buddies who make it our annual getaway from “reality” and leave the wives & kids at home.  It’s our 3rd Mountain Jam so we aren’t quite veterans yet, but are getting there.  I was dreading the parking situation.  I knew from research that it was going to be a mess and it was even worse than I imagined.  They added a new Car Camping dimension this year, which means that they turned the old parking lot into additional campsites.

The usual campsites are up on the mountain, which is a good hike from the entrance.  Now by adding car camping, this meant that you had to park a few miles away with your car unattended, leave someone in the rain with all of your gear at the gate, shuttle back after you park your car & then either drag your gear up the mountain or find a golf cart taxi to bring you & your stuff up the mountain and pay them 25 dollars taboot. We felt the taxi was well worth the 25.  There were some unhappy campers we spoke to.  Some didn’t know this was going to happen.  At least we did, but it was still rough.  We didn’t get our tent set up until about 2 hours after we arrived.  I knew once we finally got this out of the way, it was game on. The Mountain was more packed then it’s ever been on a Thursday.  In the past Thursday was just the pre-party, but this year they made it more.

With Primus headlining you knew that the masses would come out.  We couldn’t find a camp spot lower on the mountain which is a closer walk to the stage, so instead decided on right near the top of the mountain, which is about as far from the stage as you can get.  It was our best bet for staying somewhat dry since they were calling for rain Thursday night & all day Friday.  It was a good spot and we were ready to start our journey.

Rubblebucket was the first band on the main stage when we got there.  I would call myself a fan of them.  Saw them in January and they were a blast.  I wasn’t feeling their set as much as I normally would.  It probably didn’t help that we didn’t get down there until about halfway through.   It was raining pretty good at the time and we just couldn’t get into it.  I think they would have been better off inside the Healy Brothers Hall stage, which is the only stage of the festival that is inside. It would have made it easier for them to engage with the audience and get the party started.  I also think they would be a perfect late night band.

Next we rushed over to see The 4ontheFloor inside and glad we did.  They were about 15-20 minutes into their set and hitting hard with their beer drinking, foot stomping, and sing along style.  It made for a good party.  I would definitely see them again.  They set the tone for the mighty Primus. It was time for Primus and we were ready.

I haven’t seen Primus since 1997 HORDE tour and they are a different band now.  We were jacked up and had a nice spot. “Primus sucks” chants were in process. My buddy looked at me and said “It’s time to get weird.” The rain was coming down pretty good but didn’t faze anyone that was there.  Their set was incredible.  From the Tweakers opener to Les’ “brownie story” to the cartoons on the screen, to the long jams and the very appropriate “My Name is Mud,” they killed it.  Would have liked to see the 4-D show, but that is pretty hard to pull off on a rainy mountain.  If someone asked you to describe Primus it isn’t an easy thing to do.  They are a dark, weird, funky, trippy, crazy band of pranksters from another planet.  But that’s what makes them Primus.

The night was still young and Kung Fu was jamming the Hall out.  It was nice and dry over there, and Kung Fu was on FIRE.  It was my first time seeing them and they were beyond funky.  It was just what the doctor ordered.  We took off back to the main stage a little before they ended because Big Gigantic was ready to go on and my buddies really wanted to see them.  Personally, I would have stayed to see the rest of Kung Fu if it was my call, but no worries.  It was a long weekend. Big Gigantic were a perfect late night choice with their electronic funk combined with saxophone & percussion.  The rain wasn’t bad at the time and they were really getting the mountain moving.  You could feel the bass all through your bones.  I’m not a big electronic dance music fan but it was a perfect way to kick off the weekend whether it’s your thing or not.  We were as far up front as you could go and we stayed until the end.  It was around 3 am when we decided to wander way back up the mountain to our tents.

Our neighbors closest by were sitting under their easy up tent and we decided to join them.  Last thing I remember is my buddy waking me up in a chair telling me I should go in the tent.  I was glad he did that. Friday the forecast called for rain all day and all night and it wasn’t wrong.  We warmed up at camp for a while with a few cocktails to get us ready to face the weather and rock out.  Roadkill Ghost Choir was playing at 2 pm but it wasn’t happening.  It was much dryer at camp and we were having a good time.  Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers came on next, at 3:15 and we missed them too.  Our group, which now included some neighbors, decided to go down at 4:00 to see Deer Tick and stay down from there.  It was a good plan. When Deer Tick started playing at the West Stage, (its right next to the Main/East Stage) it was raining pretty well but spirits were high.

For me personally, Friday night was my favorite night of bands. I saw Deer Tick in 2008, but missed some of their set because they were an opening act which I regretted.  They came out a little slow at first but really kicked it into gear once they warmed up.  My buddy said he was not impressed with them after a few songs, but by the end he changed his mind.  They broke out “Breed” by Nirvana about halfway through their set and everyone lost their shit.  The Mountain was rocking.  I was a little disappointed they didn’t play “Mange (song kicks so much ass, not sure why they don’t play it every time),” “Houston, TX” or “Let’s All Go to the Bar.”  The first line of “Let’s All Go to the Bar” says “I don’t care if it rains…..”  would have had a nice reaction.  I think maybe they were too drunk to think of it.  Whether they were sober or not, Deer Tick put on an epic set in the rain.  Our group was really buzzing at that point. Next The Avett Brothers took the Main Stage and the rain was still coming.  The mud was unavoidable, but it wasn’t an issue for me.  I accepted the fact along time ago that I was getting muddy and wet.  I remember thinking to myself “just don’t fall down.” That’s not what I needed.  I managed to stay on my feet.  Our spot was a little higher up than I normally prefer, but it was a nice spot in the middle of a hill with plenty of room to dance. 

The Avetts had everyone smiling and moving to the sounds.  During “Murder in the City” it was a little emotional for me when Scott Avett mentions his daughter.  It made me miss my little girl even more.  Highlight for me was when they played “Laundry Room” since they didn’t play it at 2011 Mountain Jam.  The whole set was very enjoyable.  There wasn’t anyone with us who wasn’t feeling good by the time they ended.

The next move for me was a no brainer.  I have been listening to Futurebirds ever since I heard they were on the bill and have been really into them.  I was looking forward to seeing them. I’ve heard really good things about their shows.  Half the group went back to camp to get ready for Panic at 8:00 and the other half went to see Futurebirds inside the Hall.  Best choice we made all weekend.  For one, it was nice and dry, and for two, Futurebirds KILLED IT. The energy and chemistry they had was phenomenal.  They were having a ton of fun on stage too.  They were leaning on each other during guitar solos, rolling around the ground, jumping off the stage and just having a blast up there.  The audience was too.  The vibe of the hall was great and I feel bad for the many Panic fans that missed it because they were pre-gaming for Panic.  It was one of my favorite sets of the weekend.  I will not miss them when they come in my area from now on and I would love to see them play a full set.   Asked a bunch of people later at the festival if they caught their set and not many did.  That was their loss for sure! Panic had started already when we got out of the Hall.  We decided to go back up to camp and take a break since they were playing for 4 hours.  Well, my buddies went in their tents and were done for the night.  I started passing out in my other neighbor’s chair; when he woke me up and said they were going down to see Panic.

I’m glad he did it because this would be my first time seeing them and White Denim played after them who I was also excited to see.  Panic was flowing and the mountain masses were really into it.  The highlight for me was when they kept teasing “Riders on the Storm” during one tune.  The rain was coming down hard at that point and I lost my people I came down with so I wasn’t into it as much as I could have been.  They played an awesome set nonetheless, but I was ready to go back to the Hall and see White Denim. I went to see White Denim by myself and got a spot right up front. White Denim has a psychedelic, 70’s garage band sound that is unpredictable but mind blowing at the same time.  Their 2011 album “D” might have been my favorite album of that year.  You can tell that they really enjoy playing together.  The chemistry and technical expertise that they bring to the table is off the charts.  The night was becoming blurry long before this point, but I do remember being in the zone for them.  They did play “At the Farm” which is one of the best jams out there right now if you ask me.  They took me and the rest of the crowd through uncharted waters and brought us back to the Hall safely.  It was a nice trip.  They are similar to Futurebirds because of the fact that their songs in studio sound good, but live are on another level.  Both bands have incredible energy that is very addicting to anyone in attendance. 

I was about ready to fall over by the time they finished.  I was SPENT.  It was another amazing set that most people I talked to said they didn’t see.  Glad I had the pleasure of being there.   I walked back over to the main stage and it was still raining.  Conspirator was bringing it but I done.  It was a little before 3 in the morning and I was proud of myself for hanging in there on a tough but great night.  I wandered back to camp and surprisingly found my tent pretty easy.  Getting into the tent was another story.  It was way harder than it should have been.  I can’t imagine how more tired I would have been if we went down earlier to see Roadkill Ghost Choir and/or Nicki Bluhm. Probably wouldn’t have made it to The Avetts. I’m the type that really gets into the music that I like, and it takes a lot of energy out.  It’s the only way I know. 

I later heard that many people didn’t come down for most of the music or people with hotels and condos didn’t even come back to the festival because of the rain.  Heard some even watched the live stream on computer from a warm, sheltered area.  Well, those people missed out, because Friday night was one of the most fun festival nights I’ve ever experienced.  The rain didn’t bother me at all until the end of Panic.  I was too busy feeling good. Saturday, most people awoke smiling mostly because of the fact that the forecast said “no rain” for Saturday and Sunday.  We had a blast in the rain so far, but another day of nonstop rain would have been tough. It was time for some much needed sun.  Some suggested it was because Michael Franti had arrived.  Franti has a history at Hunter Mountain of making the clouds part to sunshine and beautiful weather.  There was even a rainbow present during his set last year when the weather was horrible all day before he came on. Saturday the first act we caught was the aforementioned Michael Franti & Spearhead. 

I was a little disappointed that we missed The Revivalists at 1:00 & SIMO at 2:00 but what can you do?  The Revivalists had another set later in the Hall right before Mule so we had another chance to catch them.  SIMO is a newcomer to the scene and is already making noise.  He grew up in Chicago but is now based of Nashville, TN.  His sound is something of a cross between Led Zeppelin & the Black Keys, and features 3 pieces.  I’m hoping I have another chance to see them in the near future.

When you watch Franti you know if nothing else you’re gonna feel good.  He makes sure of it.  His set is pretty similar every year but he never has a problem getting the crowd jumping.  The Mountain Jam crowd isn’t always the most enthusiastic crowd, but when Franti plays they always seem to wake up and let themselves go.  We were a ways up in the crowd and since Franti usually comes right out in the crowd, i was thinking “He won’t come this far out.”  Well he did, twice.  I had my arm around him at one point.  He brought Warren out for a song or two which drew plenty of cheers.  All and all a solid set that had everybody smiling and moving.  I’ve heard people complaining that his set is always the same and it’s a little cheesy, but I say that when Franti takes the stage it’s like what church should be like and everybody comes together to celebrate life.

Next we headed back to camp to regroup and came back down to see Gary Clark Jr. on the West Stage.  Missed a couple of his songs, but made it down to see most of it.  He was shredding like he usually does on the guitar.  Saw him last year for my first time at MJ and was very impressed.  Set wasn’t much different but still pretty amazing.  Highlights for me included his hit “Bright Lights” & Jimi Hendrix cover “Third Stone from the Sun” on which he puts some of his own flavor.  He actually features the Hendrix cover on his most recent album “Blak & Blue.”   The people in our group that never saw him before loved his set. We headed over before Gary Clark Jr. was done to the Main/East Stage to get a good spot for Lumineers, which is fine because it’s right next to the West Stage. 

The Lumineers came out strong and sounded nice.  I talked to a few Mountain Jam vets who weren’t giving them any love because they were “poppy.”  I think their hit song “Hey Ho” turned a lot of people off because it is so overplayed.  But they do have other good songs.  The way I look at it is not every band is a jam band and you can’t kill bands for getting accepted to the mainstream.  It is a debate that will last forever, drawing that thin line of cool band vs mainstream band and selling out.  Either way, I had a great time at Lumineers.  They played mostly catchy originals and threw in some covers that included “Subterranean Homesick Blues”(Dylan), “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”(CCR) & “This Must Be the Place”(Talking Heads).  The Lumineers engaged with the crowd really well and even came out for a song or two.  They seemed very sincere and real.  They had a great vibe, everyone around our area; even people we didn’t know were dancing together and getting along really well. Next, the group decided to go back to camp to get ready for Mule. 

The New Orleans band The Revivalists, were playing inside and I wanted to check them out.  No one in our group was up for it so I just decided to go to camp with them.  It’s a decision I regret.  I heard many people talking about them Sunday so I should have went in on my own.  Oh well, they are coming to my area (Syracuse, NY) in a month or so, so I am thinking of making up for it.  It wasn’t a bad idea to go up and pre-game for Mule, but half of the group didn’t make it back down. So we were off to see Mule with a smaller group than earlier but it was all good.  On the way down we encountered a major buzz kill, when we saw about 5 security guards roughing up a kid and pinning him on the ground.  Not sure what he did, but they seemed to think he was a threat.  He was screaming something awful.  It’s hard to say whether they went overboard because we didn’t see what happened, but 5 guys is a little excessive.  Trying to shake off the negativity of that scene and getting into Mule mode, we found a spot that looked good and started getting into the opener, “Broke Down By the Brazos”, which is one of my favorite Mule songs.  I am not a die hard Gov’t Mule fan, like many Mountain Jammers, but do respect them and what they bring to the table. 

We ran into some past MJ buddies during their set who are HUGE Mule heads, so we like watching Warren & company with them every year.  It was good to see them because up to that point, we didn’t hang with them much and there was only one day left.  Heard hardcore Mule fans talking after that they played too many ballads and they weren’t crazy about the set, but I thought they were solid.  Highlight for me is when they played Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.”  The distorted vocals were on point. We slid on over to the West Stage to check out Soulive, who was one of the late night acts after Mule. 

Soulive played to the wee hours and had us grooving the whole time.  It was a beautiful night and we didn’t want the music to end.  I don’t get why Mountain Jam ends the music at 3 am every year.  If they had bands playing until dawn we would have been there Saturday night and I’m sure many others would have as well.  We had no clue where the Silent Disco was located, but it didn’t matter because that only lasted until 3 as well.  I would think they would have the Silent Disco from 3-5, which would be after the late night acts.  I mean, after all, it is SILENT.  Makes too much sense I guess.  It would have been nice to experience the silent disco for my first time.   Woke up Sunday and the sun was shining bright.  It was looking like it would be a beautiful day.  We decided we were going to leave at some point on Sunday night instead of staying over until Monday like some campers were doing.  We walked around the festival more than we did on any other day to check out shops and things and also rode the chairlift for the first time in our 3 years of attending.  It was a well spent 5 bucks.  It really makes you appreciate the mountain even more.  ALO was playing at the time and we could hear them pretty clearly.  They busted out “Barbeque” which is probably my favorite song by them and made for a truly memorable moment. 

London Souls took the West Stage next and we caught the end of their set.  I heard later on that their bass player passed out with heat exhaustion or something right before they went on, so the guitar player, Eric Krasno from Soulive sat in on bass for a few songs.  I wouldn’t have mind seeing more of them.  They have played Mountain Jam more than once and are fan favorites. Dispatch came on after that and we found a spot towards the front of the East Stage.  Their vibe reminds me of a few beach bums who jam together on the side, even though they are based in Boston.  If you close your eyes they take you to your favorite tropical location with their reggae/jammy style.  They actually broke up from 2002 to 2011 and I was afraid I wouldn’t get a chance to see them play again.  I was glad when I heard they were on the Mountain Jam IX bill.   They played mostly catch originals and even threw in a little taste of “Friend of the Devil.”  Highlights for me were there newer tune “Broken American” & older songs “Flying Horses” & “Elias” which they closed with.  It was the last full set that we would see and depression started to set in knowing that we didn’t have much longer left.

Jackie Greene came on next and we actually ended up missing his whole set to go back to camp.  While at camp we packed up our gear and decided to go down to see Phil for a few songs then head out.  The new parking situation was about a 3 hour project and we had around a 4 hour drive ahead of us.  We wanted to at least see a little of Phil before we took off.  His “friends” consisted of Warren Haynes, John Scofield, Joe Russo and Jeff Chimenti.  I was surprised when I heard that Jackie Greene didn’t come out at all on vocals.  We did get to hear their incredible version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and decided to leave shortly after.  It was tough missing Phil & Friends since I haven’t seen them in 10 years or so but it was still an epic weekend.

There was a point where my buddies and I were debating on visiting another festival next year instead of Mountain Jam, because of how the weather seems to be less than stellar every year.  We only do one festival a year these days, mainly due to the domesticated environment that we are in.  I still try to see as many day shows as possible though.  We ultimately decided that Mountain Jam is “home” and there is no other festival we would rather be at next year.  Every year we meet more great people and are starting to know quite a bit of annual Mountain Jammers.  Besides, it will be the 10th Anniversary so we are expecting big things.   


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