Grateful for Spring Mountain Sky, Jermyn PA May 12-13, 2017

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So I have been hearing about Mountain Sky in Northeast Pennsylvania (NEPA) for quite some time and thought it was high time I went and checked out the place.  So we packed up my wife’s clothing vending booth ( for the finest in festival wear) and took the nearly 5 hour trek from our central New England homestead.  After we stopped for dinner, later stopped for gas and coffee and locked the keys in the new van (Triple A had us worked out in one hour, easy peasy) and a very short trip off of the interstate, we were pulling into Mountain Sky. It was Thursday night and the festival wasn’t officially opening for another twelve hours, but the lack of people milling around was a harbinger of the casual and easy going nature of this crew.

We met the folks we needed to meet (the crew up there is great from Ragu to Mike to Penny, Rachel and many other really great people) and staked out our vending spot.  A quick night of rest in the van and we were raring to go the next day. Gates opened at 11 AM and people started to arrive.  The forecast was a bit rough, but the spirits of those coming not be dampened as they shook off an entire winter’s worth of cabin fever and were reveling in meeting up with friends and festival family.

The main stage started up around 3 PM with Chris Mullineaux in a power trio lineup.  His set was surprisingly good- sure there were Dead covers but there was a lot of ground covered, my favorite being a cover of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game.  It was unexpected, catchy and just a really great read of keeping the crowd on their toes and entertained.

From the video channel of Michael Lehman. 

There was a second stage set up outside called the ‘camp’ stage where Friends of the Family came next, which was another surprise.  The band was folky and spirited with some combination of guitars drums and flute.  As a sometimes cranky and curmedgeonly fest veteran I can be pessimistic, and I was ready to scoff at them for no reason- but I was pleasantly surprised, they were good, people were engaged, and the band was on point.  Nicely done!

The day continued with Mountain Sky Orchestra, a Dead tribute made up of friends of the festival and property and were followed by Riffmatik on the camp stage.  Riffmatik were also engaging and more youthful, in the classic PA slightly tronic upbeat jam band sorta way.

This naturally gave way to that night’s headliner, Flux Capacitor.

From the video channel of Michael Lehman.

Being from Reading PA and having a bit of a home base at the River Street Jazz Cafe which is in nearby Plains PA- Flux Capacitor had the biggest crowd and the most attention of Friday night.  They came out and were sound checking which spilled into a tune up jam- which spilled into a very purposeful song..  “Hey wait, are they playing already?”  I don’t know if it was impromptu or a song that was fully established already but I was greeted with sick jams, guitar riffs flying everywhere and the band sing chanting “Mountain Sky” to warm up the crowd and the sound system.

What unfolded were two classic sets of Flux Capacitor.  Highlights included a spirited Happy’s Vaporizer, the Grateful Dead’s and classic American song Viola Lee Blues, Flux original Lights Out, and a song I was not yet familiar with called Frogs.  Lead singer and eldest brother Pete Specht was battling a cold and sore throat but his energy was still quite high.  He gestured and thrashed while ripping countless amazing guitar leads.  Also being the singer you would think that the sore throat would challenge him, and it did, but he often made smart choices, changing the vibe and  energy of a vocal section to compliment his vocal mood rather than to battle it, not necessarily emulating the way they had always done the song before but quickly making slightly new arrangements to fit his abilities that day.  I was very impressed by that alone.

The crowd embraced Flux Capacitor and they were the musical highlight of that day, capturing the crowd with two full sets.  The air was getting cooler but the hot jams didn’t stop as they geared up for an after show inside the building.

Jami Novak’s Inner Space Project was another all star lineup of people close with the festival and it was appropriate that Novak led the group as he was all over the festival that weekend playing drums with half of the bands appearing.  Alas, we were pretty bushed, and retired to the van for the night but we could hear the jams starting and building as we drifted off to slumber.

Saturday dawned with some pretty damp conditions.  We were fine as the tent and tarp system prepared by my lady was fully intact and functioning and the van provided dry sleeping conditions. Festivarians were starting to life and greet the day, coffee was consumed, and our neighboring food booth was starting to attract folks.

Another friends of the property band fired up, Diane Brigido & Friends, providing a folky start to the day. Instead of battling the elements on the camping stage, the festival hosts wisely moved that stage inside to where the after party had been last night.  Charles Havira band was another regional all star ensemble, this day featuring Dylan Skursky (Cabinet) on bass.  I caught some of their set on the wind while we were busy in the booth clothing the populace.

Novak returned with his Village Idiots, a Grateful ensemble whose set that day was a focus on JGB material.  The Jakobs Ferry Stragglers caught people’s attention inside in the mid afternoon, and then the defacto headliner was taking the stage late in the cloudy rainy afternoon.

John Kadlecik was setting up his Acousti’Lectric show and you could feel the anticipation in the crowd.  One of the heroes of this scene was coming to their neck of the woods and fans were ready to show their appreciation.  After some quick sound checking Kadlecik fired out about ninety minutes of song oriented material.  He mixed the expected Grateful Dead material with his own work and while there was certainly appreciation for the grateful songbook, I noticed the equal admiration for his original material.  I talked to one fan who listed off his favorite JK material, and was eagerly awaiting, and was rewarded heartily by Kadlecik’s performance.

This ‘headlining’ act continued as night fell and the lights came up and bathed the audience.  Another regional Dead ensemble, Stronger than Dirt- took the stage but this time with Kadlecik contributing vocals and guitar.

Upon first hearing Phil Lesh and Friends back in the 1990s in Eugene Oregon I remarked it was as if Phil opens a magic box and whomever his friends are that night get caught up in the magic that is released.  The same was true of Kadlecik, who opened up his own magic suitcase and helped to transform Stronger than Dirt into an accomplished and strong Dead tribute.   Something about the vocal harmonies, the signature riffs, the exact guitar effects- all came together to catapult Stronger than Dirt into an enviable Grateful ensemble.

From the Feels Like a Stranger opener (amazingly appropriate with stranger Kadlecik sitting in) through a song that Kadlecik normally performs in his bands Tin Roof Shack to the set closing Don’t Ease Me In this band welcomed that stranger and together they put out an incredibly strong performance.

Kadlecik departed during their set break and you could just really tell that StD had had a great set personally.  They continued with this upbeat energy in their own second set, sans Kadlecik.  It would be unfair to say that there was a difference musically between the sets- as you would assume that to be the case fairly- and StD certainly kept up a great vibe for another solid set.  You could easily have missed the strength of their ringer, but the Stronger than Dirt maintained a high energy and their own take on the Grateful Dead during their set that closed the main stage.

Once again we were pretty tuckered out ourselves, but for those who were not there was another late night set by Raibred inside the main building.  The rain broke sometime during the night and we woke up to a soggy but sunny festival site.  The hosts were happy, and while everyone would have loved more people at the party it seemed like there was plenty enough people to create the Mountain Sky atmosphere.

We coffeed up, sold clothing to more people on the way out, and were on our way around noon. Our first visit to Mountain Sky was a great success in terms of seeing a place we hadn’t seen, meeting and socializing with a great crew of people, seeming some super positive jams, and feeling like we joined a new family.

Mountain Sky has a boatload of events planned for the coming season from a country fest to a reggae fest, more Grateful inspired jam events, an electronic jam leaning event end of August (where there will be DJs and a return of Flux  Capacitor) and a Still Grateful fest in the Fall.  It’s definitely worth checking out their full lineup and supporting this great crew who are creating an incredibly picturesque and welcoming place.

To submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the Live Music News and Facebook page for updates and announcements.