As the sun dipped below Hunter Mountain on Sunday evening at the Mountain Jam festival, the Allman Brothers Band ripped into a rowdy version of “Statesboro Blues,” that familiar guitar riff echoing through the peaks and valleys of the Catskills. After an hour of slower jams, it was the crowd pleaser fans needed as the cool mountain air picked up force, tussling the dread-headed masses and sending chills down their dirt-smeared bodies. Guitarist Derek Trucks, who rocked with the Allmans throughout the set, took the intro while Gregg Allman handled lead vocals and produced a particularly nasty keyboard solo midway through the cut.
Trucks, a slide guitar God, and Gov’t Mule guitarist Warren Haynes traded short-but-tasty licks on the classic “Soulshine,” and while Haynes is in his own right a master guitar player, Trucks stole the show with his seemingly effortless solos, all delivered stone-faced and with a humble nod. He barely acknowledged the crowd, but with all the hooting, hollering and applause, he knew he was the man of the evening.
A psychedelic mushroom revolved around purple, pink and blue spinning patterns on the backdrop through the entirety of the Allman’s set and that seemed to sum up the crowd’s vibe: trip, dance and don’t worry about eating anything more than a few garlic grilled cheese sandwiches until Monday morning.
Between the warmth of the daytime sunlight and the near-freezing evening temperatures, the weather had to have taken a toll on the festival-goers. Rain can’t seem to stay away from the Radio Woodstock WDST-sponsored Mountain Jam, now in it’s fifth year, its third with camping at the Hunter Mountain ski resort. This year, thankfully, the rainfall was relatively light and only came down with any real significance on Friday afternoon. And after hauling gear up to the top of the bunny slope on the western side of the mountain by way of a rocky and pothole-laden path, the rain seemed like a nice gift from Mother Earth. The tents stayed dry and the ground didn’t morph into the sneaker-stealing mud that plagues so many summer festivals. And for those who were a little too tipsy to handle the slick pathways, golf-cart “cabs” gladly drove campers for five bucks a head or a few pulls off a joint.
Rain couldn’t keep the heat off of Porter Batiste & Stoltz early afternoon set on Friday. The New Orleans funk trio kept it steamy for the early arrivals, with “Get On Down” keeping the fans twirling and closer “I Get High” prompting a sing-a-long and a large, looming clowd of weed smoke. Tea Leaf Green kept things jammy with their hour-long set, and though many prefer their late night noodle-heavy shows, “Taught To Be Proud” put a smile on everyone’s face and guitarist Josh Clark rocked out like it was 3 a.m.
Gov’t Mule kicked off their first of two headlining sets with a bluesy “Grinning In Your Face,” before going into “Kind of Bird,” and a killer version of “When the Levee Breaks.” After making fans wait for a 40 minute set-break, guitarist Warren Haynes came back out strong for set number two, flanked by bassist George Porter Jr. on “Hey Porter Jam” into “Third Stone From The Sun Jam” leading to “Brighter Days.” Set closer “Mule,” trailing into “Who Do You Love,” “I’m A Loser,” “Superstition,” and then right back into “Mule” was fantastic and kept people dancing well passed midnight.
But the party really hit the stage for Girl Talk’s late night dance-heavy set on Friday. Mash-up master Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) invited about 50 people onstage to rave with him while he burned through his gig, splicing together metal, hip-hop and classic rock songs. Glowsticks streamed through the night sky and the stage crew manned some sort toilet paper launching device, sending trails of brightly colored TP into the crowd, who used it to wipe their sweaty faces or to parachute some Molly.
Sleeper hit of the weekend was by far Coheed and Cambria. Possibly the misfit of the lineup as their metal-ish nerd rock isn’t the most fitting for such a jam-tastic festival like Mountain Jam, these dudes from upstate New York absolutely shredded. Haynes joined them on stage midway through the set, trading verses with vocalist Claudio Sanchez and lead guitarist Travis Stever on a touching cover of “I Shall Be Released” before tearing things up on Coheed’s scorcher “Welcome Home.”
The fan-favorite show of the weekend seemed to be the second set of Mule’s Saturday night headlining slot. Full of covers (there were only two Mule originals), Haynes, joined by sax player Karl Denson, handled favorites “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Devil Likes It Slow.” Set closers “Ain’t No Sunshine” into “Whole Lotta Love” was a nice mix of slow blues mixed with some straight up rock & roll. For the Mountain Jammers, it was just like Haynes crooned to the crowd during “Bang A Gong” — “We’re all having a great time here at Hunter Mountain.”