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Posted Jun 15th, 2015 (6:24 pm) by Staff
Mountain Jam 2015 Day Four
Image by Richard Clarke

The last day of Mountain Jam was another gorgeous day and any memories of rain, ponchos, plastic bags, wet chairs, and scrambling to keep our gear dry had long faded. For a festival in the northeast; particularly in a mountainous area, one day of a little rain out of four is a scenario I’d take every time. For the fourth day in a row, the entrance into the festival grounds was uneventful, which again is a good thing. Our plan of skipping the late night set paid off as we were able to get situated in the sonic sweet spot(also for the fourth day in a row), before the first band of the day started.

Several of the performances of the final day of Mountain Jam were all local Catskill Mountain/Hudson Valley artists and were booked in part to celebrate the life and music of famed musician Levon Helm. Woodstock singer/songwriter/guitarist/violinist Simi Stone was up first on the smaller side stage. Stone describes her music, as “Mountain Motown,” and her set was smooth, lush, and energetic. Her set also featured a number of songs from her new self-titled album.

Grammy award winning musician Larry Campbell and singer Theresa Williams were a big part of legendary musician Levon Helm’s music for the last decade of his life. Campbell was the musical director of his band, Williams was a prominent singer, and both were involved with the storied Midnight Ramble concerts performed at Helm’s Catskill Mountain studio. Joining them for Mountain Jam and on their new album was the keyboardist of Little Feat, Bill Payne. They began the set with “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” a traditional song often performed by Rev. Gary Davis, Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna in past and “Surrender to Love” from the groups new album. The set included two Little Feat songs, “Oh Atlanta” and “Dixie Chicken” that highlighted Payne’s skill on the keyboards. A tasty cover song served upped in the set was Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” a tune also covered by the Grateful Dead back in their heyday.

Musician, songwriter, author and poet Simone Felice, who is from tiny but beautiful Palenville, NY, a stones throw away from Hunter Mountain played next on the smaller side stage. The set was rich and organic and featured a lengthy sit-in with fellow local musician, Simi Stone.

Named after a street occupied by a number of dive bars in the band’s guitarist/trumpet player/vocalist, Mike Olson’s hometown, the group, Lake Street Dive formed in Boston while attending The New England Conservatory of Music. The rest of the group is made up of lead singer Rachael Price, drummer/vocalist Mike Calabrese and up-right bassist/vocalist Bridget Kearney. They opened the set with two songs from the 2014 album Bad Self Portraits, the title track, “Bad Self-Portraits,” a song of diverting heartache in a creative way and “Stop Your Crying”, which right away displayed Price’s amazing voice. The band played a few songs from their self-titled debut LP, “Ellijah,” and “Hello? Goodbye!.”

We did not do much exploring around the festival grounds on Sunday, and decided to just settle in and absorb as much music as possible for the last day of the event. The adventurous golf cart ride to the top of the mountain to photograph the illuminated Mountain Jam XI sign, that our new friends at SJP Productions were gracious to give us, was exciting enough to quash any thoughts of further exploration.

If your going to celebrate an artist’s career and life, what better way to do it then have Levon Helm’s daughter’s band, Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers play at your festival and deliver an amazing set. Helm is a gifted songwriter and vocalist and has a début album due out later this year. In addition to her own stirring songs, she played tribute to her late father with an excellent version of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” She ended her set with an a cappella version of “Gloryland” and the band returning to their instruments for “(Ain't That) Good News.”

Perhaps the most energetic and uplifting set of the festival was turned in by Mountain Jam veterans Michael Franti and Spearhead. A good vibe emanates from Franti and it is incredibly infectious, particularly given the fact the artist spent a great deal of the set among the audience, running up and down the mountain and interacting with the crowd. His set started at a quick pace with “Hey Hey Hey” and the more well known tune, “Stay Human”. “The Sound of Sunshine” was a perfect selection for the set as the weather could not have been more sunny or pleasant. Warren Haynes made his last guest appearance of the weekend for “Crazy with You.” You could literally feel the love pouring out of the artist for an amazing version of “Life is Better with You.” After sharing the moving story of the pain his family endured when his son was diagnosed with a serious illness and how his family struggled to get through it, Franti ended the set with a song that seems to be his philosophy, that everyone needs to hug somebody at least once a day, that everyone needs to kiss somebody at least one a day, and everyone needs love somebody once a day, called “Once a Day.”

Try as I might to go into camel mode during a festival by going as long as I can without leaving the music sweet spot in front of the soundboard to eat, I pealed away after the Michael Franti set for some nourishment, so I missed most of New Orleans band Hurray For The Riff Raff, but what I heard from the distance of the food vendor area sounded pretty good.

I was not familiar with Sunday’s headliner, Alabama Shakes, for some reason I mistakenly assumed they were a country band, given their name. I was informed by many I talked to I was in for a treat, and I was not misled. Lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard is not only a powerful vocalist, she is a bonafide shredder on guitar. The band sound is based in Roots Rock, peppered with Southern Rock, Soul and R&B influences. They began with a cut from their debut album Boys and Girls, “Rise to the Sun” another song befitting the wonderful weather. Hypnotic guitar and vocals enhanced “” from the group’s brand new album, Sound and Color. The set mostly alternated from songs from the first album and the new one. Toward the end of the song “Gemini,” Howard slowly walked off the stage, leaving the band to play a slow instrumental outro, before slowly leaving as well, which confused much of the audience because the band was listed on the schedule as having a two-hour time slot and they were considerably short of that mark. After a few minutes, the band returned and played what I guess was a four-song encore that began with the title tack to Sound and Color and ended with “You Ain’t Alone” from the first album.

Mountain Jam began and ended on high notes, and I think the security issues of last year were, at least by estimation, diminished. The festival has certainly grown from the humble five-band one-day event that started it all. If Mountain Jam continues to attract big headliners and larger audiences I think we will need a bigger mountain.

Article and Photos by Robert and Richard Clarke

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