The Nine Best Things We Saw at Mountain Jam: Day One
Day one at Mountain Jam is about feeling things out. The program is a little shorter, the bands are hungrier and the audience is warming up. We took this as an opportunity to get our bearings at the 12th annual iteration of festival, poking our heads around the grounds and checking out some acts we might not have been able to see on a tighter schedule. And we're glad we did — we saw some music that surprised us, and we found some other things (food, people, puppets) that surprised us, too. Here are just a few of the best, oddest, and most amazing things we saw on Mountain Jam 2016's first day.
Nothing That Reminded Us of the City
Mountain Jam is kind of in the middle of nowhere. (It takes place at the Hunter Mountain ski resort, deep in New York's Catskill Mountains.) We think this a good thing. While many other spring and summer music festivals, Coachella notwithstanding, take place within or near the confines of major cities, Mountain Jam is about 100 miles outside New York City, compelling city denizens like us to breathe in the mountain air and take in the music unfettered.
Of course, the lack of street lights out here made the Wednesday night drive to get here a little spooky. But it was all the more special to wake up in our rooms or tents on Thursday morning and feel like our troubles were far behind us.
The Guitarist From Wild Adriatic's Magnificent Hair
It’s really nice to see someone carrying on the atomic mop tradition of rockers like Rob Tyner and Omar Rodríguez-López. Seriously, you could see this dude’s wavering 'fro from halfway up the mountain. Oh, and his band — Wild Adriatic, quasi-locals out of Saratoga Springs — ripped pretty dang hard.
The Fiddle Player From Cabinet
The fellas in Cabinet can really tear it up, especially their fiddler, Todd Kopec. Before we got down to the stage to see what was up, we could hear the strains echoing through the mountain sides. The crowd certainly dug the band’s bluegrass-tinged everything (reggae, folk, rock), but Kopec literally shredding the bowstrings in a fit of fury was one of the biggest highlights of the fest so far.
The Guy Whose Puppet Was Singing Along to Cabinet
We can't forget this guy, who had a puppet on his hand for the entirety of Cabinet's set and was making it sing along to all the solos. Also, he might have even been streaming it on Facebook. Puppet guy doesn't care what you think. Puppet guy rules.
So Much Great Music
We tried to go into Mountain Jam Day One with as few expectations as possible. But because we were ready for anything, we were able to groove to Train's note-perfect renditions of Led Zeppelin classics. We probably enjoyed their set as much as our rowdy (and yeah, a little older) neighbors in the crowd.
Umphrey's McGee, for their part, laid down some sprawling, rhythm-heavy jams. Even if you weren't one of the die-hards poking a recording mechanism into the sky or madly scribbling down the setlist, you could end up losing yourself in the groove.
This BBQ Chicken
There's a legitimate amount of really special food at Mountain Jam. Vendors from all over the region (including two Jamaican food tents) gather shoulder-to-shoulder with outfits whose bread and butter is hawking wraps and grilled cheese at festivals around the country. We were lucky enough to partake in some pretty good food on Thursday, but the best thing we ate was this Thai BBQ chicken — lightly sweet, perfectly crunchy edges, appropriately dry but not tough at all. We're stoked to have three more days to discover food.
Marco Benevento and Superhuman Happiness' Two-Set David Bowie Tribute
Marco Benevento's two-set tribute to David Bowie brought to mind the kind of music you'd hear from a raucous wedding band, but we dug it. It sounded both well-trod and a tad thrown together in the best way — the rotating cast of musicians sitting in gave the set a precarious, intimate feel. Especially when Warren Haynes, who peeled off a decent take on Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Let's Dance" fills, sat in. (Benevento told Ultimate Classic Rock last month that the idea to do a Bowie tribute far precedes Bowie's passing — he covered Hunky Dory in full at Brooklyn's Knitting Factory last July.)
The Massive Gong Behind Train Drummer Drew Shoals
Train’s faithful cover of Led Zeppelin II was a pretty key element of Mountain Jam's first day this year. Drummer Drew Shoals even took a page out of John Bonham's book and stationed a giant gong right behind his drum set. And he banged it right at the beginning of "The Lemon Song." It was pretty satisfying to watch. (Shoals also did a note-perfect cover of Bonham's "Moby Dick" drum solo. Hats off to him.)
Umphrey's McGee and Warren Haynes Riffing Masterfully on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"
For a band like Umphrey's McGee, the whole shebang kind of hinges on those moments of crescendo, where the band builds a bunch of tension and then releases it in a big fireball out onto the crowd. There were a couple such moments last night, but the biggest came after Warren Haynes trudged onstage and assisted in a gnarly riff on the Rolling Stones' classic "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." It isn't the first time Umphrey's McGee has taken on the Sticky Fingers cut, but it's the first time we know of that Haynes has helped them push it over the edge.