Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff Close Out Mountain Jam 2015
To a degree, this year's Mountain Jam felt like a showcase of different perspectives on the future of folk and blues -- whether it was the outsider blues of the Black Keys, the mysticism of Robert Plant, the arena-ready classic rock of Grace Potter, or the contemporary stomp of Shakey Graves.
Hurray for the Riff Raff don't abandon the basic forms of folk -- in fact, their songs are probably the most formally standard of any band that captured our attention this week. But Alynda Segarra's tributes to the trailblazers, like "Levon's Dream" and "Ode to John and Yoko" are more about her alternately hopeful and pained takes on the matters of her own heart. She led her band with an assuredness that was sharp but never abrasive, and only served to draw listeners closer in.
Alabama Shakes' vision of the future is different but no less unique, and it resides in the way they utilize the insane power of Brittany Howard's voice to push into other directions. "The Greatest" and "Future People" in particular saw the band stretching beyond the classic soul crescendos that defined their previous work, not to mention much of the classic canon.
It was a clear blue, beautiful day on Sunday, with a little more room to spread out than the day before. Cara, who was hanging out with a friend during Lake Street Dive's set, lives just a couple of miles down the road in Tannersville and has been to every Mountain Jam since the beginning. She's happy the festival has grown: "It's great. It's evolving. And I think it's really family friendly."
Later, we ran into Ayla and Elwood who were sitting on a rock at the top of the hill. Elwood wore a green hunting cap with little pewter knights pinned to the outside. Ayla was still blissed out on Robert Plant's performance from Friday night. "I felt like I was 5 or 6 and listening to classic rock and roll in my dad's car," Ayla said. "It pushed me back to an amazing memory."
Katie brought Thomas from Buffalo, marking his first music festival ever, and they'd been soaking it up all weekend. They walked to the top of Hunter Mountain on Sunday and were ecstatic they could still hear the music.
While we were chatting, early main stage acts, Brooklyn's Lake Street Dive and Mountain Jam staple Michael Franti and Spearhead, complemented each other with sunny, energetic sets. Larry Campbell, the producer and multi-instrumentalist best known for his contributions to Bob Dylan's band, and his wife and collaborator Teresa Williams were joined by Bill Payne from Little Feat.
It all culminated in the Alabama Shakes' closing set, the final one of the night, in which Howard, strapped with a Gibson SG, brought the crowd to one more emotional high -- a not-uncomplicated one, that affirmed one more time that the 2015 Mountain Jam lineup was largely unafraid to push the boundaries of the blues.