The Nine Best Things We Saw at Mountain Jam: Day Two
If day one of Mountain Jam was all about going in with zero expectations, day two was about tempering some very high expectations. Courtney Barnett and Jason Isbell are both acts with huge live reputations, and they're both recognized as among the best of our contemporary songwriters. And Wilco's reputation as a live band has never diminished, even growing in the last decade as they added avant jazz guitarist Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone into the mix. Day two is also the day attendance picks up a bit, meaning there are more people to see and things to do as we cruise around the festival grounds. So check out the nine best things we saw yesterday — and see how our high expectations were blown away.
These Spiritual Beings
A lot of folks wear costumes at music festivals. It's not really that special. But these two were special. We were glad they were there. We think they were watching over us. They made us feel safe.
Lots of Vibe-Heavy Classic Rock Covers
If you're a band that wants to click with the crowd at Mountain Jam – with the crowd that's dominated the first two (week)days of the festival, at least — you should probably come equipped with a few serviceable classic rock covers. Umphrey's McGee rocked Pink Floyd's "Breathe" and riffed on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" last night; New York musical eccentric Marco Benevento did a two-set David Bowie tribute; and today, Love Canon played an entire bluegrass set spanning the entire spectrum of '80s blues-rock, from Dire Straits to the J. Geils Band to Peter Gabriel. It's not to everyone's taste, but if you're prepping for the emotional roller coaster of a Courtney Barnett-Jason Isbell-Wilco triple-threat, it's a good palate cleanser.
The Grateful Dead Book Reading We Attended
Buzz Poole, author of the recent 33 1/3 entry on Workingman's Dead, and Jesse Jarnow, author of Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America, a meticulous history of the LSD-influenced American underground, both read excerpts from their books at Mountain Jam on Friday afternoon. We missed most of Poole's talk, unfortunately, but loved Jarnow's listener-centric take on the Grateful Dead and their soundtrack to the dissolution of the '60s. We bought the book.
This Jerk Chicken
There are lots of flashy food vendors at Mountain Jam, but we went local and bought a plate of jerk chicken and rice from a local stand. The plantains were a bonus. It tasted even better than it looks.
Jason Isbell Singing "Cover Me Up"
There have been plenty of grooves, jams and vibes at Mountain Jam 2016, but, so far, there's only been one truly emotionally searing moment: When Jason Isbell sang "Cover Me Up," the song about how his wife saved him from his alcoholism, it was largely acoustic, except for a slow-building accompaniment from drummer Chad Gamble and bassist Jimbo Hart that sounded more like rolling thunder than a backing band. Isbell sang with a power that only seemed to deepen his vulnerability. "Cover Me Up" is a gorgeous song, and when he sang, "I sobered up / I swore off that stuff / Forever this time," the crowd cheered. Goosebumps.
Nels Cline's Guitar Solo on "Impossible Germany"
"Impossible Germany" is basically a showcase for Nels Cline's guitar playing. And we were grateful for it, especially since Cline doesn't get too many of his own moments on Wilco's Star Wars material, which dominated the first part of the band's Friday night set. Cline started with the lyrical album version of the solo before veering into a gently jerking and caroming section filled with false starts and double takes, all done with a delicacy that belied the hour he'd just spent strangling the guitar.
A Lot of Other Guitar Magic
Nels Cline's gratuitously physical guitar playing may have yielded one of the best moments of the day two, but it wasn't the only time top-shelf guitar playing took center stage. Jason Isbell closed out "Children of Children" with a searing slide solo that would have done Mountain Jam regular Derek Trucks proud. Isbell guitarist Sadler Vaden topped any other blues playing we've heard so far this weekend, legends included. And no one summoned more force from their guitar yesterday than Courtney Barnett.
Courtney Barnett Covering the Grateful Dead
You might have seen Courtney Barnett on the Tonight Show last week covering the Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie," and if you did, you saw Barnett bring out a gritty, motorcycle gang version of the Dead's 1969 classic. Mountain Jam marked the first time Barnett has played the tune at one of her shows, and it was even dirtier and more dangerous. "One way or another, this darkness got to give," Barnett crooned, draping herself in it. The song — with its "Spent a little time on the mountain" chorus — is easily this year's unofficial Mountain Jam anthem.
Wilco Essentially Demolishing the Stage During "Via Chicago" and "Spiders (Kidsmoke)"
Wilco started their set with a string of faithful takes on their newer material, but when they got to "Via Chicago," they started dissembling the entire musical apparatus. Drummer Glenn Kotche deserves the most props for being able to legimitely shock the system with the amount of disorder he unleashes into that tune. "Spiders (Kidsmoke)," which followed directly afterward, showed just how well the band can stay together through 15 minutes of droning rhythmic jams. The combination seemed to give the band their footing for the chunky set of pop gems that followed.
The Sun Randomly Coming Out and Filling Everyone With Joy
Everyone knows the most magical music festival moments happen when nature and music conspire together to create something serendipitous. The sky was largely overcast yesterday, but when the clouds split during Courtney Barnett's "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Want to Go to the Party," it reminded us that this whole thing is a celebration, after all.