Mountain Jam X: A Family Affair

Hunter Mountain, NY

Story & Photos by Stanley Johnson

Hunter Mountain in the Catskills of New York has hosted Mountain Jam for the past decade.  This year’s four-day festival’s highlight was one of the final performances of The Allman Brothers Band.

I have seen the ABB and its various members in solo and offshoot projects every year since 1973.  Mountain Jam was started by Warren Haynes and Gary Chetkof of Radio Woodstock and this year featured a theme among the bands and artists of a family connection. The ABB, for instance, began with the concept of a band and its’ roadies as a family.

If we can imagine such a thing as an artistic dynasty or generational creativity, not only was Duane Allman well-represented, so were John Lennon and Bob Marley. Make no mistake, these gifted young artists stand by themselves without needing to rely on the past, but on a weekend like this where experience is found outside of time, the past, present and future are all connected.

My festival experience began Friday and there were so many wonderful performances through the weekend that it’s impossible to detail them all. Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s revival-tent pedal-steel set was the first with the family connections. Trampled By Turtles, blazed through frantic bluegrass and the Avett Brothers, a family band with folk and country roots mixed with punk rough edges played opposite the harder rock played by The Weeks, Reignwolf and Moon Taxi. Bob Weir and Ratdog, featuring Rob Wasserman on bowed-double bass, played two sets heavy on Grateful Dead classics. Guests included Warren Haynes on an extended “Dark Star”. Those with late-night dancing energy could check out Antibalas, who had earlier in the day hosted a workshop on Afrobeat.

Indeed, there was more than just music at the fest: The ski lodge hosted an art and photography show, lectures and workshops.

Saturday’s acts included Blitzen Trapper, Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds and, in a solo project away from his band Wilco, Jeff Tweedy.  Tweedy’s set fit the family theme with his son Spencer on drums. The band delivered a hypnotic set of all-new, blue country tinged with electronica.  Tweedy rewarded his Wilco and Uncle Tupelo fans with a solo set of old favorites.

The family theme continued with a smoking set of Reggae from Bob Marley’s son Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. Damian’s music touches on many current musical themes including Hip Hop and Rap, but there are few artists today who can mine the Roots Rock Reggae catalogue of his father with such authenticity and feeling.
“War,” “Exodus,” “Could You Be Loved” and “Get Up Stand Up” resulted in some of the deepest grooves and wildest dancing of the weekend.

The Tedeschi Trucks Band, a family band project of ABB guitarist Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi, delivered a set of searing guitar and bluesy vocals layered on a big-band sound. TTB band featured many songs from the albums “Made Up Mind” and “Bound For Glory,” as well as exciting covers including “The Sky Is Crying” and “Keep On Growing.”

Gov’t Mule, who has the most appearances at Mountain Jam, steamed through two long sets of hard-and-heavy blues rock, free-range jamming and surprising covers.  Songs from the band’s newest release, “Shout” included “Funny Little Tragedy” and “How Could You Stoop So Low.”

Haynes began Govt. Mule with drummer Matt Abts and bassist Allen Woody as an ABB side-project in the 90s and the band continued, even after the death of Woody. Haynes, Abts and current bassist Jorgen Carlsson and keyboardist Danny Louis played covers, including a high-speed version of the Grateful Dead’s “St. Stephen,” Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” and Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain.” Following a fireworks display, the second set showcased some serious jamming with guests Eric Krasno, Jackie Greene and most of the Tedeschi Trucks band, finishing with a medley of Doors tunes, including “People Are Strange,” “Five To One” and “Break On Through.”

Sunday was full of great music beginning with singer-songwriter Sean Rowe.  His deep voice and flailing guitar work, as well as riveting covers of Springsteen’s “The River” and Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952”, gained him much positive response from the early risers. The family theme appeared again with Amy Helm, daughter of the late Levon Helm (who had been a festival favorite) sitting in with Connor Kennedy.

Other Sunday performers included sets by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a side-project of the singer for the Black Crowes, and Michael Franti with Spearhead, who are second behind the Mule in Mountain Jam appearances.  Franti took his energetic set of Reggae, Hip Hop and Folk all the way to the top of the festival hill as Spearhead rocked the stage.

I couldn’t miss Galadrielle Allman’s reading from her book “Please Be With Me,” about her search to understand her father Duane Allman. When the guitarist tragically passed away, his daughter was only two-years-old, and the book details her investigations and discoveries about her father, herself and a family that was larger than she realized. This is my favorite of many biographies and autobiographies of music legends of recent years and shows a side of rock that is largely ignored by most writers:  the impact of band life on families.

Next was another new group of artists I couldn’t miss, The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, which is the current project of Sean Lennon. Fortunately, no one on stage or in the audience even mentioned his parents or his dad’s former band, and the music was catchy and full of marvelous harmony vocals supported by a bed of hard rock, funk and electronica. Lennon burned through guitar solos that put him in the shredder category. At one point Lennon got down on his hands and knees, twisting and turning the knobs on his foot pedals to produce sounds not unlike those for which his mother is known.

Another family group, Lucius, featured the twin keyboards and vocals from twin sisters from Brooklyn.

As the sun sank low over the mountain, The Allman Brothers Band took the stage for one of the final times.  At this show, Gregg Allman, Jaimo, Butch and Derek Trucks, Haynes, Marc Quinones and Oteil Burbridge played the first two ABB albums, although not in order and for a whole lot longer than the original albums’ running times.

Allman’s voice was particularly mournful for “Midnight Rider” and “Please Call Home,” the jamming was intense in “Black-Hearted Woman”, “Every Hungry Woman” and “Leave My Blues At Home.”  They turned in an authentic “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed,” as well as an explosive “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Derek Truck’s solo on “Dreams” elevated the entire site several thousand feet in the air and Warren answered with a solo in “Whipping Post” that brought everyone hurtling full-ahead into the orgasmic climax.

As I gathered my things to the sound of “Little Martha” by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, the song sounded almost as sad as when I first heard it a lifetime ago. I thought then that the band was through. More than forty years later, the band has finally decided to leave the road. Thank you very much, brothers.


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