Thousands gathered deep in the Catskills this past weekend for the 11th annual Mountain Jam Music Festival in support of their favorite artists, from the acclaimed Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule), The Black Keys and Robert Plant to Big Gigantic and Alabama Shakes. Each day was packed with music between three stages, two of which gazed upon Hunter Mountain’s 3200-foot summit.
Since the festival’s inception in 2005, Mountain Jam continues to bring back renowned artist from years past. Michael Franti, Grace Potter, Railroad Earth and Marco Benevento all returned with the drive to put on the best Mountain Jam yet.
The 2015 lineup was diverse – including jambands, reggae, alternative, EDM and classic rock groups which accurately reflected the energetic and eclectic crowd. Here are some of the highlights from the festival:Thursday June 4
1. The Dharma Bums
The early bird gets the worm. Those who arrived by Thursday afternoon got a chance to enjoy The Dharma Bums on West Stage at 4:30 with plenty of room to dance and enjoy a killer first night.
2. Planet of The Abts
Rock trio Planet of The Abts was unbelievable. Led by Gov’t Mule drummer Matt Abts, Planet of The Abts is rhythm at its finest, consisting of drummer Matt Abts, bassist Jorgen Carlsson and Swedish guitarist and lead singer T-Bone Anderson.
3. Marco Benevento
After the sunset pianist Marco Benevento took the stage. Benevento was energetic behind the piano overpowering the West stage and his intensity would not give way to loud bass synthesizers, heavy drums, digital loops and polyrhythmic expression.
4. moe. (with Warren Haynes)
Moments after Benevento, the crowd was subdued by moe.’s enormous sound echoing up the mountain. Loud rock-anthem guitars and percussion gave contrast to Benevento, who would return for a short 30 minute set between moe. keeping the mountain rocking all night long. Guitarist Warren Haynes made his first appearance of the weekend as well, but there was plenty more Warren to come.
Friday June 5:
5. Benevento-Russo Duo
For those who caught it, what was billed as “Mental Floss with Marco Benevento” quickly evolved into a full fledged, albeit brief, reunion of the Benevento-Russo Duo! The two jammed together for nearly a half hour, improvising for the entirety of the set.
6. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead
Of course, the two got back together with Tom Hamilton, Scott Metzger and Dave Dreiwitz as JRAD! Despite the storms that rolled in, nobody had any intention of leaving during Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. The band was tight and vicious onstage performing energetic renditions of The Grateful Dead’s repertoire.
7. Grace Potter
Grace Potter followed on the mainstage, ready to rock after performing “Gimme Shelter” with The Rolling Stones two days prior. Potter was all over the mainstage, grooving to the rhythm section and coming in strong with each refrain. Potter’s set featured new material including “Alive Tonight” and “Empty Heart,” in addition to Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” featuring Warren Haynes on lead guitar.
8. Robert Plant & The Sensational Shapeshifters
Clouds broke from each side of the mountain and soon rock legends Robert Plant and Gov’t Mule. Plant played a varied set, with songs from his most recent album mixed in with some Led Zeppelin favorites, such as “Black Dog”, “Going to California” and “Whole Lotta Love,” in addition to covers of Joan Baez and Howlin’ Wolf.
9. Dark Side of the Mule
Warren Haynes led Gov’t Mule through a Dark Side of The Mule set, featuring a majority of Dark Side of the Moon with an amazing light show that soared high above the mountain. With guests like Ron Holloway & more, not much needs to be said about such a spectacular performance.
The bad-ass prog funk ensemble held it down for a late night set, dropping tunes from their recent Never Odd Or Even (2014) and older albums alike. These guys always bring the party, and their 1:15 – 3 AM set was no exception.
Saturday June 7:
11. Benjamin Booker
Early in the afternoon, New Orleans singer-songwriter Benjamin Booker brought his trio onto the East stage for a raw set of syncopated blues and heavy rock riffs fused with a grunge attitude and youthful energy. Their set was dynamic. At one point their drummer began playing mandolin with his hands – the bass drum and hi-hat with his feet. This was a great set!
12. Gov’t Mule
In true Warren Haynes fashion, Gov’t Mule took the stage and rocked the festival that they helped to create. Mule powered through a 90 minute set, playing BB King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” and the Allman Brothers’ “Dreams” amidst a rocking set!
13. The Black Keys
A band that needs no introduction, The Black Keys opened with the driving “Dead and Gone” and kept the crowd dancing through the night. The duo performed hits like “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Lonely Boy” and various tracks off their latest effort Turn Blue, which released last year.
14. Big Gigantic
A proper fit for a Mountain Jam late night set, Big G brought their jazztronica fusion to Hunter Mountain. With Dominic Lalli (sax, production) and Jeremy Salken on the drums, these guys always get people on their feet!
Sunday June 8:
15. Lake Street Dive
This up and coming soul band impressed with a Sunday afternoon set. One particularly memorable moment occurred when bassist Bridget Kearney suggested that they turn the cameras into a kiss cam… appropriate, since everyone fell in love with the band’s singer, Rachael Price, when she opened her mouth to sing.
16. Michael Franti & Spearhead
Michael Franti & Spearhead kept the energy going throughout the day, starting with a early morning yoga session and culminating in a main stage set. Franti even convinced the audience to take their shirts off and enjoy the music! This was a hoot.
17. Hurray for the Riff Raff
This NOLA band brought their exciting sound out to Hunter Mountain for a great performance. 17 and 70 years alike were singing along, basking in the prowess of singer/banjoist Alynda Lee Segarra.
18. The Alabama Shakes
Not enough can be said for the vocal talents of Brittany Howard. She’s powerful and commanding, emotional and vulnerable all the same. She’s an incredible performer, and made for a fantastic end to the 11th Mountain Jam. Until next year!
Pictures courtesy of Greg Horowitz, full gallery of photos can be seen below: