It is always good fun to “read” the initial Mountain Jam lineup announcement culturally, asking whether this year’s overall tenor is more imperial (building new bridges and bidding for new audiences, and if so, which ones?) or more a consolidation and affirmation of core values and core audiences – and if so, which ones? Blues? Folk? Groove? Psych? While the answer is almost always “both,” the intrigue and the interest are in the details.
Last year, Mountain Jam fashioned a torch exchange of sorts between an old industry giant and a new one, Robert Plant and the Black Keys, neither of whom could be called staples of the jam canon. This year’s twin headliners are contemporaries: two of the most important and enduring forces in the American rockscape of the last 20 years.
Wilco’s red herring of a debut AM came out in 1995 and hardly seemed much of a departure from Jeff Tweedy’s previous band Uncle Tupelo’s pioneering alt/roots style. In fact, out of the gate, Son Volt looked for all the world like the Uncle Tupelo derivative that was going to do some damage. Little did we know that Tweedy would quickly go on to become the Brian Wilson (maybe more the Van Dyke Parks) of an ambitious, wide-ranging Baroque roots style that has trickled down through all of indie and roots-rock, erasing contradictions as it goes.
Jeff himself has played the festival before with the family band Tweedy. This time, he’ll have Nels and Glenn and the rest of the guys in tow. Wilco is no great departure or revelation for the Mountain Jam aesthetic; just a victory (and a curious one at that, as Wilco’s own hand-curated Solid Sound Festival in the Berkshires can be said to be competing with Mountain Jam for your festival dollar).
Jam-rock’s assimilation of its psychedelic stepchild, techno- and electro-groove, often with a hip hop component, is old news. All these festivals end with light shows and dance parties in the a.m. hours. And if you’re looking for the godfather of that cultural development, look no further than Beck, whose globalized beatnik/folk/hop spiel and cultural sampling shenanigans cut a template in the mid-’90s that has been worn to dust ever since, and yet never matched precisely. Wilco and Beck also share another distinction: tireless productivity and stylistic restlessness. The mainstage at Mountain Jam this year is truly to be blessed by two of the great unifiers of American music.
The next names on the bill are exactly the correctives that you would expect: festival hosts Gov’t Mule, Jam royalty Umphry’s McGee and the handsome roots-rock stalwarts the Avett Brothers. Deep down the page, however, it gets quite interesting and tense again, as the electro-acts share space with the banjos and the blues guitarists. Especially notable is the inclusion of the suddenly hip Australian songwriter Courtney Barnett, whose visceral and vibrant stream of conscious rockers reminds me of Lou Reed in street-rock mode. And like Reed, Barnett is a pretty viable poet as well. Bringing an extra-wide smile to my face is the booking of the Northampton, Massachusetts scene’s young siren-pop masters And the Kids, whose frequent, numinous performances locally at BSP have helped them build a large local following, which has also led to extensive airplay on WDST.
Expect more coverage of the 12th annual Mountain Jam as the date approaches. Overall, this may be the most impressive lineup in years: one that reflects the unifying and adventurous spirit of its twin headliners. Check out https://mountainjam.com for the full initial lineup announcement and for all your ticketing particulars.