Has the “Jam” left the Mountain for good in 2017? One could argue that until the late add of the doctrinal jam/rock torchbearers the String Cheese Incident, Mountain Jam had seemed to complete its gradual transformation into a safe, roots-leaning classic rock festival with an invigorated interest in the healthy talent resources of its own Hudson Valley.
Look at the headlining developments in recent years to really see the arc of the trend: Robert Plant and the Black Keys; Wilco and Beck; fewer than eight hours of Warren Haynes guitar solos; no additional representatives of the Dead family. This year’s headiest headliners – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and the Steve Miller Band – are, like Plant and Steve Winwood a number of years before, big scores but vanilla: artists with near-universal visas and broadly inclusive demographics. Petty, in fact, might be the biggest cross-sectional attraction in the 13-year history of this storied festival. Haynes’ Gov’t Mule is now nowhere to be seen: the most definitive evidence that the “Jam” in the title now means simply “music” and not “long-form improvisational rock.”
The middle of the lineup always tells a different story, however. Even back in the years of Phil and Friends as headliners and a single Haynes guitar solo that exceeded the length of the entire Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger set, the middle lineup spoke to us of modernity and Brooklyn, as well as of jam’s increasing interest in the club scene and electro hybrids. A few years ago, the second-tier meat of the Mountain Jam lineup and that of Governor’s Ball were virtually indistinguishable. Mountain Jam was quietly hipping up. This was around the same time that Bowery Presents was attempting, with little success, to book the Bearsville Theater in a Brooklyn-synched way. This is no longer the case. By my count, this year’s Mountain Jam and the Randall’s Island teen fest (happening as I write) share about two acts.
So it’s way less jam, but also way less aspirational hip. What does that leave? Well, when I look at the lineup, middle and down, I see…lots of people I’ve met. Mountain Jam 2017 reached out with open arms to the resident pro population – Marco, Amy, Simi, Murali, Big Takeover – as well as to some staple bands from WDST’s new rotation, such as Elephant Revival and the Head and the Heart, really bolstering the sense of “local” generally. This is commendable. It also speaks to the allocation of resources. I don’t claim to be an expert on going rates, but my gut suggests that Tom Petty and Mike Campbell might well be the biggest resource Mountain Jam has ever allocated.
Take a look at the lineup and judge for yourself. Mountain Jam takes over the slopes at Hunter Mountain on Friday, June 16 and releases them at the end of the day on Sunday. Ticketing, VIP and camping options are as complicated as ever. Visit http://mountainjam.com for a solid guide and a concert schedule.