I am afraid I have played the “Mountain Jam has changed, man” angle for so many years now that I have no authority left on the matter. It doesn’t much matter. While I have heard some heated hubbub surrounding the 2018 lineup announcement both ways (for example, BSP’s Mike Amari declaring it the best lineup yet, whilst some jam friends declared it pretty lame), most people seem benignly accepting, having seen it coming. The facts are clear: second season post-Warren Haynes; no Spearhead; lots of indie-rock and pop; no jam, just a mountain bracing for a different clientele from the one who made it big in the first place. It has been underway for a while, however. The screen reads not “Red alert! Identity crisis” but rather, “Transformation complete.” We’ve moved on.
A year after the storied Hunter Mountain late-spring festival scored perhaps its biggest headliner to date in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 2018’s nominal headliner – slack surf-popster Jack Johnson, who is nothing if not easygoing – seems rather vanilla and low-key. Unlike Beck and Wilco, unlike Levon and Bobby, 2018 is not about the headliner; it is about a new vividness and contemporaneity from the top down.
Sturgill Simpson belongs squarely in the storied tradition of country songwriters completely ignored by country audiences (keeping company there with Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and scores of other American treasures, starting with the country-music exile Johnny Cash). The British band Alt-J commands a delicate kind of treacly atmosphere that might once have been thought a little fey for the beery slopes of Hunter. The War on Drugs and former member Kurt Vile are really into long guitar solos that sound exactly nothing like Gov’t Mule. The Decembrists, love them or not, are the godfathers of the new indie Baroque. Father John Misty is a louche Laurel Canyon caricature that has surprisingly grown more real than its creator, former Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tillman.
Further down, we find some groovecentric party music – Turkuaz and Chicano Batman, for example, or the riffing rock of the Record Company – and a generous helping of young roots-leaning singer/songwriters. Local representation is light (so far), and you can’t really count the Felice Brothers. Of course, one thing to remember is that this is just the initial announcement. Spearhead may show yet; else no morning yoga. Check out the lineup at http://mountainjam.com and keep your eyes peeled for additions. The lineup is seldom truly settled at this stage of the game.