Mountain Jam returns to the hills of Hunter in mid-June with a deep lineup and the offhand assurance of a seasoned, veteran festival. It is a flexible festival, expansive, but deeply rooted in its own time-honored thing: songs, grooves, a loose emphasis on the organic-and-rootsy in its myriad guises. Following the recent trend, the roster is current and hip, but not all that current and hip. Mountain Jam knows that it isn’t the Governor’s Ball and doesn’t try to be, though there is significant overlap.
The migration away from the Dead-derived jam world has been complete for a number of years. Still, compared to the urban polyglot favored on Roosevelt Island, the slopes of Hunter are a place where guitars still play. They don’t play them like they used to, though. One wonders if the total elapsed time of guitar solos this year will equal the duration of a single Warren Haynes jam in years past.
If there is one conspicuous absence in this year’s lineup, it is that of Rushmore-level rock royalty, a senior presence. The measured and staged move away from jam and roots/blues has been a fact for many years, but in most recent lineups, there has always been the figure of a great unifier, a classic rock eminence or some eminences: We’ve seen Tom Petty in this role, and Robert Plant, Steve Miller and Steve Winwood, as well as some acts we still think of as current even though they have long been in the eminence stage of their careers, like (in the same year) Beck and Wilco. We remember years when it was Bob Weir one night and Levon Helm the next. Well, in fairness, there is one notable eminence on the bill: George Clinton’s current working version of Parliament/Funkadelic.
One of the headliners, Jack Johnson, has obviously been around a while, but his considerable draw seems to come from a kind of quarantined sector of the live music world – one shared by the Dave Mathews band and a handful of others (OAR?). The other big names in this year’s lineup are established concerns who, maybe, fare better in the critics’ sweepstakes than the popular. Sturgill Simpson is a new old country artist, Father John Misty a devilishly subservice Laurel Canyon persona who has morphed into something more real. Portugal the Man was one thing, and then they scored an outlandishly big hit and became another.
A lot of fans are finding their excitement in the lineup’s beefy indie-rock middle, where cult icons like Jenny Lewis and the Decemberists reside, or Philly citymates and former bandmates the War on Drugs and Kurt Vile and Violators, who play a kind of indie-rock well-suited for the hills of Hunter.
It is an exciting time for Mountain Jam as it expertly spans its past and its future. It all goes down on the weekend of June 15 through 17. Ticketing and camping options are predictably complex, but the website is old-hand at making sense of it. See the full lineup and everything else you need to know at http://mountainjam.com/lineup.