Mountain Jam Festival – Day 2 – Festival Review
By Barry Brandow:
If Day One was any indication of how the weekend would go, then Mountain Jammers could anticipate 3 more incredible days of music. Just look at the lineup for day 2! And an even closer look at the days schedule would also indicate the day would have no shortage of sensational female talent. With the likes of Ruthy Ungar, Nikki Lane, Joan Osbourne (of Trigger Hippy), Grace Potter, Nicki Bluhm, Zepperella, and the 3 amazing voices that backed up Mules band, it was obvious that women would be stepping to the forefront today.
To begin the day, The Mike & Ruthy Band generated the much needed energy to brave the morning after day one. Up next Nashville’s Nikki Lake brought country flavor to the early day sound. With autobiographical songs of personal experiences, Nikki impressed fans with her dynamic vocals and energy. While Spirit Family Reunion entertained people swarming the west stage, buzz started to spread about Mental Floss with Marco Benevento at the intimate indoor stage inside Healey Hall. Instead those who were lucky enough to be there witnessed a welcome reunion of the Benevento-Russo Duo as Drummer Joe Russo joined Marco for an incredible improvisational jam session.
A band that I’ve been hoping to see again since they appeared at Peach Fest last summer, Trigger Hippy, is a super-group that includes former drummer and co-founder of the Black Crowes Steve Gorman, the captivating and beautiful singer Joan Osbourne, and the multi-talented man on keyboards, guitar, and vocals who defines “smooth” — Jackie Greene. The high energy set was exactly what we needed to kick start our engines. Songs such as “Dry Country”, “Heartache On The Line”, and “Pocahontas” filled the festival air with heart and soul while the quickly growing Friday afternoon crowd cheered and applauded. When Trigger Hippy played the familiar song “Rise Up Singing” almost everyone surrounding the East Stage sang along. The chemistry between the musicians and the fluid vocals of both Greene and Osbourne firmly established the bands professionalism and wisdom for what sounds good.
After Trigger Hippy’s set concluded, Jackie Greene made the transition from the east stage to the West Stage and joined The Mother Hips on keyboards for a heart pounding set. The Mother Hips are a duo, Tim Bluhm and Greg Lioacona on both vocals and guitar. They quenched the crowds thirst for heavy rock rhythms and melodies.
One of the bands I circled on my festival schedule was Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Consisting of Scott Metzger, Tommy Hamilton, Dave Dreiwitz, Marco Benevento, and of course Joe Russo, Almost Dead has stirred up quite the buzz in the live music scene. Playing tight and vicious versions of some of the most complex songs in the Grateful Dead’s repertoire, these guys brandish a rawness and energy absent from the stage since the “live” Dead era. It wasn’t even 5 minutes into the opening song “Terrapin Station” (which they played in its entirety) that the skies opened up and drenched us as we watched the explosive set. As rain poured from the overhead roof of the stage it didn’t take long till I was completely soaked. It was reminiscent of many experiences I had seeing the Grateful Dead live — I thought I was having Giant Stadium flashbacks. After the remarkable version of Terrapin, RAD busted into another favorite “The Wheel” followed by blazing versions of “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Cumberland Blues.” Although I had heard cuts from the band on satellite radio over the past few months, my expectations were far exceeded during the short live performance and assured me that this is one of the best (if not the best) bands out there playing tribute to the Grateful Dead. I’m especially ecstatic that we have already secured tickets for their New Year’s Eve performance to take place at the brand new Fillmore in Philadelphia.
Next up on the gigantic East Stage was one of the most sensuous and captivating women in music today, the massively talented and hard rocking Grace Potter. On the brink of releasing her new solo album in the summer and in the midst of her tour opening for the Rolling Stones, Grace entranced jammers with her sexy and scintillating vocals and musicianship as the rain continued to fall. Mixing songs from the upcoming release and songs recorded with her band The Nocturnals, the barefooted Ms. Potter proved why she is considered one of the hottest women on the planet. Not only does she have a powerful voice, but the Vermont native also commands the stage and plays the guitar like a rock goddess. Midway through her ambitious set, she invited longtime supporter and good friend, Mr. Warren Haynes to make his first appearance of the day and join her in a heartfelt version of the Neil Young classic “Cinnamon Girl.” She concluded her set with the popular song “Paris” that had just about everyone going “Oooooo la la” including me!
Following Grace Potters set, the equally beautiful and talented Nicki Bluhm with her band The Gramblers took the West Stage. After making strong comments of admiration and respect for Grace’s set, Nicki proceeded to tear up the stage with a powerful performance. With her own rocking brand of vintage-like country soul and multi layered harmonies, Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers had everyone chirping about her set afterwards.
When I saw Robert Plant’s name introduced in the festivals lineup I had no idea what to expect from the 66 year old former lead singer of the iconic classic rock band Led Zeppelin. After watching other vintage classic rock icons muddle through versions of their most famous songs, I was fearful that this might be another one of those average attempts. After all today is a very far cry from those “Song Remains the Same” days of him gyrating on stage in tight jeans and a belly shirt. To say my suspicions were wrong would be a complete understatement as the sharply dressed Mr. Plant absolutely blew me away during his 90+ minute performance. He looked great and his voice sounded fantastic.
With his band The Sensational Space Shifters, Plant opened the set with the Zep classic “What Is and What Should Never Be.” Mixing Zeppelin classics with solo material Robert Plant gave everything the crowd could ask for and more. After the song “Turn It Up,” a uniquely arranged version of “Black Dog” followed. A melodic “Going To California,” the blues song “Spoonful,” and “The Lemon Song” proved that Robert Plant can still belt out a tune in iconic form. After addressing the crowd and describing his love for the Mississippi Delta style of American music the band played “Little Maggie” and “No Place To Go ”before slipping into uniquely arranged and slowed down versions of “Dazed and Confused” and “Babe Im Gonna Leave You” that made everyone’s jaws drop. Addressing his strong blues roots once again, an estimable version of “Fixing to Die” led into a classic verse of the song “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” which quickly morphed into the infamous Led Zeppelin classic “Whole Lotta Love” to end the astonishing set. The encore started with teases of “Black Country Woman”, “Stolen Kiss” and “The Wanton Song” before busting into a mighty version of “Rock and Roll”.
As the band took their bows and thanked the crowd the feedback and reaction from EVERYONE was “WOW!” In the 5 years of Mountain Jam I have witnessed I can honestly say this was my favorite set performed at this festival so far. I say “so far” in anticipation that the set to follow, Gov’t Mule’s “Dark Side of the Mule” might be of epic proportion.
As the stage was being set and all the risers put in place you can hear the faint sound of the familiar Pink Floyd sound effects over the PA. The cash register, the clocks, crazy laughter, and engines all getting the already frenzied crowd pumped and primed. All the Mule members, Danny Louis on keys, Matt Abts dressed in a pink suit jacket on drums, Jorgan Carlsson on bass, Planet of the Abts guitarist and singer T-Bone Anderson on keys and vocals, and guitar playing badass and frontman Warren Haynes, took their places. I immediately became excited when I heard the first “ping” of the keyboard introducing one of my favorite Floyd songs “Echoes” from the early Meddle album to start the set. The song built and gained momentum with Warren on slide guitar wailing away. This was especially a pleasant surprise since this song does not appear on the CD and is the first time ever played by Mule. The almost 20 minute song faded out halfway through as it does on the original recording leaving me to believe the second half might be played later on in the set.
Then the set took to the “dark side” as the first cut from the historic album began with “Speak to me” into “Breathe.” Joining Mule on stage to lend her vibrant vocals was the beautiful Sophia Ramos. The effect- filled “On the Run” morphed into the familiar ticking and ringing, indicating that “Time” would likely come next. Along with Sophia Ramos, fellow backup vocalists Machan Taylor and Elaine Caswell took their places on the riser to the right, beside Abts and behind Warren. The brilliant version of “Time” melted into the melodic vocal masterpiece “Great Gig In the Sky” as each of the beautiful songbirds alternated verses to a rousing and deserving applause. While the cash register effects began saxophone wizard and longtime friend of the band, Ron Holloway, made his first appearance of the night to lend his musical brilliance to the song “Money”, “Us and Them”, and “Any Colour You Like” , along with the 3 ladies. Amazing lights and lasers added to the music, entertaining the eyes as well as the ears.
Jumping over to the “Wish You Were Here” album Mule began my all-time favorite song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” As I looked around ALL eyes and smiles were wide on the capacity crowd that engulfed the entire side of the mountain. While Mr. Holloway and the ladies exited the stage the familiar buzz and car engine sound effect took to the forefront. “Welcome to the Machine,” another song not on the cd release and another first-timer, started to reverberate through speakers. Throughout the set the vocal harmonies of Haynes and Anderson were closely reminiscent of the harmonies made famous by Roger Waters and David Gilmour. Andersons vocals sounded quite similar to the haunting vocals of Waters. Returning to the stage was Ron Holloway as drummer Matt Abts took over vocals on “Have a Cigar,” tweaking the lyrics by adding “We really think that’s cool…Oh by the way, which ones the MULE”. This ignited another of several chaotic roars from the crowd. The melodic Floyd anthem “Wish You Were Here” followed in glorious form as the entire crowd sang along, and even took over the vocals for a verse of the chorus.
To confirm my earlier suspicions Mule picked up where they left off and completed “Echoes.” The euphoric jammers that were lucky enough to witness this 90 minute musical masterpiece cheered frantically as the band exited in triumph. Warren Haynes took a moment to thank the ecstatic crowd and the management staff of Mountain Jam for allowing this special event to happen before introducing band members and special guests who performed. The one song I was surprised not to be included in the set became the monumental encore to close the show. “Comfortably Numb”, the only song from The Wall to be played, ended the magical evening as Mr. Haynes wailed the signature David Gilmour solo to perfection. The tireless late night crowd once again erupted as the band took their bows.
Like I said earlier, Robert Plants set was my favorite all time Mountain Jam set “so far”. With all due respect to Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. They are now 2nd favorite. I will surely say this: Day two of Mountain Jam XI stands now as my favorite single day of the last five Mountain Jams and will be EXTREMELY hard to top…but I’d like to see them try!!