Mountainous Jammus Sixthus
Assistant/Web Editor Jessica Friedlander’s Mountain Jam Journal
(page 2 of 3)
Some warm libations in the form of coffee and hot cocoa and an hour-half Alison Krauss/Union Station gig later (she’s amazing, but that sorrowful voice is our Whiskey Lullaby), we decide we need a major break before the big daddy of ‘em all — the Levon Helm and Friends show. By now the afternoon sun is replaced by a drizzly, overcast sky and some chilling winds (it dropped into the 40s by then), so we make a beeline for the vendors to warm up. A Mountain Jammer with cheese fries in a doggy bowl points us in the right direction, and before long we’re noshing on heart attack material: Cheez Whiz-covered starch sticks and fried Oreos drizzled with chocolate syrup. Despite the warm deliciousness, I’m still freezing; I pull Mel toward a tent filled with sweatshirts at the edge of the grounds, where we meet another Miles (see photos). Turns out a few hugs and some leftover cheese fries will get you two dirty jokes and a 10-dollar discount off a poncho, holla back.
We assess our recent acquisitions at a picnic bench, where a few kids from Port Jervis attempt to offer us hallucinogens (that, or they meant dinner rolls; I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt). We decline — we’ve had enough baked goods of the edible sort for the day, thank you — and hustle over to the main stage for Levon, where Mel gets poked in the ear by a guy dancing to the Tom Petty record over the PA system. It can only get better, we think.
Levon’s show arrives an hour and a half late, but the crowd forgives him because it’s his birthday and, well, he is 70. (He can do whatever he wants, dag nabbit!) I try to get those around me to chant “Happy birthday,” but they’re either too lethargic or my teeth are chattering too much for them to hear.
By the way, Levon’s friends are awesome: He’s joined by Jam co-presenter and Allman Brothers/Gov’t Mule axe-man Warren Haynes; Don Fagen (Steely Dan); Alison Krauss; the ever-shy Ray LaMontagne (who, despite his ridiculous amount of talent, always appears so physically uncomfortable with himself); Jackie Greene (and hat); Sam Bush (and banjo); Jerry Douglas; Steve Earle; Allison Moore; Helm’s own daughter, Amy (with one set of pipes, lemme tell ya); and the Drive-By-Truckers’ own Patterson Hood and his pops, David Hood. Levon himself perches on a rolling drum set, and at the first beat you can tell this man was truly born for this stuff. One of their first songs was a slammin’ version of the Dead’s “Shakedown Street,” which garnered a lot of noise from the twenty-something art-dealer from Oregon to my immediate left. (“Oh my God, OH MY GOD, it’s Shakedown Street, can you believe it? They’re playing SHAKEDOWN STREET!” — he rocks my shoulder as he jumps — “DO YOU KNOW SHAKEDOWN STREET? THEY ARE PLAYING IT!”). “I know, I know, I know” I keep yelling, though for a portion of it I don’t actually know, because my eardrums have exploded by now.
I’m sorry I don’t recognize a lot of the songs, mostly because they’re just outside my particularly limited realm of musical knowledge. Despite this, I can’t help but bob and boogie. This is the magic of great rock ’n roll — it’s universal, trans-generational, alive — and the thousands crowding the muddy mountain, both young and old, all have that undeniable driving beat in them. Or dinner rolls. But still, it’s definitely more than a feeling. (Yes, that was my obligatory Boston reference for the day.)