Live at 5
It’s been 40 years since the Woodstock Festival shook up the world with its message of peace, love, and rock and roll. And while there hasn’t been anything quite like it since, the homegrown Mountain Jam — one of the country’s hottest music events (psst: the Allman Brothers Band are this year’s headliners) — is creating quite a name for itself
Crowd pleaser: The view from backstage at the 2008 Mountain Jam, taken during Levon Helm’s performance
Photograph courtesy of Mountain Jam; Musician photographs by Dino Perrucci
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There are an awful lot of big anniversaries being celebrated this year at Mountain Jam. The Hunter Mountain music extravaganza — which no less an authority than Rolling Stone dubbed one of the top eight music festivals in the country last year (alongside the likes of Lollapalooza) — is five years old. And it seems this once tiny music festival has certainly grown up: It’s now able to attract headliners like the Allman Brothers Band, who will honor their own 40th anniversary by jamming away in the Catskill foothills. And finally, this summer also marks 40 years since the Woodstock Festival, which was clearly the inspiration for this fun-loving party in the peaks.
Whatever it is you want to celebrate, on the last weekend in May, 12,000-plus festivalgoers will flock to Hunter Mountain. Some will pack the hotels, others will camp under the stars. During the waking hours, they’ll be treated to performances by the likes of Michael Franti & Spearhead, Coheed and Cambria, Martin Sexton, The Hold Steady, and Bill Kreutzmann of Grateful Dead fame.
Like Woodstock, Mountain Jam is all about music. The participating bands are chosen for their virtuosity, their endurance, and their showmanship. The acts are transgenerational — Richie Havens, who is on the bill this year, played at the original Woodstock more than a decade before the DJ known as Girl Talk, another act, was born — and they are known to intermingle. For example, Warren Haynes, the guitar legend and event cosponsor, might take the stage with, say, Railroad Earth.
Ray Lamontagne with Gov’t Mule
“There’s a lot of crossover of artists,” says Richard Fusco, the director of marketing for Mountain Jam and one of the founders of WDST Radio Woodstock, “which is a very Woodstock concept. And we’re trying to create the atmosphere of community, as opposed to people just coming to see a concert.”
The Woodstock comparisons are not accidental.
“The jam-band scene evolved from the Woodstock ’69 festival,” says Gary Chetkof, the principal owner of WDST — and the driving force behind Mountain Jam. “It’s a similar vibe here, and we try to keep it that way.”
One of the hallmarks of the original event — which was billed as “An Aquarian Exposition” — is the idea of community. Mountain Jam generates the same type of dynamic. “People are helping each other out,” Chetkof says. “The quote is: ‘If you sneeze, 12 people will say, “God bless you.” ’ The idea of treating one another with respect — and community — is clearly descended from the Woodstock ’69 festival.”
While the demographics trend younger, the crowd is of mixed age. The campsite in particular — tucked away from the hue and cry of the stage — is a hodgepodge of humanity: all living together for three days in relative harmony. “We program Mountain Jam to have older, classic acts as well as new and up-and-coming acts,” says Fusco. “That’s a very Woodstock concept as well.”
Bob Weir and Levon Helm
Unlike Woodstock, the Mountain Jam offers much more in the way of entertainment (and thankfully, much more in the way of restroom facilities). Festivalgoers can nosh on healthy food; ride a Ferris wheel; hit the Frisbee golf course; enjoy a fireworks display over the mountain; imbibe at the oxygen bar; and partake in an array of activities at the Awareness Village, including yoga, acupuncture, meditation, healing modalities, and massage therapy. The artists take part in the activities when they’re not on stage; Franti, for one, is known to take the daily yoga classes.
“It’s a festival atmosphere,” says Helen Gutfreund, the owner of Bodymind Massage Therapy in New Paltz, who attended Mountain Jam last year. “The music is peace-love-and-happiness. The crowd it attracts is a fun-loving, happy crowd. It’s a good vibe the whole time.”
Although neither Chetkof nor Fusco attended the 1969 festival — the former was too young, and the latter went to a friend’s wedding instead — they are no strangers to the peace, love, and music vibe. Fusco helped found WDST in 1980, when it was promoted as “public radio with commercials.” Chetkof’s purchase of the station in 1993 marked a renewed commitment to the Woodstock ideals.
Fittingly, Mountain Jam began life as a one-day music festival to commemorate the 25th anniversary of WDST. “We wanted to have one big outdoor concert on a nice spring day,” Chetkof recalls.