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
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Warren Haynes and Michael Franti
With its verdant beauty, ample number of hotels and restaurants, and naturally pristine acoustics — the audience sits on the mountain itself, looking down at the stage, creating a de facto amphitheater — Hunter Mountain was an obvious choice. “It’s a beautiful venue, and not many people had been there before in the spring,” Chetkof says. Gov’t Mule and Robert Randolph headlined, the weather cooperated, and there was so much enthusiasm for the concert among the 3,500 attendees that Chetkof decided to stage an encore the following year. Only then was the festival given a proper name.
“We were going to print the posters and T-shirts that day,” Chetkof says, “and someone said, ‘You need a name.’ ” After a quick brainstorming session — “It was literally a five-minute meeting” — Mountain Jam was born.
For the second festival, they added a second day and arranged for some attendees to camp in the Hunter Mountain foothills. “It poured the whole time,” says Chetkof with a laugh. But the rain did not dampen anyone’s spirit — if anything, the mud gave the festival even more of a Woodstock feel. Once again, Mountain Jam was a hit.
But the third time was the charm. Chetkof added a third day of music, drawing an impressive roster of bands that included indie faves My Morning Jacket and Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh.
“The proudest moment I had,” Chetkof says: “The third year, we had Phil Lesh deciding to play the festival. He put a band together with Warren Haynes just for Mountain Jam.” The impromptu band spent an afternoon rehearsing at WDST studios and took the stage the next day.
Woodstock redux: Festival patrons enjoy the music
“There were 12,000 people there. It had been raining, but it stopped. I was backstage, and I thought, ‘This is a dream come true. I’m going to stand here for the whole performance and just enjoy it,’ ” Chetkof remembers. “That was the crowning moment.”
By last year’s Mountain Jam — the largest yet, and with arguably the biggest headliner in Bob Weir & Rat Dog — word had spread among the artists. Bands were going out of their way to play the festival on Hunter Mountain.
This year’s incarnation is something of a coming of age. “Mountain Jam,” after all, is also a 34-minute rock jam by the Allman Brothers Band, encompassing the entire second side of the album Eat a Peach. It is a riff on Donovan’s “There Is a Mountain,” and the bane of jukeboxes everywhere.
“We thought maybe one day we’d get the Allman Brothers,” Chetkof says, “but we never actually imagined that it would happen.”
But the Allmans are ramblin’ into town, all the way from the West Coast, just to play a festival that was originally conceived as a one-day-only, one-time-only event. And why shouldn’t they? There’s nothing quite like Mountain Jam — in the Hudson Valley, or anywhere else.
“If you’re lucky enough to get a blue sky and some white puffy clouds,” Gutfreund says, “it’s like heaven.”
♦ When: May 29-31
♦ Tickets: Passes are available on-line at www.mountainjam.com
Festival Pass (provides access Fri.-Sun.): $139.50
Festival Pass with Camping (provides access to campgrounds Fri.-Sun.; RV access additional $175): $159.50
Festival VIP Pass (all-access, includes use of VIP entrances, refreshment lounge, and front-of-stage viewing areas): $379.50
♦ Visit Web site for single-day ticket information.