Mountain Jamming Virtually

Written by Music

M.P. Costello enjoyed the 2010 Mountain Jam over the weekend — without even leaving his home.

This weekend, I had the unexpected pleasure of attending the three-day Mountain Jam music festival which took place at Hunter Mountain in upstate New York.

Now, I didn’t actually go to the festival, but thanks to my laptop, the Internet, and some noise-canceling headphones, I got to be a part of the festivities.

A little about me: I’m in my early 40s and a fan of the the blues, reggae, Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, and Santana. Stuff like that. I’ve been to lots of concerts over the years. Recently, I’ve developed an appetite for Gov’t Mule — which led to my discovery of the Mountain Jam festival. Mountain Jam is an annual event organized by Gov’t Mule founder, leader, and guitar hero Warren Haynes.

These days my life is mostly about spending time with my family, coaching youth sports, projects around the house, and trying to keep up with the demands of my 60+ hour a week job. I’m payin’ the bills and trying to keep my priorities straight. In other words, I don’t get to too many three-day music festivals any more, even when they are in driving distance (Mountain Jam is about a four-hour drive from my Boston-area home).

So I was curious and even a little excited when I learned last Thursday that the entire festival was to be broadcast live (for free) over the Internet via iClips. Could this work for me? Perhaps. I committed to give it a try.

It wasn’t perfect. There were some technical difficulties. Buffering and a few thunderstorm-induced interruptions to my Internet service caused me to miss some key performances. Plus, I had all the typical interruptions that you’d expect at home (telephone, dog walks, the “honeydew” list). I also got too comfortable in my reclining chair for one of the late night (1 AM Eastern) acts and promptly fell asleep.

But what I did see was amazing. Gov’t Mule’s second set on Friday night was smokin’ hot, highlighted by covers of Jimi Hendrix’ “Wind Cries Mary” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” (featuring guest vocals by Grace Potter). I’m astounded how, given their talent, catalog, and tireless touring efforts this band still flies relatively under the radar.

Saturday, I tuned in after dinner time and discovered some new music from a band called Van Ghost. I’ll definitely be looking for those guys for downloads and maybe a local performance. Gov’t Mule came through with another inspired performance highlighted by a reggae version of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (guest vocals by Matisyahu), a guest appearance by Haynes’ fellow Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks, and a cover of the Rolling Stones classic “Monkey Man”, for which they were joined onstage by Jackie Greene and the horn section from the band Lettuce.

The 1:00 AM (Eastern) performance of Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra was an unexpected highlight of the festival for me. Their set featured a guest performance by Warren Haynes along with Gov’t Mule’s multi-instrumentalist Danny Louis. Watching DSO’s lead guitarist Jeff Mattson trading Jerry Garcia-inspired licks with Warren Haynes was an awe-inspiring treat. A couple of my favorites from their set list were “Chinacat Sunflower” and “Feel Like a Stranger.” This talented band truly brought me back to the vibe of being at a Dead show (and seeing how deeply the live audience was engaged, I know I am not alone). I’ll definitely see them live when they’re in my area.

Sunday evening featured a birthday celebration for Levon Helm. This star-studded event included Helm, Warren Haynes, Ray LaMontagne, Alison Krauss, Donald Fagen, Sam Bush, Steve Earle, and many more. While this was a worthwhile, entertaining review of musicianship, I’ll also admit that this crowded, “too many cooks” type of concert event never really does it for me. Always seems a little disjointed and confused.

Overall, attending the weekend event was a major hit for me. I feel like I actually attended, without all the work and expense that would normally be involved. I feel like I had my cake and ate it, too. I can’t wait to “go” to another.

Was it the same as being there in person? I’m absolutely sure it was not. There’s nothing like a live music experience, the journey, the party atmosphere, the amplifiers, the crowd, the smells, getting your groove on with thousands of fellow fans.

On the other hand, I avoided the long drive and I slept in my own bed. I saved some money and I met all my normal weekend obligations: I mowed the lawn, got a haircut, did some emergency sink repair, forecast my department’s budget for the second half of the year, took the kids miniature golfing, and coached my daughter’s softball team to a hard fought loss in extra innings. May not sound exciting to you, but this is my life, not yours.

So what’s the deal with events like this? Can I expect more? Well, through the process of discovering that Mountain Jam was streaming, I learned that I’ve already missed similar broadcasts of two other of the season’s festivals: The Hangout (Gulf Shores, AL) and Summer Camp (Chilicothe, IL). iClips is calling the series the Couch Tour and promises to announce the second leg of the tour soon.

I’m convinced this is a good business opportunity for the bands and concert promoters. They’ve found a way to reach fans, like me, that would not otherwise attend these festivals. I feel like I was part of the event. And while they didn’t sell me a ticket, I’ll be among other festival attendees lining up to buy my downloads of the performances. I may even buy some Mountain Jam gear.

So, for now, the show is over. Hopefully, I’ll be “back again” at Mountain Jam next year. “See” you there, if I don’t “see” you at Bonaroo, Coachella, or some other festival before then!

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