I’ve been thinking about sharing this experience for a while. I have a few friends who are hardcore music lovers, and they’ve introduced me to a world in which I can satisfy my love for travel while indulging an ever-evolving love of music. So for the first of this series, Chasing the Music, I’d like to introduce you to Mountain Jam.
For me, music festivals have become a fun new travel option, and a banquet for all five senses. Late spring in the Northeast is the beginning of the festival season. Since we usually attend only two music festivals, Mountain Jam has become a favorite and treasured annual getaway.
For the past four years I’ve joined at least three friends (and often, many more) on a weekend getaway at the beginning of June, to the Catskill region of upstate New York. Our purpose? To sit on the slope of Hunter Mountain for three days, sometimes more, often in rather adverse conditions, listening to some of the best musicians in the world. This year the music was spectacular, and the weekend was particularly remarkable because it was enhanced by the surprisingly warm weather, eliminating the only negative aspect of this festival!Trying to guess at what to wear on Hunter Mountain for any spring day is futile. It might be rainy, it might be shiny, it might be warm, and it might be dismally cold. So we bring clothes for every occasion. The favored method of transporting all of these clothes is to layer on as much as possible for the hike up the mountain, even though sometimes the daytime weather is deceptively warm. The back incurs far less strain when carrying clothes this way, and it’s easier to peel them off than to carry them. Some years we arrived in our layers of warm clothes only to stay in them, but knowing the evenings would be even colder, we had carried several more layers in our backpacks. The roughest times were those in which we stood in the cold rain all day, only to take off or attempt to dry the saturated clothes and layer on more warm clothes for when the temperatures dipped into the 30s at night. But even this can have an enormous payoff, as it did in 2013 when Widespread Panic blew our minds with this amazing rain set that quite honestly gained them at least one new fan. This year, however, we enjoyed warm, beaming sunshine for three consecutive days. The nighttime lows were higher than some of the daytime highs of the three previous years. Every one of us felt that the entire experience of the festival was different, if not better for it. We might have heard fewer musicians, but only because we were enjoying the liberation that comes along with mild weather, and fully taking advantage of it to delight our other senses. Rain, shine, or cold, one constant has prevailed throughout the four Mountain Jams I’ve attended: the mouth-watering smells and tastes of the food vendors! Festival food can satisfy a rainbow of culinary tastes. From fried Oreos, pickles, and chicken to vegan specialties and international fare, festy food covers the spectrum. I’ve found the beverage selection to be thoroughly satisfying, since my liquid mainstay is coffee, and the coffee vendor makes my favorite latte to spec! Nor have my friends who opt for alcohol complained about their selection at Mountain Jam. Our little group’s food favorites include kettle corn, chicken-on-a-stick with hot sauce, gyros, turkey drumsticks, and perfect salads that we just discovered this year. The food is a delightful bonus that we can’t do without. The festival visuals are like sweet-and-sour sauce for the eyes. Why would someone walk around all day with a giraffe head riding on their shoulders? To entertain you, of course! On the warmest days we’ve seen women decked out in the most beautiful, swirly, multicolor-striped, long, hot, woolen dresses and coats. On the coldest days we have seen bare-chested men in flip-flops. Wardrobe selection is often dictated more by the desire to fly the old freak flag than by the unpredictable weather. Men in skirts: kilts, yes, but also long flowing, colorful skirts and sarongs. Dogs, mostly friendly, often clothed. Children, mostly happy, often unclothed. The “regular people” offer merely a sampling of the visual frenzy that is the mountain. Entertainers of all sorts flock to these events. Have you ever had your karma washed? The wash operators wisp feather dusters, magic wands, sparkly streamers, and balloons over your body as you move through the makeshift Karma Wash. Trust me, it’s cute, but once only. A bunch of clowns run that Karma Wash, and you can take that literally. At night the hula-hoopers, with their multicolored glowing hoops, display dazzling skill. They’re a festival staple and they’re usually very considerate of those of us who are focusing on the music. The fire twirlers, or “evil fire people” to some of us, would be interesting entertainment at the beach, but we do not want them near us at the festival, since they begin their show during the headliner performances, blocking off valuable real estate, and distracting many from the show they’ve come to see. Which brings me to the main event, the music. (Disclaimer: I am not a music critic, so you’re definitely not going to read my critique of what we’ve heard.) This year Ratdog, Government Mule, and the Allman Brothers Band were headliners. My $205 would not have stretched very far if I tried to see all three of these bands separately. A night seeing the ABB at the Beacon Theater would alone cost over $100. Yet in addition to these amazing headliners, we enjoyed an enormous variety of music: reggae, jazz, rock, blues, soul, and enough jamming insanity to make you cry out with joy… all in the space of a few days. As a bonus, you won’t leave Mountain Jam without having thoroughly enjoyed at least one or two bands whom you’ve never heard. Click here to listen to a band we just discovered this year. They’re called Blitzen Trapper and they are doing an amazing job covering Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.” One of the really convenient things about this festival is that the two main stages are next to each other. As the musicians exit one stage, another group is amping up on the other. And you never have to move! For those of us who do venture out, there are three other stages on which some well-known artists have appeared solo, and on which some lesser known acts have gotten great exposure. There is even entertainment for the children. You won’t leave Mountain Jam thinking, “I haven’t heard enough great music,” and you just might leave with a new hobby!
There is a potential downside. You might have to break out the camping gear for some of these festivals if there are no hotels nearby, or if the cost of a hotel is prohibitive. A festival day is a very long day. You won’t want to drive far. For Mountain Jam lodging there are several nice inns to choose from, or if you’re a big spender, you can put out some buku bucks for one of the passes that include onsite lodging. (Please remember me if you do.)
If you love music, food, and people-watching, and you love to road trip, check out the music festival scene. If you don’t mind the cold or wet, Mountain Jam is an interesting place to start. Our next festival stop is the Peach Music Festival in Moosic, PA. Take a look at the lineup here, and I hope to see you there!