The 10th installment of Mountain Jam kicked off on June 5, and as a somewhat-seasoned Jammer (I’ve attended and blogged about the festival for the last four years), I think I’m qualified enough to share my top 10 list of facts you need to know about one of this year’s biggest summertime events.
10. The weather is unpredictable. One moment it’ll be sunny and warm, and the next you’re sharing somebody’s hemp tote to shield you from hailstones the size of a beach ball. (It could’ve been a beach ball, actually.) That said, the only person who can tame the wild beast that is Hunter Mountain’s climate is Michael Franti, who famously coaxed the sun out of hiding during a sudden torrential downpour back in 2010. Cue “Here Comes the Sun” and spontaneous gyrating. Franti’s slated to perform two sets on Sunday, so don’t miss him.
9. Though I’ve officially retired from camping (I don’t own any clothes that haven’t been touched by Hunter’s notorious red dirt), I will admit the experience is fantastic. Your neighbors will be weird and most likely trippy, but they’ll always help set up your tent and offer you a brewski, among other things. Smile and enjoy the impromptu drum circles and barbecue. Just don’t expect to get any sleep, though (earplugs help).
8. The food is even better. If there’s one thing MJ organizers have on lock (besides the music, of course), it’s making sure every type of culinary preference is honored. Vegan and vegetarian, Indian and Asian, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Deep-Fried Oreo (now officially a cuisine) — if you’re craving it, they’re selling it. And most of the time, these vendors are local, which is extra cool. Mad props to my friends at Taste Budd’s, a Mountain Jam mainstay that bakes the best blondies and brownies ever. (I once dropped my snack within seconds of buying it, and nearly lost it because the dirt was the exact same shade as the chocolate. This was beyond the five-second rule, guys. But I still ate it. #noshame)
7. It’s as cliché as jumping into a gondola in Venice, I know, but seriously — just front the $20 and take the Skyride. The views are incredible and you’ll regret not doing it. Just keep your flip-flops in the tent or your piggies will get chilly.
6. Actually, you might as well abandon your flip-flops entirely. Mud is your new best friend. No matter how carefully you tread, no matter which grassy path you trek, you will find a way to slip, slide, slosh (and even faceplant) in the mud. Just accept it and move on.
Warren Haynes (left) and Jackie Greene, who has some really cool stories if you ever run into him at a diner. (Ask him about his vintage typewriter collection)
5. The festival is so much more than the big acts. Joining Jam regulars like Gov’t Mule, Bob Weir, and the Tedechi Trucks Band are musicians and groups you may not have heard of — like Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, K-Jamm, and Valerie June — but we bet will take off. Most of the small-stage groups incorporate more than just the typical rock- and folk-sound Jammers are accustomed to, too: blues, jazz, Afrobeat, electronica, gypsy-swing have all had a place at the fest (and in our hearts).
4. Mountain Jam is also chock-full of activities. Yoga sessions, fireworks, workshops, drum circles, and kids’ events are all available. The Awareness Village is a can’t-miss.
3. I could never hate the Band, but because the late, great Levon Helm is so praised by the musicians and festgoers alike, you will be singing “The Weight” at least 80 times… and as overdone as it is, you will love it. Just please don’t be the guy who doesn’t know the words. (Here you go.)
2. You might spot a celebrity. Three years ago during Mountain Jam VII, I was in the press pit up front trying to capture some shots of My Morning Jacket when security scooted us all out. Rumors flew that somebody famous was among us. At that moment, I turned around for one last look at the stage… and came face to face with comedian and actor Zach Galafianakis, a well-known friend of the band. He was wrapped up in a blue knit scarf and he looked like he wanted to punch me. Regrettably, I did not snap a photo (but the accompanying tale and black eye would’ve been worth it).
1. And the final thing you need to know: it’s the Allman Brothers Band’s last Mountain Jam appearance. They’re retiring from touring this year, so it’s unlikely you’ll get to catch a show of theirs after 2014 — make it count!
Enjoy the festival! Be sure to share your experience in the comments below.