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Taken from Syracuse New Times (May 30, 2012)

Hunter Hoedown

by Jessica Novak

Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes on this weekend’s Mountain Jam:
“People who come don’t mind seeking out good, new music.
They don’t want to be force-fed just the mainstream.”

Among other power-packed fests like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, there’s a weekend of outdoor tuneage closer to home—but it doesn’t skimp on the music. Now embarking on its eighth annual run, Mountain Jam will take its throne once again as king of Hunter Mountain, Route 23A, Hunter, from Thursday, May 31, through Sunday, June 3. The fest’s band list includes Steve Winwood, Gov’t Mule, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Roots, Ben Folds Five, The Word, Gary Clark Jr. and more.

The tasteful lineup, one spanning genres and 50 different artists, both well known and up-and-coming, is in part due to a key component: curator, rock and blues guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Warren Haynes. What began as a one-day celebration of the then-25th anniversary of Woodstock, N.Y., radio station WDST-FM 100.1 in 2005, featuring Haynes’ group Gov’t Mule, has become a reliable festival for people who enjoy seeing their old favorites and discovering new ones.

“You want to appeal to a lot of different listeners and a lot of different types of audience members,” Haynes explains in a phone interview from his home in Westchester. “But you don’t want for it to be so bizarre across the board that it confuses people. So I think having a very diverse lineup that also appeals to people who love music, that’s the most important thing. People who come to Mountain Jam take music very seriously. They don’t mind seeking out good, new music. They don’t want to be force-fed just the mainstream.”

The festival has morphed progressively with each passing year, always presenting a varied collection of artists. And some musicians, like Michael Franti and Spearhead, keep coming back for more. Franti, who will be returning for his seventh consecutive Mountain Jam, has performed with Spearhead since 1994 and hit it big with songs including “Yell Fire!” and “Say Hey (I Love You).” Since becoming a steadfast fest attraction, he’s also become a cheerleader for Haynes and the event’s mission.

“Warren is one of my favorite people in music, one of the nicest,” Franti says from his home in San Francisco. “He cares about the fans. He cares about all the other musicians that he meets and I think that the success of Mountain Jam is indicative of that attitude. Over the years I’ve seen that festival grow from a really small thing into a really big thing that people come to year after year.”

The fest also touts a family-friendly environment; Franti notes that he’s taken his two sons several times. And speaking of the environment, there are green initiatives including free water to anyone with a Mountain Jam water bottle, the use of wind-power, an extensive recycling program, an e-ticketing system to reduce printed ticket waste and more.

As for music, the lineup’s biggest “get” has got to be Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Winwood. “I’m really excited that we were able to get Steve Winwood to come,” Haynes beams. “I think that’s going to be a wonderful addition. I’ve been a big Winwood fan all my life. We’re friends now, but I’m really looking forward to his set.”

Franti echoed that sentiment. “I’m a huge fan. And it’s not just guitar. He’s got that golden voice. I’ve been making music for a long time and he’s been making music for 20 or 30 years longer than I have and he’s still really at the top of his game. For someone who’s been doing it for so long to still have a love for it. . . “

Another highly anticipated performance of the weekend will include Gov’t Mule’s “Tribute Ramble,” which will feature the full Levon Helm Band with Larry Campbell, Teresa Williams, Amy Helm and others. The band will pay homage to the recently deceased Levon Helm, who performed at last year’s festival in celebration of his 70th birthday, during Gov’t Mule’s second set on Saturday, June 2.

Haynes notes the barefoot and lively Lukas Nelson, son of Willie Nelson, as another weekend highlight. “It’s always inspirational to watch young bands and kinda see what they’re up to and where they’re drawing their inspiration from, because every band and every artist is just a product of their influences. It’s really how you add all those influences together and mix them up that kinda gives you a personality of your own. Whenever I hear new bands I try to figure out where they’re coming from, what they’ve been listening to, and it always ignites some kind of spark.”


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