Photo: Mountain Jam Festival
Since 2005, Mountain Jam Festival has celebrated huge names in the jam band scene in the middle of the scenic Hudson Valley. In recent years, the festival team–led by founder and co-promoter Gary Chetkof and Townsquare Media–has opted to mix it up a little, opening up to new genres and emerging artists from the rock, folk and indie scenes. This year’s festival (June 15-17) includes a few Capital Region acts as well: Jocelyn and Chris Arndt, Sydney Worthley and Sean Rowe, returning after his 2014 set.
The Alt caught up with Chetkof, who also owns and operates the independent station Radio Woodstock (WDST 100.1 FM), to talk about the festival’s legacy and growing lineup.
ALT: These acts are pretty notable – artists who are riding the high of their musical career like Father John Misty or have recently found overwhelming commercial success after several years like Portugal. The Man. Then there are giants like George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. What was it like to put this lineup together? What were the goals here?
GC: The goal was to put together a great, diverse lineup of some of the best rock, folk and indie bands that are in the prime of their careers…and to have a nice mix of both emerging and more established bands. We really wanted to emphasize the bands that are carrying the torch of rock and making music today that is compelling and relevant to the times we are living in.
ALT: How has Mountain Jam grown since its 2005 inaugural show in terms of sound diversity? It’s obviously skyrocketed in terms of quantity.
GC: The early years of the festival focused on the jam band scene (Allman Brothers, Phil Lesh & Bob Weir, Government Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, Widespread Panic, moe.), and then we started to diversify and mix into indie, folk, R&B, soul, blues and electronica (Ray LaMontagne, Avett Brothers, Michael Franti, Jason Isbell, Wilco, Charles Bradley, Mavis Staples, Pretty Lights, Gary Clark Jr.). In the last three years, we have added some high profile superstars (Robert Plant, Black Keys, Beck) and this year’s big headliner is Jack Johnson.
ALT: How does the booking team go about finding up and coming acts?
GC: Radio Woodstock has an extremely diverse programming format. The station is notable for discovering new, emerging artists and connecting the dots from the past 50 years of rock. So Mountain Jam is highly influenced by Radio Woodstock and its programming team, along with other similarly programmed non-commercial radio stations and media outlets that emphasis new music. We also keep a watchful eye on online music outlets, streaming services and the music charts.
ALT: There’s something about Mountain Jam that keeps some performers coming back year after year. While a major part of that, I’m sure, is the relationship built with the Mountain Jam team in terms of management, etc. what is it about this festival that sets it apart from other summer music gatherings?
GC: Artists like to play Mountain Jam because the vibe of the festival is very cool and laid back. We are in a unique, beautiful mountain top setting at the Hunter Mountain ski resort in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. The rolling green hills, nearby streams and lakes and fresh country air really contribute to an amazing, soul-cleansing experience. Plus the amenities are amazing. The campsites are beautiful, there are onsite and nearby condos and ski chalets, and an indoor lodge with real bathrooms. Plus, the stage is in a natural amphitheater, so the sight lines (with festival goers looking down the Mountain to the stage located at the base) are incredible.
ALT: How do the arts and yoga elements come into play? In terms of festival culture, that’s so important in terms of creating a space nowadays – a “world away from the world.”
GC: We do try to create a sort of fantasy land for festival goers. Seventy-five percent of our attendees are here for the entire three days, escaping from life’s daily rituals. So we try to touch on people’s spiritual side, which is often opened up with music. With this in mind, we try to reach deeper into our attendee’s lifestyles and wellness, so we began offering yoga in the mornings, healing modalities such as gong, or sound, therapy, massage, chiropractic, and other fun outdoor activities such as hiking, Frisbee golf, hula hooping, and zip-lining. Likewise, art stimulates people’s souls, so we have always had amazing visual artists, including sculpture artists and painters as well as great craft vendors from around the country.
This interview has been edited for clarity and space.