Spring is in the air, as the weather blossoms and outdoor fun fills our minds, it’s time to shake the winter blues at Mountain Jam once more! This year’s lineup is oozing talent – Beck, Wilco, The Avett Brothers, Gov’t Mule, Umphrey’s McGee, Train playing Led Zeppelin II, Thievery Corporation, Brandi Carlile and so many more are sure to set your soul a blaze June 2-5.
In its twelfth incarnation, Mountain Jam is partnering with Hunter Mountain Ski Resort for another fan favorite music event in the beautiful Catskill Mountains. Its founder, and owner of Radio Woodstock, Gary Chetkof, provided insight as to how they’re continuing the success of the event this year and years to come:
Gary, the lineup for this year’s Mountain Jam looks incredible, as always. What does it take to put that together?
A little bit of vision as to what you want to create for the year, and really it’s about who had great albums out and who had concerts that really touched people. So, we really focused this year on bands that are in their prime and making relevant albums and having great reviews and have lyrics and songs that are really resonating with the people. That’s what we focused on. The whole lineup are really great songwriters, but if you look at people who haven’t played the festival before, like Beck, and Jason Isabell, Courtney Barnett, and Brandy Carlile, these are all bands that are exploding, and even Beck who has been around for 20 years had a great album out last year — his new song is just mind-blowing.
Is there anyone you’re exceptionally interested in seeing?
I’m definitely excited to see Beck, I haven’t seen him in a long time. And I’ve never seen Brandy Carlile with her band, I’ve only seen her acoustically. And Courtney Barnett I’ve never seen before. Gary Clark Jr. has been a couple years since he’s been at Mountain Jam and Daniel Raitlef I’ve never seen before. So it’s really interesting that there is a lot of bands that hit their limelight this year and we’re just thrilled to have them.
Running over a decade now, what do you think keeps Mountain Jam thriving in this festival boom?
I think it’s willingness to evolve combined with new and exciting artists and not just be stuck in one thing or one genre. I think that it’s really diversified, and we try to improve every year on the experience. We moved things around this year to make it easier for people to get up and down the mountain and to have more room. We always strive to have better food choices and variety. I think the festival really puts its heart and soul into making it a great experience, and I think the people see that and appreciate that and come back every year and are always impressed. Keeping the lines short and the bathrooms clean and all new experiences happening, it keeps the festival fresh and exciting.
With other Northeast rock festivals like GOTV having to hiatus, All Good coming to an end, and Catskill Chill needing to relocate, what sets Mountain Jam apart from these?
I think that stability is definitely important. We have a great partnership with Hunter Mountain. We have a great partnership with the community, we’re wanted, and we’re invited back. We respect them, they respect us. The first hurdle is your community and making sure you leave everything the way you found it, and then it’s putting on a festival that people want to come to, keeping it fresh, exciting and innovative. At the end of the day you’re really only defined by the last festival you do. It’s getting the right bands and the right people who want to come see them it critical. A lot of festivals have gotten stale and have rested on their laurels and have not really kept up with what’s new and exciting. I think after a while you get a little tired of it.
Besides the beautiful backdrop, why is Hunter Mountain still the choice venue?
It has so many great attributes. First and foremost, it’s located on a mountaintop in the Catskills which is beautiful and has great sight lines. There’s lakes, waterfalls, hiking trails — you’re just happy to be in this gorgeous environment. There's camping on site and there’s lodging nearby — it’s a ski resort, so there (are) lodges, ample parking, and facilities where people can go into real bathrooms with real running water. It just has a lot to offer, and it’s not in a remote location — people can come for the day and people can drive and spend the weekend. It offers a lot of options and variety for people.
Last year we talked about the growth of Mountain Jam, and how important it is to reinvest in the event and have an incredible team to keep the moving pieces geared together. What else is growing about Mountain Jam this year?
We moved around some of the VIP areas — we moved things around to make it easier for people to walk and get to the festival and would have more room doing so. We have a whole VIP village that’s separate from the festival, so it’s not as intrusive. We have all kinds of workshops and lecture series inside the lodge this year that has been growing more and more. One of the things we talk about is cannabis and how its legalization and trends are happening in New York state. There’s a lot of entertainment besides music happening. There’s plenty to do and plenty to see, all within a short walking distance. People can do a lot of things, and get back to the music when they want.
Looking ahead, where do you see Mountain Jam in its next decade?
We grow a little bit every year; we don’t want to change what we’ve created, but it’s more of the same. More non-musical entertainment, more lecture series, and we keep putting on the best bands that people care about and want to see. A lot of them are emerging artists people are seeing for the first time and we take great pride in exposing them to people for the first time who eventually really become popular and successful and give their accolades to Mountain Jam. That’s really our mission — slow growth while focusing on everyone having a great experience and that the music is compelling and something people really talk about after the festival.
Mountain Jam is a can’t-miss event for the summer adventurer! Tickets start at $85 for day pass (three-day passes are $215, four-day passes are $235), with VIP options starting at $675 for the weekend. Tickets are still available at http://mountainjam.com/tickets.