Mountain Jam is the kind of festival where you can see the Screaming Eagle of Soul flying up the mountain on a chairlift.
This was, of course, Charles Bradley himself just a short while after finishing his set this Friday with His Extraordinaires. The group belong to Sharon Jones’ DapTones record label and have a similar retro soul vibe. They closed their set with “Why Is It So Hard” from his most recent album No Time for Dreaming. “Why is it so hard to make it in America?” he sang as the band executed a mellow 6/8 groove, the horns two-stepping and Bradley dropping to the floor doing splits and calling out “wait a minute” between verses.
After Bradley’s soulful commiseration, everyone was ready for some spiritual uplifting.
“If you feel good, let me hear you say ‘Word!’” Robert Randolph said to a roaring crowd as he left the stage following his set with the Word, a gospel collaboration with John Medeski and members of the North Mississippi All Stars. Randolph and Medeski both amazed the crowd with their chops, and Randolph wore a face-wide grin as he preached from the pedal steel. The sound of this group definitely has sacred roots in Southern church music with the exception being that there was no spoken sermon. The soul-cleansing feeling came through nonetheless, and the sunshine even made some brief appearances just to remind you that it was there all along above the clouds. Randolph’s showmanship is unmatched as he shreds solos and tilts the fingerboard of his pedal steel so the crowd can see his fingers at work. Then drummer Cody Dickinson took center stage with an electric washboard solo. He was able to coax some very un-washboard-y sounds out of it with all kinds of filters while Randolph and guitarist Luther Dickinson laid a groove on the drum kit.
In addition to funk, jam, rock and electronica, Mountain Jam also saw the likes of mariachi, Latin, and even American roots music. The Carolina Chocolate Drops brought the Southern front porch to the mountains and taught the crowd about traditions like playing the “bones”—a couple of cow rib bones that two members clicked together while the banjo strummed out a stop and start groove.
“Trombone Shorty” is like a hard-rock funk cannon with his hard-hitting sectionals, juicy blasting guitar solos, and incredibly firm jazz chops that have been steeped in tradition. They ended their set in an old-school vein with Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman” and a tune that Cab Calloway made famous, called “Hi Dee Ho,” which also saw a guest appearance from congero Pedrito Martinez, who had just finished a set on the West Stage with his Latin jazz quartet.
“I love the whole ‘If you build it they will come’ mentality,” frontman Matt Caughthran said during his set with El Mariachi Bronx. This group created an unlikely mix of punk rock and mariachi music, and they all dressed in traditional black charro outfits.
Being at a ski resort, naturally Mountain Jam gets to take advantage of the comfortable base lodge, which proves vital when the quality of the weather doesn’t live up to the quality of the music, which was the case for most of the weekend. The Healey Brothers Hall located inside the lodge played host to some of the most exciting acts of the weekend, including Marco Benevento, EOTO, and the Nigel Hall Band.