Above: A scene from last year's Mountain Jam. Photo via the Mountain Jam Facebook page.
“I just wanted to throw a big outdoor party for WDST’s 30th anniversary,” he said. “It was fun, and people started saying, ‘Are you going to do this again next year? Do it! Do it!’ It wasn’t really my intention, but what the hell. We tried it again, we added camping, and it just grew and grew.”
The 11th Mountain Jam, which begins today, goes all weekend and features 40 bands on 3 stages, is rolling in like thunder with a national reputation as a premiere music festival. Big names like the Black Keys, the Alabama Shakes, Robert Plant, Gov’t Mule, Michael Franti and Spearhead and Rusted Root will be back to make the mountains ring. And the lovely natural amphitheater that is Hunter Mountain will once again be transformed into a spiritual descendant of the original Woodstock festival site.
Unlike that glorious muddy mess, Mountain Jam has been logistically fine-tuned so that concertgoers can tailor the experience to suit their tastes and needs to a T. There are nine different levels of tickets for sale, from a straight-up three-day general admission ticket to VIP passes with camping (the Super VIP package is already sold out for this year). Lodging choices run the gamut from condo to campsite.
“We’ve invested more in the lineup this year, so we’ve got even bigger and better talent,” said Chetkof. “We’ve always been very much about diversity, and the caliber has gone up. People who come to hear favorites end up discovering new favorites … Some of the greatest moments happen at the festival. It’s an escape from daily life, very spiritual and transformative. People share coffee with neighbors, make new friends, work stuff out with old ones. It becomes its own little world in this incredible lush green setting.”
There’s more in store than just music. Mountain Jam has become known for innovative extras like a zip line, sky rides, a hammock grove for de-stressing, on-site therapeutic massage and workshops with artists. Festival-goers will be able to watch fire dancers, explore yoga and sound healing, run themselves through a "karma wash," play zombie hunter adventure paintball and enjoy a giant climbing tower for all ages. Nonprofits and educators will be eager to give you the 411 on sustainability, healing modalities and more; food is everything from gourmet locavore exotica to burgers-n-brews. There’s a children’s tent, and kids under ten get into the festival free.
Chetkof said that he has been collaborating with local authorities on handling the international influx of funseekers. Mountain Jam draws thousands of visitors, and every year a few dozen end up in the police blotter, largely for possession of illegal recreational this-or-that. (The Ulster County Sheriff's Office has announced that it is setting up a sobriety checkpoint in the area this weekend.)
“It’s a balancing act for everyone,” Chetkof said. “My message to the authorities has always been that these people are here on vacation. They’re customers. Treat them accordingly. But problems arise when people let their guard down a little far. Be careful, be safe, and you’ll be fine.”
And why risk anything in the first place? Mountain Jam is four solid days of a stellar natural high; if anything lacks, you can always hop another Skyride.