Mountain Jam Moves To Woodstock Site, Embraces Jam-Band Roots

Mountain Jam
Courtesy of Mountain Jam
– Mountain Jam
Mountain Jam will relocate this year from Hunter Mountain to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Mountain Jam festival founder Gary Chetkof calls the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts main stage “the Taj Mahal of amphitheaters.”

Mountain Jam, the upstate New York music festival celebrating the spirit of the original Woodstock, marks its 15th year with a new production team, a new venue and a renewed commitment to its jam-band roots.

Gary Chetkof, owner of Radio Woodstock and founder of Mountain Jam, formed a new partnership with Live Nation and relocated the festival from Hunter Mountain to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, about a two-hour drive southwest of the old site.

Mountain Jam dates are June 13-16, featuring headliners Gov’t Mule, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, The Avett Brothers, Phil Lesh & Friends and Willie Nelson & Family, as part of the Outlaw Music Festival tour.

The Bethel Woods property is the site of the iconic Woodstock Music & Art Fair, held in August 1969. Fifty years later, Mountain Jam stands as the first rock festival on the grounds since Woodstock, event producers said.

Live Nation books summer concerts at Bethel Woods’ 17,000-capacity amphitheater, which serves as the main stage for Mountain Jam. Two of the three secondary stages flank the Museum at Bethel Woods, which documents the history of the original Woodstock fest.

The change in venue came as part of restructuring the event, Chetkof said.

Mountain Jam started in 2005 as a one-day radio show at Hunter Mountain in conjunction with Gov’t Mule leader Warren Haynes. Over the years, it evolved into a multiday festival with Townsquare Media investing in the event.

Willie, Phil and More
Courtesy of Mountain Jam
– Willie, Phil and More
Mountain Jam

“It grew organically, out of the jam-band community, and got so large (drawing up to 40,000 over four days) that we took in a partner and that lasted about five years before I bought it back,” Chetkof said.

Townsquare Media and Chetkof also produced Taste of Country, a country music festival at Hunter Mountain, which attracted 70,000 people, and the idea was to grow Mountain Jam to that level, Chetkof said.

To broaden the appeal and draw bigger crowds, Mountain Jam strayed from its original programming, booking more mainstream acts such as Steve Miller, Tom Petty and Peter Frampton, plus indie artists such as Jack Johnson, Alt-J, Sturgill Simpson and the Decemberists.

Attendance didn’t hit the same numbers as Taste of Country, though, and attendees preferred that the “jam” flavor be inserted back into the lineup, according to feedback from customer surveys.

“It disappointed a lot of our core fans,” Chetkof said. “In retrospect, the balance could have been done in a much better way to keep the brand and integrity. We got a little carried away. I partnered with Live Nation to bring the magic back that was Mountain Jam for over a decade.”

Live Nation has experience producing similar events such as Peach Fest. The Allman Brothers-inspired event takes place in late July at Montage Mountain in the Pennsylvania Poconos, and it features some of the same acts that perform at Mountain Jam.

“One of the things we wanted to do was bring Mountain Jam back to its original format and the kinds of bands the fans had been used to seeing on the lineup year after year, and with that, came the move to Bethel Woods,” said Dave Niedbalski, Live Nation’s vice president of marketing and talent buyer in Greater Philadelphia.

“The model for it is infrastructure and sustainability,” he said. “There are differences between the two festivals programmatically. They’ve coexisted for years without working together, and now it’s a great place for us to spread the love.”

Live Nation’s data shows about 10 percent crossover among patrons attending both Mountain Jam and Peach Fest, and officials hope to grow that number in the future by introducing passes good for both events, Niedbalski said.

For Chetkof, it’s a thrill to produce Mountain Jam in the same vicinity as the historic 1969 event. The nonprofit Bethel Woods Center for the Arts complex covers 800 acres of lush rolling hills and farmland, which stands in contrast to the rocky setting at Hunter Mountain.

“The fact that it was the 50th anniversary of Woodstock was really appealing to me,” Chetkof said.

The venue itself is less than 15 years old. The $150 million Bethel Woods amphitheater opened in 2006 and the museum opened two years later. Five years ago, a conservatory opened, tied to educational youth programs.

“I equate Bethel Woods to Yankee Stadium,” Chetkof said. “It’s the Taj Mahal of amphitheaters.”

“As our audience gets older, this venue is much more conducive in terms of convenience and ease and simple things like flat land, which enables you to park cars next to your campsite,” he said. “Walking paths aren’t muddy when it pours rain and the bathrooms are beautiful.”

Another plus: Warren Haynes is back to perform and help book talent for Mountain Jam after taking a two-year break, Chetkof said. Gov’t Mule’s headline set on Friday night will pay homage to the original Woodstock festival.

“I looked at it like a band going its separate ways, releasing a solo album and then coming back together,” he said. “When Mountain Jam diversified its programming, that’s one thing that caused Warren to take a break. Going back to its roots, we couldn’t do it without him.”

Haynes, through the multitude of bands he’s played with over the years, including the Allman Brothers and various iterations of the Grateful Dead, brings instant credibility to the festivals he helps program, officials said.

“It’s that stamp of approval and his ability to pick up the phone and call many musicians … and it’s a comfort level with the fans,” Niedbalski said. “The first calls we made were to get Warren back in the fold as well as Michael Franti,” an original Mountain Jam performer.

Long term, Mountain Jam officials see Bethel Woods as a good fit for the festival. This year’s event features a Ferris wheel, a collection of craft beer providers and a cannabis village and wellness center with CBD vendors. All ticket holders get free admission to the museum, a $20 value.

About 5,000 campers are expected, including those paying an upcharge for the glamorous camping package known as “glamping.” The cost is $1,300 to $1,500 for a two-person tent equipped with electrical power, beds, night tables and a concierge for setup, among other amenities.

“The joy of it is you’re on site, 100 feet from one of the stages,” Niedbalski said. “You don’t need a shuttle bus.”

Single-day admission tickets bought in advance for Friday and Sunday cost $89, and Saturday costs $109 . VIP tickets cost $275 a day for Friday and Saturday and $250 for Sunday and come with a reserved seat, access to exclusive viewing areas, dinner and private restrooms, among other amenities.

As the event grows at Bethel Woods, festival producers could potentially move the main stage to one of the fields adjacent to the historic Woodstock location to accommodate a larger audience, he said.

“We’ll have a better feel after the festival is over,” Chetkof said. “I would hope that our instincts are correct. This venue has so many advantages to it.”

This story originally appeared in VenuesNow.