Mount Tam Jam was the first rock concert on the Mountain since the Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival held in June of 1967. On a bill that included Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Steve Miller, the Doors and the Byrds, among 20 other acts, a ticket was just $2 and proceeds benefited San Francisco’s Child Care Center at Hunters Point. According to the Marin Journal, the only mass public events allowed in this World War II era amphitheater since then have been about six plays and that festival. In celebration of its 100th year, the Sidney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheater hosted Mount Tam Jam, sponsored by the 101-year old Tamalpias Conservation Club as a way of helping to keep the Park open to visitors. All proceeds from tickets to t-shirts and food and beverage, except band specific merch, will go to support the Park which has suffered some serious funding cuts along with many other California State Parks (yo Sacramento, figure it out please!). There was an eco-village where you could learn about the history of Mount Tamalpias and Marin’s other natural and cultural history, the Theatre and Conservation Club, Park Rangers on hand to answer questions about trails and wild-life, and a 12-page “newspaper” they handed out that included quite a bit of information on the history of the area and the purpose behind Mount Tam Jam. There was also a silent auction where you could bid on a handful of juicy items from local artist – a bicycle, rock photos, Mt. Tam themed art and posters, concert tickets to a show at The Fillmore, and more; the additional proceeds from the auction will certainly benefit Mount Tamalpias.
THE man behind this is one Michael Nash. The Tamalpias Conservation Club first considered a “modest” celebration on the Mountain for its 100th year during a conversation with the staff from the California State Park, but was not necessarily in the music fest business. Approached with a deep respect for the mountain and its history, the Club put up the money to get the idea rolling and turned to local area music promoters for help. This is how Mill Valley’s Nash came to join the production team and put on the music fest. We hope they do this again, and again, and again, and again…….
From what I gather, this 100-year-old Mountain Theatre is literally in the backyard of Sammy Hagar, who was in the crowd that day and enjoyed himself so much he was considering playing an acoustic show in the future (so I read in a local area paper interview). This is really a beautiful spot, nestled into the Mountain, with a grand view of the SF Bay area from the seating area and hiking trails sprawling like an octopus from the center of where the stage was set up. It was a gorgeous day, upper 70’s with a slight breeze and not a cloud in the sky. For those who wanted less sun, you could catch a break under a beautiful oak tree, a mother nature-made canopy. Made of stone, the diverse crowd was perched up the side of the hill in a semi-circle of seats facing the stage and the beautiful San Francisco Bay. Definitely a family friendly affair, kids young and old were enjoying the music, dancing their cares away, climbing rocks, taking hiking trails and really just enjoying the day on the Mountain.
Heading up from Monterey was quite a drive (nearly 3 hours without traffic) and I suppose I forgot how busy the SF Bay area can be on a Saturday, so, I ended up missing the first two bands, Danny Glick and the Hell Yeahs and Mike Farris & The Roseland Rhythm Review (bummer). I’m certain it didn’t help that the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View was also having a concert that day either. I probably could have caught most of the second band if it wasn’t for the traffic; add in the bit-o-confusion getting me all squared away with my photo permission, and I made it to side stage as they were hitting their last note and thanking the crowd. I was more than kind of bummed about that, but at least I was able to catch every note of the three main acts – The Taj Mahal Trio, Cake and Galactic.
I had never taken the opportunity to see Taj Mahal before, so I was super excited to catch the blues man in action. That voice, the sweetness he gives to the blues emits such raw emotion; and, his soothing guitar sound will warm ya to your soul. Flanked by Kester Smith on drums and Bill Rich on bass, they were a perfect trio, playing the straigh-up, pure, down-home blues.
Opening his hour set with “Corrina”, Taj gives us a soothing little country blues tune about a girl that warms his heart, makes the birds sing, makes rainbows shine like silver and Klondike gold….. just like that voice, Klondike gold for sure. “Gone Fishin'” has an upbeat bounce to it – about goin’ fishin’, tossing the line, catching a fish and then, well, having some supper – pretty simple story, simple beat but that’s what makes it so easy to listen, easy to tap your toes, easy to enjoy. Just effortless and trouble-free. “Move Up to the Country” was pure Taj blues. The way the Trio laid this one out, even Taj was shimmying in his seat yelling out “Somebody have mercy!” He’s leaving LA for the country side, telling his baby to come along and he’d be her city boy country man. Heck, I’d go! My absolute favorite of his short but sweet set was “Queen Bee”, another lightly played, sweetly sung, love song. As Taj says, “these songs were made for lovers…” Well, surely the words in this little love song clearly tell how he feels about his Queen Bee – “Honey in the honey pot and the pot is what you got. To lova rock rock me to my soul, Oh love me to my soul, rock me to my soul….”
There were a handful of songs I didn’t quite know, like “TV Mama” or “Goin to Waimea” – a little Hawaiian blues tune that brought me back to the beaches, tropical breeze and a fruity drink in my hand, with an umbrella of course. Can’t forget to mention the banjo pickin’ dance jam that certainly kept everyone’s giddy-up a goin’ with “Tom & Sally Drake” – or as Taj called it, “Roscoe’s Barn”. Just a simple banjo jam, old school style, nuthin’ too fancy, just porch blues that’s all. Perfect. He ended the set with “The Blues is Alright” – a rompin’, stompin’, rockin’ blues tune that had everyone up on their feet clapping and dancing, really just savoring every note they played.
Talking in that frosty froggy voice, he expressed his thanks to the crowd, the Mountain, and for those who asked him to be a part of this first “Mount Tam Jam” and give back to the beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area. Then he reminded the crowd of the special time of year – “Happy Solstice! Now everyone get out and dig the moon tonight!”
Up on stage next was Cake. I’ve definitely had my Cake in the past – at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Monterey Fair Grounds for the 2007 Music Summit (that was supposed to be an annual thing…… eh, that’s Monterey for ya……) and most recently this past May at the first Bottle Rock festival in Napa. I tell ya, Mr. John McCrea just cracks me up. I do believe he had me laughing it up just as much as boogying down. Their hour and 20 minute set was filled with a handful of classics, like “I Want to Love You Madly”, “Frank Sinatra”, and “Never There” to a handful of new one’s from their latest CD out in 2011, “Showroom of Compassion”, like “Bound Away”, “Mustache Man”, and “Federal Funding”, (“its like socialism the way we take care of this mountain” – just another McCrea quote, possibly connecting the lack of state and federal funding for our parks). “Long Time” is also from their newest disc, but it may get quite a bit of radio play making it feel like a classic Cake song already – or at least I thought it was! There were many opportunities for audience participation, like with “Sheep go to Heaven” and “Sick of You” which even had the stage-side security folks trying to help McCrea get the audience corralled and singing it out loud! Dividing the audience into two sides, by the oak tree, he pitted which side was better, which can sing louder, then calling one side lame while flipping off the other side for shown’ ’em up, claiming there must have been lithium in the water fountain.
“Bound Away” was sort of a waltz, letting you sway and dance around to a story about leaving California and heading out on tour, waking up in new places to play in new spaces – “I’m an unknown individual in an unattended car. Hey, welcome to Chicago or wherever you are…..” “Mustache Man (Wasted)” off their new CD has a steady rockin’ beat, almost a dangerous sound as it tells the story of about an intergalactic ladies man who stoops by earth to refuel on girl power…. I feel a little Saturday Night Fever beat in there, “launching loony thoughts into the bending of your mind…. His music fills your feathers as you feel your passions fly….. I’ve wasted so much time…..”
“Stick Shifts and Safety Belts” [off “Fashion Nugget” (1996)] gives you a bit of a bass slapping paired with a country twang that probably wouldn’t normally go together, but for Cake, yeah, they make it all work. Just a simple song about cars, not liking stick shift because they have bucket seats and then he can’t have his girl sitting up close, old school. Eh, these days, with the safety belt rules, can no longer sit all up next to your guy like ya used to. The old days, when oil was plentiful for our big gas guzzling cars and we didn’t get pulled over for not wearing a seat belt, if your car even had one.
Each time I’ve been in the audience for one of these Cake shows, I feel like I get two shows in one – a little comedy and a lot of music. Comedically stated, politically incorrect stories tossed in with their signature sarcastic lyrics that are backed with some country, funk, rock, hip hop, maybe a little Mariachi from the south or sounds from the far east are a guaranteed crowd screamin’, hippie-shakin’ great time. This small but loud crowd stomped and hooted and hollered until they came back for three encores – “War Pigs”, which of the covers this band dishes out, this one is the strongest, heavy hitting song (catch their “B-sides and Rarities” disc, you won’t be sorry), “Short Skirt-Long Jacket” which is yet another sing-along for the happy crowd, and ending with “The Distance”. While Cake was not the last band of the day, the lyrics to “The Distance” certainly lend a musical description; “The fans get up and they get out-of-town. The arena is empty except for one man, still driving and striving as fast as he can. The sun has gone down and the moon has come up, and long ago somebody left with the cup. But he’s driving and striving and hugging the turns, and thinking of someone for whom he still burns. He’s going the distance……” True, the sun had gone down and the moon was on the rise. The road down off of Mount Tam is a beautiful, rolling and winding ride, ocean views as you approach one curve, city views on the next. I just had to pull over and try to grab a shot of that super moon coming up over the east bay.
The beautiful, music-filled day sunset with Galactic, who were super groovy with jazzy, boogie-infused jams led by reeling electric guitar solos, big band sax and trombone, rooted drums, sonic keys, and funky bass – just perfectly timed to keep the crowd filled with energy and on their feet until the last note. I am not super familiar with all Galactic music so the set list I kept has a few holes, for the jams I didn’t know. They are most definitely on my list of bands I should “get to know better”. I can tell you that I found myself dancing and smiling right along with the crowd and right along with Corey Glover, the lead singer for Living Colour who has been on tour with them since 2010 and brought a bit of a heavy rocker and rap-jazz to their sound.
Formed in New Orleans nearly 20 years ago, they have that big party sound, the carnival, the parade that leads you down the cobble-stone streets of the French Quarter in THE town that is most likely included in Webster’s definition of the word “party”. They’ve welcomed names such as Cyril and Ivan Neville, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, George Porter, and Allen Toussaint to join their recorded music and have shared the performance stage with bands such as Counting Crows, the Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic, B.B. King and Live. Impressive to say the least. I can see where all of these influences come together for the musical experience they create.
Set started with a song I was familiar with, “Boban (Mere Yaara Dildara)”, a really funky driven beat and gives each one a chance to show the audience a little of what they got – keys, bass, drums, guitar, sax, trombone….. I must have heard this live as I don’t find it on any of their CDs, except for a live release for which show I was not at…… Hum. Next up was another song I could not find on any CD out there, called “Let’s Do it Together” – serious bass slappin’, guitar jams, funky keys, drum solos, blasting horns, and lots of “yee-ows!” and “ooowwwwwws” from Corey, drawing more and more energy from the band for one incredible 10 minute jam.
“Hey Na Na” and “Karate”, both off their 2012 CD “Carnivale Electricos”, were both reminiscent of the New Orleans sound. Both had that funky bass you could strut to, really great grooves going on, and slick guitar riffs that take sweet control on those soaring moments when you can’t help but to throw your hands in the air in a sign of musical freedom. They are a very tight crew and know how to send you to the moon and bring it back down to the solid earth that is under you, to the crowd that is around you, and the reality of just what a great band they are to see live.
Another major stand-out song for me, and probably the entire place, was “Oh La Oh La Eh!”, which turns into a crowd concert as Corey demands the verse back and the fans give it to him each time. This song gets even more elevated when Corey Henry, the trombone man, takes over the mic and the crowd for a hip-hop rap-it-up break in the song. He towered over the audience as he took command on the front of the stage, holding out his trombone as if it were a conductor’s baton. Galactic was seriously heating it up as the sun went down – perfect!
I cannot forget to mention the two covers – I had no idea that Galactic has been doing these kind of tunes so I guess I’ve missed out a bit. Seriously though, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin? With just the stroke of the first note of “I am the Walrus”, my jaw dropped in awe as I was not expecting it at all. Love The Beatles – “Expert texpert choking smokers, don’t you think the joker laughs at you? (ho ho ho, hee hee hee, ha ha ha)!” Oh yes, I am the Walrus; goo goo g’joob! And then, a tad later in the set, we get “How Many More Times” – again with the jaw dropping! No way…. No way! So recognizable, the start of the bass and drums, then joining in is the electric guitar and steady organ sound – they must have so much fun playing this song! Stanton Moore, on drums, jumped out of his seat hitting the kit so hard, so strong, so John Bonham-y I thought it might fall over! Can’t forget the serious harmonica from Ben, making it scream just as loud as Corey channeled Robert Plant. I kind of which the song went on forever….
But, alas, the show had to end and I had to take the long ride home. I opted to slowly make my way down one of the trails and out of the mountain theatre, in a minor attempt to beat some of the traffic I was stuck in on my way up there. This choice, unfortunately, had me miss the end of their set, but I did get to enjoy the beautiful ride driving slowly, winding down, down, down the hill – rather than breaking behind the buses and cars the whole way!
It certainly was a beautiful little spot to hold a day-long music festival. Ending at sunset is wise, as the theatre is mainly comprised of large boulders and rocks that make up the stadium style seating – very precarious stars to take, and I imagine in the dark people might fall…… Well, I know I would for sure – I was there in the broad daylight and I definitely took my time! Plenty of opportunities for kids young and old to climb a rock or a tree, take a nature trail and see a little furry animal in his own backyard, picnic under an oak tree, gaze at the view of the City by the Bay that makes up the backdrop for the stage – no tapestry needed as it is provided naturally, by Mother Nature.
All in all, it was a pretty grand day of music at a beautiful little spot on the mountain. A small affair, offering local organic food (Sol Food and Good Foods Catering Urban BBQ), local beer (Laguintas showed their support with two tents) – but, maybe not enough in my opinion as the beer lines seemed really long (crew did great keeping it moving) and they ran out of food before the day ended; hopefully there will be a few more venders next time. They did a great job with parking areas and busses to keep the traffic on East Ridgecrest Blvd down to a minimum. Trash and recycle bins everywhere so there was really not a lot to clean up, canopies to keep the sun to a minimum, cushions to sit on if you didn’t bring a blanket and lots of good reminders from friendly staff about keeping hydrated, keeping the sunblock on, and keeping up the respect for the Mountain so we can do this again. The real topper for the day was the moon coming up over the east bay as the show ended just made for a breathtaking view and a lovely , glowing ride down from the Mountain. I opted to stop at the Headlands after the show, before driving over the Golden Gate Bridge – yeah, me and like 8 million other people! There was worse traffic up there than leaving the Mountain with thousands of concert goers!!! I can’t believe I just uttered that – traffic in the headlands or even traffic on a mountain. That’s the SF Bay Area for ya folks. OK, so it was a “super moon” so there was certainly a major occasion for all of the people trying to get that great shot of the moon over the Golden Gate Bridge. I was one, but didn’t have a tripod and couldn’t find a spot to park so had to pass it up, but I did get a nice shot of the moon at dusk, over the east bay. Sweet.
Favorite Band: While I love me some Cake, I have to put The Taj Mahal Trio as my fav of the day, since I had never seen them before
Favorite Song: The Taj Mahal Trio’s “Queen Bee” as it just makes you feel so good and brings a big smile to your face
Favorite Cover Song: Galactic covering The Beatles “The Walrus”…….. wait, and Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” (what?)
Favorite Crowd Moment: Dude shouts “This is the best beer ever!” – I could tell he had more than a few Lagunitas already, the ONLY beer being sold…..
Favorite Staffer Moment: Security up by the front of the stage tossing their arms up and trying to help McCrea get the crowd going during “Sick of You”, then laughing their butts off when the crowd shouts back, “I’m so sick of you!”
Favorite Band Moment: During “Sick of You” when trying to explain how he is dividing the audience by the oak tree and those in the middle must choose a side they will participate. He describes the first side, the escapist side, the things they use to escape from life-like video games and online shopping – without much reaction from the crowd. Then says a single word – “Marijuana!” which, of course, the crowd then cheers. John quips, “OK so marijuana experiences are more popular in the United States of America than shopping experiences? Whatever. That is terrifying to the economy!” At the end, the escapist side was not as loud as the angry side. He claims the drinking fountain must have lithium in it.
Favorite Entertainer of the Day: John McCrea of Cake, cuz he’s a comedian too
Favorite WTF Moment: When Galactic started “How Many More Times”. I’m still saying WTF!
Favorite Picture: The super moon coming up over the East Bay, with San Francisco, The Bay Bridge, Alcatraz Island and Treasure Island all in the foreground…….