Tag Archives: Gary Chetkof

Interview with Gary Chetkof: Founder of Mountain Jam Festival and principal owner of Radio Woodstock 100.1

Interview with Gary Chetkof: Founder of Mountain Jam Festival and principal owner of Radio Woodstock 100.1
Interviewer/photographer: Vernon Webb

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The history: What was your inspiration for Mountain Jam and how did it come about? What was the inspiration?

It is Radio Woodstock 25th year anniversary. I wanted to put on an outdoor party. Found Hunter Mountain and it’s a beautiful location. We had five bands and it was a one day event. After everyone said how amazing it was we decided to do it again the next year. The following year the festival was two days; the next year three days. The growth in size and sound was organic, it was unplanned and spontaneous. Gov’t Mule was the first headliner, they were onboard from the get go. I had been at Woodstock 94, 99; Bonnaroo and thought it was the coolest thing in the world to escape from the world and meet new people and experience new music. Michael Franti has been on the bill since the second year. The Avett Brothers, Grace Potter, almost every year. The community of musicians and fans that get together shows musical diversity, it’s a good mix of old and new. Ya, it’s incredible and bigger than we ever imagined. Mountain Jam I and II, started out with half a dozen people, now it’s probably thousands of people. Every year it’s like wow, I can’t believe it.

The town budget has increased. By year three Phil Lesh and Friends; year five Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule’s Levon Helm Tribute. Last year, we had the Black Keys and Robert Plant. Never imagined they would have this level of talent.

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I’ve heard rumors of it being moved, is there any merit in that? If so any thoughts on a good place to move too?

It got big, we are constantly thinking of ways to make it good but not too crowded. We do not want to change location. You always look to see options but no intentions of moving. It’s an incredibly beautiful spot, green rolling hills, hiking trails, biking trails, it’s hard to beat. We’ve moved things around so there’s not as many hospitality tents. We want to keep it at Hunter mountain as long as possible.

What are some of the bands that represent the feel of Mountain Jam?

Gov’t Mule and Michael Franti are the soul of the festival. Warren is an amazing guitar player, they are the nicest guys. Franti is on a whole other level where he lifts people’s spirits. The combination of the two is very powerful. Franti has a way to make it stop raining, sunshine for Franti. There was one year there was a rainbow when Franti played. (In fact in stopped raining and the rainbow came out during The Sound Of Sunshine.)

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How does rain affect Mountain Jam?

It doesn’t rain every year, you’re there for 4 days, it’s going to rain at least 1 or 2 days. Years 2 and 3 we had a lot of rain and you develop a reputation. Years 4 and 5 no rain but there is the reputation of rain. The perception isn’t really the reality, it is unpredictable. Franti said it’s the only festival where you get all four seasons at one festy. Everybody knows to come with all different clothes to the festival.

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What do you like most about putting on Mountain Jam?

Putting the music together is the best part. You get some of your favorite bands together to create the festival. Seeing the creation come to life is my favorite part. There’s a million moving parts, improvisation things that happen where you have to deal with the unexpected. I have a large staff that takes care of most things and only contact me when there is really important things.

What advice would you give to someone who’s wanting to create a festival?

Don’t do it! (lots of laughter) It’s hard to start a festival now. There was a time and place where it was easy. Now it’s very regulated, competitive it was a lot easier and fun at the start. It’s an honor and a privilege to be creating the festival. I feel really lucky. You get to see your friends, like extended family, like a reunion. Cool thing to do but it’s hard to get it started now because of big competition.

Why you got rid of smaller stage on the side?

The only reason we got rid of the small stage was we simply ran out of room and needed the room for something else and issues with sound bleeding over. There’s not a lot of space so you have to compromise.

What are the plans for next year?

I’d like to have all the bands I couldn’t get to this year. I have pie in the sky dreams of who I have in mind.

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