Lindi Ortega: Photo by Alisa B. Cherry
Though only in its third year, Jam in the Trees has attracted a faithful following thanks to the ease and convenience of only two stages, the lack of hard choices and easy access to food, merch and drink (it is sponsored by Pisgah Brewing Company after all). In that regard, it makesit more akin to a family outing than a showcase for rock or revelry.
The Friday night line-up provided a soft opening of sorts, allowing Gangstagrass to offer an especially auspicious introduction, given their unorthodox fusion of hip-hop, rap and rootsy Americana. It won the audience’s appreciation and created anticipation for all that would follow.
Separate sets by the Po Ramblin Boys and Slocan Ramblers kicked things off in ernest on Saturday, each veering between spirited hoedowns and down home designs. Neither band makes any pretense in terms of their intents; a front line consisting of guitar, banjo, mandolin and stand-up bass underscores their authenticity.
Resonator guitar wiz Jerry Douglas took the unusual tack of performing solo while tapping a few covers. They included the Allman Brothers’ “Little Martha,” Tom Waits’ “My Baby Is Leaving on the 2:19” and a version of “Hey Joe” originally rendered by Jimi Hendrix, who Douglas playfully described as “my favorite bluegrass guitar player.”
Lindi Ortega held court on the indoor stage, resplendent in a wide brimmed black hat and a dark shimmering jacket. Though she demonstrated a decided tendency for toughness and tenacity, her true-life ballad “When All the Stars Align” offered a more tender touch. Later, Elizabeth Cook kept the “MeWith” vibe going, singing a song about her ex-husband even while she acknowledged he was alright anyway.
Back on the outdoor stage, The Steel Wheels found easily accomodated nu-grass, bluegrass and grassicana with an upbeat approach and a vintage variety of traditional trappings. Shooter Jennings upped the energy level several notches further, a populist punk determined to rouse the crowd with some relentless rock and roll. Still, it was left to the Travelin McCourys — bluegrass royalty courtesy of a family lineage that includes their dad Del — to effectively capture the sense of celebration at the essence of Jam in the Trees’ frenetic yet folksy appeal.
As an added nightcap of sorts, Jim Lauderdale returned to the indoor stage where he had performed earlier on his own, and played master of ceremony for the much-touted “After Hours Jam,” featuring the Po Ramblin Boys and many of those who had appeared earlier. “This is the jam that is the Jam in the Trees,” Lauderdale said, demonstrating his usual amiable attitude. He was right of course, proving the point that idyllic environs, an easy ambiance and crowd pleasing performances can allow even a relatively new festival to become a pleasing prospect indeed.