"Just when I think you couldn't possible get any dumber‚ you go and do something like this…and totally redeem yourself!" -Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber
Those famous words held true at the inaugural Jackson Hole Music Festival -- a place as pretentious as it is picturesque.
With multimillion-dollar housing swallowing up the regional market‚ a world class mountain range with endless outdoor recreation‚ ravaged natural gas and oil resources nearby‚ over 600 inches of fresh powder this winter‚ depleting wildlife conservation efforts and some of the finest microbrews in the country‚ Jackson is a ski town which‚ in essence‚ is a bubble of everything good and bad in the United States. But for one weekend‚ troubles‚ insecurities‚ and economic and political differences were set aside as an equal playing field emerged on the steep slopes of the Teton Range.
Day 1
With a crowd capacity limited to 10‚000‚ organizers had a few worried glances around the venue as the 3‚000 weekend warriors found a place to set up a blanket and get some sun at the base of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
The soundscapes of Kaki King soon echoed up the mountainside. The pintsize guitar prodigy fluttered up and down the fret of her acoustic guitar like a hummingbird in the pursuit of sweet nectar. Touching mainly on material from her new album‚ Dreaming of Revenge‚ King brought forth a vocal presence as sincere and unique as the talent in her hands. The climatic set ended with a cover of "Fashion Tattoo" by the Bubonix‚ where King screamed her heart out over the roar coming from the pit. Though later she would complain about the performance (guitar problems)‚ one still appreciates how the "girl wonder" is coming into her own‚ carving out a new tunnel for herself with a backing group that seemingly erases any doubt in the mind of the listener whether or not it was a good decision to add other instruments.
Medeski‚ Martin & Wood hopped onstage as the mid-afternoon sun and mid-August heat bared down on the dusty and sweaty multitude. The freedom immediately radiated into the audience as drummer Billy Martin eased into the moment while John Medeski abused the keyboards to no end. All the while Chris Wood took the standup bass for a nice‚ long walk into the nearby woods. Though one might have preferred a late-night show under the stars of a crisp Wyoming night‚ the group transported the congregation into a dreamlike state‚ weaving into grooves while the notes slowly cascaded down into the valley below. As if MMW weren't enough‚ Kaki King sauntered into the web already spun around the trio and had a go at it. Finishing out the set‚ the quartet gradually brought the audience back to reality with a few numbers that explored that vast open range‚ dense forest lands and peaceful ambiance engulfing the site. But just when you came back into reality‚ the odd notion of Brian Wilson performing next soon wafted through the air.
Though nothing can ever tarnish his legacy with The Beach Boys or as a composer‚ Wilson stirred up mixed emotions even before he sung his first verse. With a nine-piece ensemble‚ The Wonderments‚ backing the reclusive legend‚ Wilson resembled the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century in his presence -- a once powerful force‚ now weakened and held up by the crutch of his peers. He seemed to just sit at the keyboards‚ only contributing a handful of verses and banter between songs. But with the backup singers taking the reigns‚ seeing "Catch a Wave" or "All Summer Long" live was quite a treat. The speculation that lingered leading up to the show over how well Wilson would perform quickly vanished as everyone got over the strange festival slot and boogied down as the sun started to wane. Listening to those melodies we all grew up on‚ memories were dusted off and hands held as "Surfer Girl" and "In My Room" slowed down the eager crowd. As if picking through a greatest hits collection‚ the act concluded with "Wouldn't It Be Nice‚" "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations."
As America's rock sweethearts‚ Wilco is that band next door we all say we knew before they "got big." Looking out through his dark aviator sunglasses‚ Jeff Tweedy simply smiled as the group paid tribute to Woody Guthrie with "Remember the Mountain Bed." The tune poignantly spoke to the spirit of the Wild West‚ the pursuit of the American Dream and the scene playing out in front: "There in the shade and hid from the sun we freed our minds and learned/Our greatest reason for being here‚ our bodies moved and burned/There on our mountain bed of leaves we learned life's reason why/The people laugh and love and dream‚ they fight‚ they hate to die. The sextet dipped into every era of their history as "Side with the Seeds‚" "Hummingbird" and "Jesus‚ Etc." came to light in the early evening. The group hit their stride within raw‚ distorted and nonchalant versions of "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Impossible Germany." Tweedy had the crowd in the palm of his hand as he spoke to those over the fence and wandering around the grounds. The push and pull energy from both sides was contagious as tears were seen streaming down the faces of more than a few people. Tweedy and Co. offered up "Spiders (Kidsmoke)‚" with "Kingpin" putting the first day of the festival to rest.

Day 2
Though the blazing sun was much hotter‚ attendance doubled for the second day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as everyone readied themselves for another bombardment of music.
It was my first encounter with Son Volt‚ the former other half of Uncle Tupelo‚ and they did not disappoint one bit. Hearing Jay Farrar wail not only on guitar but through the microphone‚ conjured numerous emotions with his somber tone and casual charisma. The alt-country meets rock styling still sounds as fresh and promising as ever; though Farrar still doesn't get the acclaim he deserves. It's amazing to think of the talent possessed and history shared by two of the listed bands for the weekend. Rumors had swelled over a one-off Tupelo reunion‚ but obviously that wasn't the case.
Darting around the stage frantically and jumping on top of his lap steel forcefully‚ Robert Randolph turned the sweaty into doused‚ the tired into exhausted‚ the buzzed into drunk as he and the Family Band stomped their feet into the hard dirt of the Tetons. We were all here for one reason‚ music‚ and he made sure not one person forgot that. Two lap steels and two electric guitars blared out of the speakers in a barrage of sound which called upon our deepest instincts of rhythm and beat. Bringing together everyone‚ Randolph found himself in the midst of an all instrumental of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You‚" with the lyrics provided by those dancing‚ walking by‚ standing or sitting.
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals injected the already weary crowd with another dose of melodies that incite a loss of inhibitions as feet move and heads shake. "Fight Outta You" and "In The Colors" generated energy while "Burn One Down" and "With My Own Two Hands" exposed the positive feeling flowing around during the weekend. Harper is truly a master of his craft and an ambassador of peace and understanding through music.
On a tear across the country‚ The Black Crowes have renewed a lot of faith and interest in their music with the addition of guitarist Luther Dickinson and the success of this year's Warpaint. Immediately falling into "Jealous Again‚" the southern rock juggernaut wrapped the listener around their finger. Snaking around the stage in his Mick Jagger swagger‚ Chris Robinson had his hand down the pants of every dude's girlfriend as he belted out "Hard to Handle." It was down and dirty‚ a refreshing reminder that rock 'n' roll is still alive and kicking‚ especially through the hands of Dickinson. The set list consisted of a back and forth method between old ("Twice as Hard") and new ("Whoa Mule"). Coming out from behind the percussion kit‚ Steve Gorman strapped on a marching band drum (with a photo of President Bush on the side) and proceeded to thump the instrument through the sultry "God's Got It (Rev. Charlie Jackson)." The true beauty of the Crowes shines through on "Remedy" as the backup singers compliment Robinson in his scratchy‚ scruffy‚ enticing singing quality. Dark clouds began to surround the venue as a stiff breeze blew through the crowd. The group harnessed the moment and ended with a heartfelt rendition of "Cold Rain and Snow."
Though it is only the inaugural year of the Jackson Hole Music Festival‚ one could make a few suggestions (onsite camping‚ late night shows‚ more room to stretch out) and a few compliments (only one stage to focus on‚ a stunning venue with easy access‚ plenty of water and shade). But all and all it turned out a success for the folks at Festival Network. In a year where hundreds of new music festivals dot the country‚ Jackson Hole will definitely be one that holds its ground and continues to pursue perfection.