Those attending the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival at German Masonic Park in Tappan, N.Y., knew they would be getting some acoustic Jorma Kaukonen music, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was scheduled to close the day with a solo set. But they wound up getting some electric Jorma, too.
For his own set, he sat on a chair and played an assortment of gracefully executed blues and folk songs (“I Know You Rider,” “Hesitation Blues,” “San Francisco Bay Blues”) and reflective originals (“Genesis,” “Things That Might Have Been,” “Water Song”). But he also joined country-rockers New Riders of the Purple Sage, who played before him on the festival’s main stage, for about half their set, playing electric guitar and occasionally soloing on “Deep Elem Blues,” “Wookie Kids,” “Where There’s Two There’s Trouble” and “Higher.”
In both formats, his playing was spare and tasteful, with no wasted notes and no showing off. Lots of respected veteran musicians radiate cool, of course, but it’s hard to think of another one who seems to do it so effortlessly.
The first day of the festival, Saturday, was devoted to more hard-driving music, with sets by Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Willie Nile, festival organizer Joe D’Urso and his Stone Caravan Band, Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers and others. But there was more relaxed vibe on Sunday, where the other acts included the Woodstock, N.Y.-based Professor Louie & the Crowmatix (led by Aaron Louis Hurwitz, who added accordion to the Kaukonen/New Riders jam) and The End of America, a young Philadelphia-based group whose exquisite three-part vocal harmonies make comparisons to Crosby, Stills & Nash inevitable.
As was the case on Saturday, the weather couldn’t have been better. “What a perfect, perfect afternoon this is,” said Kaukonen, 75, whose acoustic set began at 6:30 p.m.
Later, he expressed his gratitude to the crowd, and added, “As long as we can do it, and people want to hear it, we’ll be there for them.”
As on Saturday, there were lots of previous connections between the artists on the bill. Jefferson Airplane co-founder Kaukonen and New Riders, of course, both have roots in the San Francisco rock scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s, and Kaukonen also has frequently worked with current New Riders singer-guitarist Michael Falzarano.
Hurwitz has also worked with New Riders before, though he is best known as a collaborator of The Band and various Band offshoots from the 1980s on: His set included two Band songs, “The Weight” and “Ophelia,” as well as “Atlantic City,” the Bruce Springsteen song that The Band covered on its 1993 album Jericho (which Hurwitz co-produced).
Here is a video of Kaukonen playing “I Know You Rider” at the festival: