The Peach – An Introduction:
This past weekend marked the second annual Peach Music Festival, spearheaded by the classic rock legends themselves, the Allman Brothers Band. Set in the lush slopes and valleys of Montage Mountain and its water park in Scranton, PA. The festival featured a diverse lineup ranging from up-and-coming local acts to some of the hardest hitting, longest running live acts on the scene, and this year was no exception. Below is a day-by-day overview giving you a taste of the best acts the weekend had to offer, with separate accounts for the double doses of Allman and Bob Weir and RatDog. But first let’s talk a little bit about the festival itself and some memorable moments outside of the acts to be featured in the daily breakdown.
The weekend’s weather was perfectly peachy – no rain to speak of, and not a gray cloud in the sky until Sunday. The sunny weather made for perfect conditions for the water park, which was one of the more unique features of this festival. Located dead center of the water park, the Mushroom Stage sat right next to the wave pool and a skip away from the entrance to the lazy river. The Mushroom Stage, featured all of the acts that performed on Thursday night, as well as the late night acts and a number of phenomenal performers throughout the rest of the weekend. You could watch a band perform from the side of the stage while bobbing in the wave pool, or hear all of the music going down as you took a slow and relaxing float around the river. It was the ideal way to beat the heat while still catching the music.
The Peach Stage, which featured the headliners, had seating and tented coverage for those who preferred it, with a large lawn for fun-in-the-sun music enjoyment. During the headlining acts (the Allman Brothers Band, Bob Weir and RatDog, and the Black Crowes) the first three sections directly behind the VIP pit were reserved for those who paid extra for preferred seating. The music sounded great from inside the tent, but it arguably sounded even better from the lawn. Unfortunately, the view from the lawn was somewhat obscured due to the top of the tent combined with the upward slope of the lawn, but there were several screens showing the stage during the headlining acts that improved the viewing situation somewhat. The only other complaints I heard of regarding the festival grounds (which I did not personally experience as I stayed off-site) were the fact that camping was set on Montage Mountain’s ski slopes, leading to some less-than-level sleeping conditions, and the fact that both camping and camping parking required festival-goers to buy separate passes in addition to the festival pass.
So many wonderful moments transpired this weekend that I had trouble deciding what to feature in the day-by-day account, so before going into that,
here are a few highlights from the weekend that occurred outside of the acts featured in the daily breakdown:
Rogue Chimp’s Video Game Tribute Jam:
Rogue Chimp is a group of Scranton locals who meld electronic with funk and rock, but they give their music a twist with one of the grooviest violinists I’ve heard in quite some time. What really blew me away was what the violinist did about halfway through the set. Children of the nineties who were into Nintendo got a treat at that point when the band went into a violin-heavy jam featuring the themes from Final Fantasy, the Legend of Zelda, and Tetris. I’ve heard a lot of rock bands cover the themes to my favorite video games, but this one was pretty damn special.
Dopapod Takes Improv to a Whole New Level:
Saturday was too jam-packed with phenomenal artists to justify giving Dopapod a spot in the daily breakdown of best acts, but their set definitely deserves mentioning. They played a number of songs I had never heard with all four musicians playing skillfully drawn out jams and solos. They also played a version of “Bubble Brain” that was easily twice as long as usual and unlike any other I have ever heard, incorporating sounds of reggae before going into the whimsical jam that always features a decrescendo to almost no sound and then a slow crescendo into a bang that starts off a reworked version of the main theme. But this time, the crescendo was so expertly drawn out that the heightened anticipation leading into the energetic burst of the reworked main theme was the musical equivalent of an orgasm. The band turned skeptics into believers that night without a doubt.
Gov’t Mule’s Funky Guest Action:
Gov’t Mule is not featured in the day-by-day breakdown (primarily for the fact that Warren Haynes gets some love in the section dedicated to the Allman Brothers Band below, and Saturday was, as I’ve already mentioned, simply stacked), but it’s hard not to mention Gov’t Mule when talking about the highlights of any festival at which they perform. Their performance Saturday evening was no exception, but there is one particular moment that will forever be ingrained in my brain. Warren Haynes welcomed onto stage what he called the “Real Three Tenors” – saxophonists Bill Evans (of Bill Evans’ Soulgrass), Karl Denson (of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe), and Ron Holloway (long-time jazz and R&B saxophonist who currently plays with the Warren Haynes Band). In what was easily the highlight of the set, the group of musicians played a cover of “Minnie the Moocher” (known by many as “Hi-De-Ho” for its chorus line), which is a song originally written and sung by the legendary jazz and blues performer Cab Calloway. The song is a jazz classic and calls forth images of New Orleans and its funky music scene, and this was neither the first nor the last time that the Peach would take its audience on a musical trip to New Orleans and back.
The “Brunch with Bobby” Incident:
Bob Weir is a legend. No one will argue with that. I was blown away by his performance the first night with RatDog. But, the man is not as young as he once was, and every now and then you see it when he performs. His “Brunch with Bobby” acoustic set featured one of these moments. Weir began playing “City Girls” and was noticeably having trouble remembering the lyrics and song progression. After a minute or so, he stopped playing, saying “I’m gonna start this one over.” The crowd started cheering and Weir started playing once more. This time however, after about only twenty seconds, he stopped again, laughed a bit, and half-mumbled “I’m gonna have to come back to this one later.” The crowd went wild. Weir never came back to it, and I don’t think his fans cared one bit.
Now, on to the daily breakdown!
Thursday night started later than the other three days, and was unique in that all bands performed at the Mushroom Stage in the water park. It was adult swim night (something that happens on a weekly basis at the park) and a number of people could be found drifting down the lazy river and wading in the wave pool despite the chilly evening air. The bands playing that evening were predominantly local-grown acts, the most well-known being Rusted Root, who stole that evening in terms of performance. Cabinet, a local bluegrass group on the rise in the music scene, also put on a hell of a show.
Cabinet is a six-piece bluegrass ensemble that calls Scranton home. Keep your eyes open for these guys because you may see them sooner rather than later. They’ll be performing two sets at the Catskill Chill Music Festival September 6-9 in Hancock, NY, one of which will be a Dead set (these boys love their Grateful Dead). As their upcoming Dead set suggests, this group doesn’t just stick to traditional bluegrass, and they are definitely hip with the times. This evening, they played a version of Sublime’s “Garden Grove” unlike any I’ve ever heard. Bradley Nowell would have been proud. The cover featured guest Mike Mizwinski on electric guitar, who joined the group on stage a couple of songs into the band’s set. Their spin on bluegrass definitely got me toe-tapping and dancing around.
The evening show stopper, however, was easily Rusted Root. Their set was the perfect beginning to a beautiful summer weekend getaway – surfer, reggae, and Mediterranean elements created a set that, if you had your eyes closed, made you feel just like you were right on the beach with the waves crashing in front of you. If you were by the wave pool you didn’t even need to close your eyes to get this feeling. They also paid tribute to the classics with a stellar cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” which teased Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” in the middle of it. The last song of the set was one of their more popular tunes (with arguably some of the most misheard and misquoted song lyrics in the music world) “Send Me On My Way,” which had nearly every festival attendee singing along (or attempting to sing along, as it were). But the night wasn’t over – the band came out to encore with a stellar version of fan-favorite “Ecstasy.” I heard multiple people calling out for this song throughout the set, and when the band pulled it out for the encore the crowd roared.
Friday started off with some rock and roll of the blues and bluegrass persuasion to set the stage for the classic rock and roll vibes of Allman and RatDog, with a late night performance that took us all to funkytown. For many, the day began with Grace Potter and ended with Galactic, for good reason.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
It had been awhile since I had seen Grace Potter perform, and I had forgotten how extremely talented she is. Her band is not one of my favorites, and I am extremely picky when it comes to female singers, but there’s no debating the fact that this woman is one of the most talented female musicians making music right now. You can probably scratch out that “female” qualification as well. She sings, she dances (and not that silly “wasted white girl” dancing either), and she plays – boy does she play. During her set I watched her wail on both electric and acoustic guitars, and pound on the organ and piano. This girl seriously does it all, and even if you’re not a fan of her style of music, you can’t help but watch in awe of her incredible musical aptitude. If you don’t believe me, ask Bob Weir and Warren Haynes – they have both asked her to come on stage with them to play in the past.
Galactic, a group that puts a modern twist on the funky jazz soul of their hometown of New Orleans, was the first of a handful of bands over the weekend to transport the crowd to the streets of the French Quarter with the sounds of Mardi Gras. And boy, did they set the stage perfectly for the funk that would come in the following days. Stanton Moore, as always, skillfully and energetically kept the band together, and at several points was standing and drumming with such force that, if I had been on the stage, may very well have blown me right off. Corey Glover was the featured vocalist (as is so often the case, although the band does rotate singers), and he never fails to nail all the high notes and keep the crowd involved with the music, which he did once again this weekend with Galactic classics “Hey Na Na” and “You Don’t Know.” But what really astonished me was the role that trombone player Corey “Boe Money” Henry took on that night. I have seen Galactic four times now, and usually Corey Glover has been the one to take on the role of interacting with the fans, but he had a ton a help on this front from Boe Money Friday night. Boe Money of course destroyed it on his bone as he always does, with a number of memorable moments including a psychedelic and perfectly distorted solo during the fourth number. He then took the microphone and got fans to sing and chant with him on a cover of “Tornado Special” (also known as “Ooh Nah Nay” for its chorus), a song originally written and performed by his main gig, New Orleans staple the Rebirth Brass Band. The group then went into a wild version of Ripple’s “I Don’t Know What It Is, But It Sure Is Funky,” which Galactic often plays, but never like this – Boe Money started rapping about halfway through it with such musical strength and flow that I did a double-take. Ordinarily I am not the biggest rap fan, especially in its less musical, angry scream-driven versions, but when done right it can be absolutely wonderful and Boe Money proved that Friday night.
Saturday was literally overflowing with musical talent. Al Schnier & Vinnie Amico of moe. were there with their side project Floodwood, Ron Holloway was floating around and joining bands on stage left and right, and we got a double dose of Warren Haynes with both Gov’t Mule and Allman. Choosing two bands to spotlight was nearly impossible. But Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Lotus brought some much appreciated diversity to the classic rock-and-roll and bluegrass that (justifiably) dominated the festival, earning them the spots as the featured artists of the day.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
After Galactic’s set on Friday night I had a hankering for the funk like no other and one man you can always count on to bring the funk is Karl Denson. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe could be called a high school band geek’s dream – Denson plays not only the saxophone but also the flute, and his Tiny Universe includes a trumpeter, a bassist, a guitarist, a keyboardist, a drummer. Put all of that together and you’ve got one helluva funky world. The band members easily worked together to create the perfect flow, and at one point in the third number Denson and his trumpeter had a tandem saxophone/trumpet solo that felt like it was straight out of the cosmos. Denson was the only flautist to take the stage at the Peach, and his melodies floated through the air and entranced listeners like the beautiful chirps of a Nightingale. The most memorable flute moment came during the second half of the band’s set, when they covered the Doors’ “Light My Fire.” I’m a pretty big Doors fan, and “Light My Fire” is one of the more popular Doors tunes, so I’ve heard this one covered a number of times, but this version was without a doubt the most soulful “Light My Fire” cover I have yet to hear. I’ve always loved Ray Manzarek’s keys solos and covers rarely live up to the original on that front, but the flute solos laid down by Denson on this one were right up there with my favorite Manzarek jams. I could feel both Manzarek and Jim Morrison there in spirit and nodding their heads to the music with approval.
Lotus is without fail the band that, at every festival, is the one band that stands apart most noticeably from the other musical ensembles on the bill. At electronic festivals, they bring the jam and the rock and roll, while at an old-school classic jam festival they are the band that brings in the funky electro-dance sounds. But regardless of when and where they are playing, each and every set is a diverse amalgamation of musical sounds from across the board. Their late-night performance on Saturday was no different in this respect. This much I expected. It’s the reason I left Allman’s set that night early, which (at the risk of being pummeled by hardcore Allman fans) I do not regret in the least.
The sound that night was perfect, with percussionist Chuck Morris turned up to just the right level so that his fierce beating of bongo, cowbell, tambourine and other percussion instruments lit up the “Wax” opener and prominently figured into the rest of the set. Let’s be honest – what Lotus fan doesn’t love it when Chuck’s turned up? I hear fans screaming for it all the time, and they definitely got what they wanted this time.
But I knew for sure that this night would be unlike any of the previous thirty-six Lotus shows I had witnessed when I saw a very familiar Moog synthesizer brought onto the stage. The band often uses samples they have created using guest artists during performances, but getting to see a guest artist actually jam live with Lotus is a rare treat. I have dreamed of Eli Winderman taking the stage with Lotus since I discovered Dopapod a little over a year ago and was blown away by his energetic, creative playing style, but I believed it was merely a fantasy of mine and never expected it to actually happen. Leave it to Lotus to make my dreams come true. Eli came out for the funky and oh-so-sexy fan favorite “Bubonic Tonic,” which they jammed on for nearly twenty glorious minutes. Aside from the fact that Eli’s Moog jams made a stellar contribution to the piece overall, the boys laid down some improv in this one like never before, and even featured Luke on the vocoder (which is unusual for this particular song). The combination of the six men on stage was sexy, funky, fresh, and haunting, all at the same time. The song was pure Lotus, but Eli’s spacey and “dark circus”-esque jams were strongly reminiscent of Dopapod’s grooves, making this number a combination of some of my favorite elements of both bands. I couldn’t have been more pleased. After a perfect transition into their cover of Mord Fustang’s “We Are Now Connected” I thought the surprises were over, and I would have been perfectly satisfied if they had been.
Of course, the surprises weren’t over. Because a mere three songs later, Lotus did something else I never thought they would do. They brought out “Mikesnack.”
“Mikesnack” is one of few songs written by lead guitarist Mike Rempel. Long-time fans beg for this song. Constantly. I wouldn’t be surprised if guitarist and keys player Luke Miller (who comes up with the setlists) is absolutely fed up with hearing about this song. But we beg with good reason – this song is a little bluesy, a little jazzy, but always a funky powerhouse in any Lotus set it graces, and Rempel shines in it every time. “Mikesnack” is rarely played, even at venue shows. Not including the Peach, it was played exactly four times during 2013, and it is almost never played at a festival. The faces of the fans around me, some of them among my closest friends, were absolutely priceless. Drummer Mike Greenfield’s frighteningly exact work on the cymbals was the ideal complement to Rempel’s lively and extended jamming, giving the whole song an almost magical aura.
Lotus closed with a version of another old-school jam, “Sunrain,” that incorporated some wicked crescendos and decrescendos and some very unique use of the distortion they often incorporate into this song. Even more notable was the way in which they ended the song. The breakdown into the end of the song was so vigorous that both the fans and the band members were channeling the energy – as those in the crowd were jumping up and down in ecstasy, they looked on stage to see bassist Jesse Miller doing the same while proficiently pumping out his bass lines, and his brother Luke emerging from behind his keyboards to dance around as he powerfully played the final measures of the song on his guitar. And to imagine that they had segued into this bright and upbeat ending from “Plant Your Root,” a song that is often darkly and deliciously haunting, is all the more impressive. It was the perfect end to an absolutely incredible day of music, and the highlight of my weekend.
The set is now available for download through Livedownloads here, and I suggest you buy it immediately. You won’t regret it.
By Sunday, most of the Peach’s attendees seemed a bit tuckered out. Empty seats could be seen throughout the venue all day, and fewer people were interacting with the music. This lack of energy was a shame, because the music was far from over. Bob Weir’s acoustic set and Greensky Bluegrass’s performance were both excellent, but the truly exceptional performances that day came from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Black Crowes.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band brings straight New Orleans funk, and so we were brought back to the same musical world to which Galactic had first brought the crowd on Friday night. I was actually pretty upset at the crowd during Dirty Dozen‘s set. New Orleans funk is not the kind of music you can just sit and passively listen to. New Orleans funk is to be interacted with; it is a back-and-forth between musician and listener as well as between musician and fellow musician. Dirty Dozen is no different than many of its New Orleans brethren in this way. However, this six-piece ensemble is no ordinary brass band. They paved the way for bands like Galactic by incorporating funk and bebop into traditional New Orleans jazz following their creation in the late seventies. They brought the concept of the brass band back to life. To see these iconic musicians begging the dead-beat crowd to participate broke my heart. However, these guys still created a funk-filled paradise with their heavenly choir of horns, playing New Orleans classics like “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and even getting a decent part of the crowd stepping in time to a Mardi Gras tune. But the crowd really got a laugh when the band started playing “Dirty Old Man” and the band’s baritone sax player Roger Lewis grabbed a couple young women from backstage and got them to dance with him as he sung the number’s provocative lyrics. The performance was high-energy and interactive from start to finish, and easily satisfied my funk craving for the day.
The Black Crowes
Any child of the nineties knows who the Black Crowes are. Even if you don’t know the band by name, you probably know at least two of their songs. I remember listening to their two biggest hits on my favorite radio station back in middle school at a time when I had no idea what live music was all about. Fast forward to the present. I have been experiencing live music for almost fifteen years now, and before the Peach I still had yet to see what is known by many as one of rock-and-roll’s best live acts. Finally catching them was a sinfully delicious cherry added to the top of the already-mouthwatering musical sundae I had experienced over the weekend. When he is singing live, lead vocalist Chris Robinson sounds just like he did all those years ago when I listened to them on the radio. His singing, along with his dancing and harmonica-playing, impressed me even more than I thought it would. This man loves making music, he loves playing with this band, and you can tell in every note he sings and plays. The entire set was peppered with stellar instrumental solos and impressive musical back-and-forth between the musicians on the stage. During the second half of the show, the band broke out their 90’s hit rock ballad “She Talks to Angels,” which nearly brought me to tears and had me reminiscing of the days when I was just getting into rock music. When they encored with the fun and dance-inspiring tune “Hard to Handle” I jumped to my feet and instantly started singing and boogieing right along with Robinson, as did many others in the crowd. What a way to close out the festival.
The Double Features:
This being the Allman Brothers Band’s own festival, in close cooperation with Bob Weir, it should come as no surprise that both Allman and RatDog got headlining sets on Friday and Satuday night. Instead of including them in the daily breakdown, it made more sense to give them their own sections. Such legends deserve nothing less.
Bob Weir & RatDog
I must preface this section with a disclaimer – I unfortunately did not get to see much of RatDog’s set on Saturday evening. I had an interview with Lotus’s bassist Jesse Miller during the set, and therefore missed the majority of the performance. Given that I didn’t get to see it, I can’t really speak to the Saturday set (although fans of Weir tell me they were absolutely thrilled with it). However, my experience during their set on Friday night gave me more than enough to talk about. Weir is getting up there in age, but when he’s on, he sure is on, and that was definitely the case during RatDog’s first performance of the festival. His voice still powerful, his fingers still quick, Weir can expertly guide the crowd through his musical narratives. His guitar solo in “Loose Lucy” was immaculate, and the vibe from the crowd, which was filled with hands in the air and voices singing along, was unparalleled. A woman standing next to me who couldn’t have been much older than her late thirties or early forties had her hands waving in the air almost like she was singing along to church gospel. She later introduced herself to me as Barbara, and told me that she has been following Weir around all year, exclaiming “THIS is my church” (which explained the gospel hands!). We had a deeply connected moment as I told her I knew exactly how she felt – I had been following around Lotus in the same fashion and felt the same way about their music. Although we had different favorite bands, we both experienced our music in the same way, and that connection is something I will never forget. Another very memorable moment came when Weir brought Grace Potter onto the stage to perform a strikingly gorgeous version of “Dear Prudence” with him. What a woman, what a collaboration.
Friday Set List: Easy Answers > Brown-Eyed Women, Loose Lucy, Ashes and Glass, Althea > Dark Star Jam > Easy to Slip > Dark Star > Dear Prudence* > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider*
*-with Grace Potter (Vocals)
Saturday Set List: Jam > Bird Song > Jack Straw > West L.A. Fadeaway > Cassidy > Dark Star > Even So > October Queen > The Deep End > The Other One, Days Between > Two Djinn > Not Fade Away
The Allman Brothers Band
The Allman Brothers Band was probably the very first music I ever heard. Period. My dad, a self-taught guitarist, has been a fiend for Allman since he was a teenager, and nearly every time we got in the car, Allman would start coming through the speakers. He played it so often that I refused to listen to it for years, mostly as a form of rebellion against him. I of course eventually gave up that rebellion, and can say with certainty that I have great love for the rock legends. Old-school fans often lament at the loss of Duane Allman (understandably) and nostalgically reminisce about the days when Dickey Betts was still playing, but I personally love Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, who are both phenomenal musicians, and they were both on point this weekend and managed, as they always do, to live up to the legendary reputation created by the original Allman Brothers Band. The psychedelic images on the large LED screen on stage were an added bonus, and contributed to the trippy vibe put out by Allman that first night. During “Statesboro Blues,” the screen stopped displaying the groovy graphics and did a montage of old-school Allman photos including some of the late, great Duane himself. It was a spine-tingling memorial to a one-of-a-kind musician for sure. However, I really lost it when Eric Krasno, the multi-talented guitarist of Soulive who also often plays with Lettuce and is currently touring with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, took the stage with Allman to play “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home.” I love seeing Krasno play no matter who it’s with, but seeing him play with the legendary Allman, the first band to contribute to the forming of my love of live music, was a moment I will never forget. Other notable guest appearances were Bob Weir on “Good Morning Little School Girl” and saxophonist Bill Evans on a breathtaking version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” with some outstanding dual drum solos.
Saturday was an evening of covers, featuring everything from Willie Dixon to old school New Orleans legend Dr. John to the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The band also played their classic love song “Melissa” featuring Gregg Allman on acoustic guitar, along with other Allman standards. Steve Kimock came out on the guitar for “Dreams,” while Ron Holloway played sax and Jeff Chimenti played keys on the Willie Dixon cover “The Same Thing.” They closed the night out with a bang by encoring with “Whipping Post.” The only thing that was missing from Allman’s two night run at the Peach was my all-time favorite Allman song, “Jessica” (I know, it’s cliché, but that’s a damn good song whether you’ve heard it once or a thousand times).
Friday Set List: Don’t Want You No More > It’s Not My Cross To Bear, Trouble No More, Midnight Rider, Spots Of Time, Revival, Hot ‘Lanta, Statesboro Blues, Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home (with Eric Krasno on guitar), Stand Back, Good Morning Little School Girl (with Jay Lane on drums and Bob Weir on guitar & vocals), Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, One Way Out, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (with Bill Evans on sax), Encore: No One To Run With
Saturday Set List: You Don’t Love Me (Willie Cobbs cover), I Walk on Guilded Splinters (Dr. John cover), Done Somebody Wrong (Elmore James cover), Dusk Till Dawn, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Leave My Blues at Home, Blue Sky, Black Hearted Woman (includes The Other One Jam), Melissa (with Gregg Allman on acoustic guitar), Dreams (with Steve Kimock on guitar), The Same Thing (Willie Dixon cover) (Ron Holloway on sax; Jeff Chimenti on keys), 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover, first half of song) > Mountain Jam > 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be) (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover, second half of song) > Mountain Jam (reprise), Encore: Whipping Post
All Good Things Must Come To An End:
The Black Crowes finished my childhood favorite “Hard to Handle” and I made my way to the main gate. As I said goodbye to Montage Mountain, I was sad to see the weekend come to an end. But the musical memories created at this wonderful event will last for a lifetime. Thank you, Peach Festival, for bringing together such amazing musicians and opening the way for collaborations I never even dreamed possible. I imagine we shall meet again.
Photographer Eric Madar has been hard at work editing his photos from the weekend, and in addition to the ones you see here in this review, more will be available for your viewing pleasure in albums on Sensible Reason‘s Facebook page in the near future.
Featuring the photography of Eric Madar