Peach Festival Montage Mountain Scranton PA July 19 – 22, 2018
by Ryan O’Malley
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When the 2018 incarnation of the Peach Music Festival in Scranton, PA announced its lineup earlier this year, it had people chatting. In its 7th year, the Peach seemed to lack a stand-out headliner, and instead focused on presenting one of the strongest, consistent lineups from top to bottom of any jam festival on the circuit. What originally started as a pre-Peach kickoff party day in 2012, the Thursday lineup for this years’ festival was a solid day full of excellent music starting with guitar ace Marcus King and his band. The Southern rock outfit brought some fiery guitar shredding to the Peach stage, and even included some choice covers like a tight reworking of the Chicago staple, “25 or 6 to 4,” and paid homage to the festivals curators, the Allman Brothers Band, with a run through “Dreams.”
What could arguably be the highlight of the evening followed when local jamgrass ensemble Cabinet reformed for its only set of 2018. Since beginning the New Year with an indefinite hiatus, the six piece – Patrick “Pappy” Biondo, JP Biondo, Todd Kopec, Mickey Coviello, Dylan Skursky, and for Peach a returning Jami Novak – have been busy with other projects and their respective families.
With a large fan base in the Scranton area, the boys took the stage to loud applause and opened with a dance friendly version of “Treesap.” As they breezed through the rest of their set including fan favorites like “Mysterio,” the call and answer of “Pine Billy,” and “Caroline,” many in the crowd were spotted hugging fellow members of their fanbase, known as CabFam, and celebrating the band they’ve grown to love.
The rest of Thursday proved to be one of the funkier nights of Peach Fest with Maryland-based rockers, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, bringing a highly entertaining stage show mixed in with serious groove jamming. Vermont-based quartet Twiddle delivered a solid 90 minute set of fiery psychedelic explorations (on Friday, the outfit would return for a set billed as Twiddle and Friends).
To wrap up the opening night, Turkuaz, a nine piece funk/jam/big band project from Brooklyn, N.Y., served up a raucous headlining set that had lots of people talking the next day.
Friday saw a diverse array of musicians take to the Peach stage beginning with multi-instrumentalist, Jackie Greene, and New Orleans based guitarist, Anders Osborne, who delighted with their brand of rock fusion. Eclectic showman, Michael Franti, brought his longstanding project, Spearhead, to the Peach for a memorable performance including segments where Franti ran into the crowd while enticing a dance party.
Jam stalwarts moe. performed the first of two sets on Friday, which saw the venerable outfit break away from a bands standard “festival set” and covered multiple genres including rock, funk, and jazz with runs through cuts like “Brent Black,” “Billy Goat,” and “George.” Co-lead guitarists Chuck Garvey and Al Schnier are still impeccable playing off one another, as was the case in “New Hope for the New Year.”
As a treat for some who may not be that familiar with their work, moe. brought out the Turkuaz horn section for a brilliant take on The Band staple, “Ophelia,” before eliciting one of the biggest sing alongs of the night with their cover of the Rush anthem, “Tom Sawyer.”
The Revivalists, a commanding rock outfit from New Orleans, delivered a set that was geared more towards a rock festival than a “hippie” festival, but was strong nonetheless. Front man David Shaw has proven to be one of the best on the current rock scene with his dedication to keeping the crowd involved in the bands’ shows, and Peach was no different as Shaw went into the photo pit to connect with fans on songs like their popular single, “Wish I Knew You.”
Grateful Dead co-founder, Phil Lesh, brought along his current outfit, The Terrapin Family Band, for his Peach debut and delivered a two-hour-plus headlining set that had nearly everyone dancing for its duration.
Seventy-eight year old Lesh stayed quiet for most of the set letting his signature low-end bass guide the ensemble through Dead standards like “China Cat Sunflower,” and “Mr. Charlie” while his son, Graham, and guitarist, Ross James, handled the vocals. After a crowd-heavy “New Speedway Boogie,” the outfit delivered a thumping take on the Bob Weir/John Perry Barlow political juggernaut, “Throwing Stones,” which might have been the standout performance of the night. A standard run through “Truckin'” led to the tight ending sequence of “The Wheel,” “Samson and Delilah,” and an extended “Sugaree” which had some brilliant playing from James and the younger Lesh. Sans his standard “Donor Rap” speech, Lesh kicked off the familiar opening to his masterpiece, “Box of Rain,” which served as suitable close to the bands Peach debut.
After The Terrapin Family Band set, immensely popular rockers Umphrey’s McGee closed out the night with a high energy set that featured the Turkuaz horns, a debut of The Rolling Stones “Bitch,” and a set ending nod to Peter Gabriel with a take on his landmark song, “Sledgehammer.”
What started off as picturesque Saturday would eventually turn into a constant rain storm that sent everyone scrambling underneath the pavilion canopy later in the evening. Before any weather issues, the day started off perfectly with the Funky Dawgz Brass Band and eventually the Peach debut of the Devon Allman Project featuring Duane Betts. The names Allman and Betts are royalty at Peach Fest, as the Allman Brothers Band would never have existed without them.
Devon’s late father, Gregg, and Betts father, Dickey, were both co-founders of the Southern rock gods, and were widely reported to be on extremely bad terms with each other for nearly two decades before re-establishing contact with each other prior to Allman’s passing. Seeing the two grown children share the stage together showed that time heals wounds and the Allman Brothers musical legacy is something that, like the road Gregg sang about, will go on forever. Returning act, Blackberry Smoke, was a welcome early-afternoon treat on Saturday as the band breezed through their version of driving southern blues.
Towards the end of their set, the band welcomed Brandon “Taz” Niederauer to the stage for a pounding version of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” At 15, Niederauer has already become a force on the guitar scene. He’s a blues-rock prodigy that knows how to incorporate fiery guitar prowess with a high energy stage show and leave people wanting more. At Peach Fest, he covered all three stages with either his own band or on a myriad of sit ins.
If there were a vote for MVP of Peach Fest, Taz would triumph over everyone. Another returning act to Peach was Chris Robinson Brotherhood, who continued with the guitar overload, this time courtesy of Neal Casal. With his current band, Robinson is able to explore the blues and jam scenes and incorporate it into his own material or find standout cover material like the version of Jonathan Wilson’s “Rare Birds” that was played on.
Even though they weren’t the feature act of the day, legendary rockers, Little Feat, put in what many felt was the highlight of the entire festival when they were joined by moe. and the Turkuaz horn section for a run through of their landmark live album, “Waiting For Columbus.” The 1978 release is regarded as one of the best live albums ever released, and is basically a Little Feat greatest hits collection. Following the fun vocals of “Join The Band,” the familiar opening of the lively “Fat Man In the Bath Tub” kicked in, and Garvey seamlessly took over what was one of Lowell George’s signature songs. “Oh Atlanta,” a song written by Bill Payne, the only original member left, was received with loud cheers from the adoring crowd who helped with the chorus. Guitarist, Paul Barrere, and multi-instrumentalist, Fred Tackett, looked to be having a blast as they were sharing solos with Garvey and Schnier, who also looked to be ecstatic paying homage to the legendary music.
Easily their most popular song and loosely because of Dave Matthews, “Dixie Chicken” garnered the loudest pop of the night, as moe. bassist, Rob Derhak, delivered a spot-on vocal performance. The fun segue of “Willin’, Don’t Bogart That Joint” once again had everyone singing along, which continued until the end of the albums last number, the bluesy country nugget, “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.”
Bringing a second night of Dead music to the Peach stage, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – another returning act – kicked off a tight first set with a driving version of the Jerry Garcia Band standard, “Cats Under the Stars.” As a veteran of the band Furthur, Russo honed his chops playing alongside Dead co-founders Lesh and Weir, and quickly understood that Grateful Dead music is to be explored and translated in its own unique way. For Russo’s current band mates – bassist Dave Dreiwitz, longtime keyboardist Marco Benevento, and guitarists/vocalists Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger – that translation means bringing aggressive energy to the songs that almost give them a new life of their own. Such was the case on songs like “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Playing in the Band.” A jammed out second set featured an extended “Eyes of the World” and a psychedelic “New Minglewood Blues” before giving way to the appropriately-titled ending of “One More Saturday Night,” which had the crowd in a frenzy.
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A tough act to follow, Warren Haynes made his first of three scheduled appearances at Peach when he brought his long time outfit, Gov’t Mule, to the stage for a special performance as Dark Side of the Mule. No strangers to playing cover material, Gov’t Mule has done its Floyd tribute many times over the years, but never at Peach.
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It was a welcome addition to the late night festivities as Peach has been known to have midnight hour Floyd tributes in years past (The Australian Pink Floyd Show, moe. doing a Floyd set, etc.). As a sign of how well they know the music, Mule sounded incredibly tight on cuts like “Echoes” and “Breathe.” Haynes’ guitar tone was perfect throughout the set and came to the forefront during the extended jam in “Comfortably Numb.” The crowd favorite, “Wish You Were Here,” served as the last song of the evening and sent everyone back to their wet campsites after a long day of music.
In what has become a Peach tradition, Sunday started off quietly with acoustic music, this time in the form of Wake Up With Warren. The hour long solo set saw Haynes deliver renditions of his own compositions and several cover songs, including a touching version of the Van Morrison chestnut, “And It Stoned Me.”
Dumpstaphunk, Ivan Neville’s longstanding project, brought some dirty New Orleans funk in the early afternoon and even showcased the use of two bassists playing over each other. It was a spirited set that was well-received by the early afternoon crowd.
One of the more anticipated performances followed, in the form of Oteil and Friends. As the final bassist to be a part of the Allman Brothers Band, Burbridge is a Peach veteran and has become an integral part of the festival family.
For his band on Sunday, Burbridge had a wish-list ensemble including guitarist John Kadlecik, guitarist Scott Metzger, drummer Jay Lane, Jerry Garcia Band keyboardist Melvin Seals, and vocalist Alfreda Gerald. The bands set was heavily Dead and Garcia inspired and saw Kadlecik rip into Garcia’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You,” and saw the group bring out Niederauer for a smoking “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” The set wasn’t just Dead inspired as Burbridge and company tackled some Widespread Panic territory by covering “Time Is Free” and Bob Marley’s “Stop That Train.” The set closed with a powerful version of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s “Piece of My Heart” which saw Gerald put in the best vocal performance of the set.
Easily the most hyped set of the day was that of Allman Brothers Band co-founder Dickey Betts, who plotted out a brief summer tour that was meant to be a final farewell from the 74 year old guitarist. Looking like the age he is, Betts lead his seven piece band out onto the stage and instead of greeting the crowd, went straight into the Allmans staple “Hot ‘Lanta.” Flanked by his son Duane and guitarist Damon Fowler, Betts’ Gibson SG was prominent in the mix and instantly stood out when it was his turn to solo. His playing is clearly not what it once was, but Betts was competent enough to keep his soloing fluid during the opening number. A standard run through “Statesboro Blues” gave way to “Nothing You Can Do,” an original from his previous band, The Great Southern. It was during this number that Betts’ age began to show, as he took to a stool for a break while the band carried the song. Unfortunately, it was something that happened numerous times during his 70 minute performance.
Devon Allman emerged for a take on “Midnight Rider,” and sounded eerily reminiscent of his late father while guiding the band through the number. Something that has become the norm for Betts shows is the inclusion of “Franklin’s Tower” by the Dead, which he uses to segue into one of his signature tunes, “Blue Sky.” “Franklin’s” started off sloppy, but once again, his band came to the rescue, but there was not much they could do for “Blue Sky.” The beginning of the jammed out love song elicited cheers from the crowd, but quickly diminished when Betts took to the microphone for the vocals. His voice was gravely, rough, and at times unintelligible. Yes, it’s most likely from the fact that he’s 74, but it seemed like he was putting in little effort during the song. Luckily, Betts playing improved for a nice take on “Whipping Post” where his leads were, for the most part, solid including the ending chorus. Betts signature tune, “Ramblin’ Man,” kicked off the encore, but was once again sloppy in terms of Betts playing and singing. At the end of the song, it almost felt like you were just clapping because he tried his best, not because it was a exceptional version.
Remaining seated on the stool for most of the final song, Betts kicked off the opening to the instrumental jam opus, “Jessica.” The standard run featured a piano solo and two guitar solos and didn’t really pack any power, but was enjoyed by the adoring crowd nonetheless. Betts performance was far from the highlight of the festival, or even Sunday, but it was a sentimental moment as one of the Allmans co-founders finally made his way to the Peach, and the crowd showed their appreciation for someone who will most likely not be back on the road. For the final act of the festival, Gov’t Mule returned for a set of their own material including cuts from their latest effort, “Revolution Come…Revolution Go.” Haynes and company breezed through numbers like “Rocking Horse,” “Larger Than Life,” and “Thorns of Life,” before launching into to a cover of the Allman Brothers instrumental, “Mountain Jam,” which also featured long time collaborator, Ron Holloway, on saxophone.
It was a fitting ending to a festival that has continued to utilize the Allman Brothers Band spirit as its guide. In its seventh year, the Peach Music Festival has become a staple on the festival scene, and has persevered as numerous other jamband festivals like The Gathering of the Vibes and All Good have closed shop. It could be the picturesque grounds, or the water park that help Peach maintain a good status in the concert scene. More than anything, it’s the variety of music that the festival offers every year, and if this year was any indication, Peach Fest will only continue to grow.
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