Words and Photos by Ryan O’Malley
In a year where the festival scene seems to have hit a few roadblocks – the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac cancelling appearances at the 50th New Orleans Jazz Festival, and the unending drama pool known as Woodstock 50 – fans may have been ready to throw in the towel on large-scale summer festivals. Luckily, a corporate-produced festival tucked away in the mountains of Scranton, Pa. can be viewed as a saving grace for music fans in 2019.
Going on its 8th year, the Peach Music Festival returned to The Pavilion at Montage Mountain this past weekend for another four days of the fun, funk, and friendship that have come to define the festival. After years of seeing many other jam band festivals fold due to costs, legal issues and every other possible pitfall, Peach Fest has become a beacon for those who miss the days of having your biggest concern being what stage to be in front of at any time.
Although choosing what stage to be at doesn’t happen too often, it was a major dilemma of Peach this year as the festival had what is easily the lineup of the summer. Thursday was a relaxing day for everyone who set up their campgrounds, and even for people doing the daily commute, as the entertainment was limited to the main stage (Peach Stage). The night provided something for everyone as acoustic and semi-acoustic acts like the red hot Billy Strings and established veterans String Cheese Incident were augmented by Aqueous and two funk-filled sets from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
Friday was a busy day for Peach goers as all three stages had music going, sometimes simultaneously. As was the case at noon, when rapidly rising outfit Andy Frasco and the UN rocked the Mushroom stage while Pigeons Playing Ping Pong brought an energetic set to the VIP only crowd at the Live For Live Music stage. Not to be forgotten, the Peach stage was also delivering a loud set from the sister-based Larkin Poe. Sisters Rebecca (lead vocals, guitar, banjo) and Megan (vocals, lap steel) Lovell front the roots rock band which can change direction from bluegrass and country to straight forward guitar driven blues. Although unfamiliar with the bands material, many in the crowd were appreciative of the bands first Peach appearance, with hopes of seeing them return.
Later in the afternoon, the Mushroom stage housed the best performance of the day as frequent Vulfpeck collaborator Cory Wong brought his four piece outfit for a mesmerizing set of loud guitar and genre-bending funk and jazz. Just walking by the stage it was easy to tell the set was going to be a musicians dream, as during sound check Wong was dictating to the engineers exactly how to fine tune his band’s sound. “I like to have a dry drum sound; let’s not make it a wet sound,” for instance. And exclaiming “it’s a guitar show, baby!” as another, people literally stopped in their tracks to see what was in store. While he does serve as a rhythm guitarist when joining Vulfpeck, Wong showcased that he can shred relentlessly as a lead guitarist, and bring the best out of his band mates during his fusion heavy set.
Perennial 90’s favorites Blues Traveler made its return to the Peach on Friday for a fun 90 minute set on the Peach stage. While the set was a standard Blues Traveler show, the band brought out Chuck Garvey from the band moe. towards the end of their set for a run through “Carolina Blues.” Both Blues Traveler and moe. are in the midst of a co-headlining tour, so it was both comedic and a bit concerning to hear John Popper welcome “Chuck Garfield” to the stage for the number. Whether it was an inside joke, or Popper legitimately not knowing the name of a person he’s traveling across the country with, remains a mystery. Friday’s headliner was, once again, String Cheese Incident who brought two sets to the crowded Peach stage. Always being open to collaborations, Cheese welcomed Andy Hall from the Infamous Stringdusters who helped out with “My One and Only,” and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.” Later, the band welcomed longtime Gregg Allman Band musical director Scott Sharrard for a run through “Outside and Inside,” and the Allman Brothers Band staple, “Southbound.”
From taper Keith Litzenberger, audio of Scott Sherrard, Kimock, Samantha Fish, Stanley Jordan:
What has become a Peach favorite – late night performances – did not disappoint this year, as Friday saw the appropriately titled Allman Betts Band take over the Mushroom stage for a 90 minute set full of Allman Brothers Band songs and their own bluesy originals. The Allman Betts Band may grow to become a staple at Peach as two of the bands fathers – Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts – were both founders of the Allman Brothers Band, who in turn helped curate the festival. Meanwhile on the Peach stage, immensely popular Philadelphia born jamtronica act Lotus brought a dance party to the late night crowd. A favorite of the Scranton area (due to numerous appearances at local clubs throughout the years), Lotus seemed to always get placed in the Camp Bisco lineup, but with constant fan demand, Live Nation brought the band back to Peach which proved to be a great move as the band had the large crowd moving for nearly two hours.
From Taper Keith Litzenberger Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling audio:
Saturday featured another diverse lineup with everyone from Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling performing as a duo for the VIP patrons, to Stephen Marley bringing a blistering set of his own material and choice selections from his legendary late father’s iconic career. Also on the bill for Saturday was Lettuce, a Boston based funk outfit who are celebrating 27 years as a band. Although give an afternoon slot, Lettuce brought some of the most sinister funk of the weekend to the Peach, with cuts like “Wrecker,” “Ready to Live,” and an enjoyable reworking of the Tears For Fears song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
From taper Keith Litzenberger, audio of Lettuce:
LETTUCE SET LIST:
Ready to Live
Your Royal Highness
Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears cover)
Do It Like You Do
Fan Bill Consilus loved the set by Ghost Light on Saturday afternoon. “This was about the 10th time I have seen them and the setlist was really strong and the cover of Radio Head’s “Black Star” was amazing and gutsy. “Incredible show. The interaction between Tom and Holly was great, the bass and drums really brought the bottom and my daughter, seeing you for the first time, even commented on the chemistry between Raina and Tom. I don’t recall seeing Tom so animated either.”
GHOST LIGHT SET LIST:
(>) Streets of Brooklyn
(>) Synth Driver
Best Kept Secret
(>) Joeline (> ‘Diamond Eyes’ reprise)
Old Fashioned (>)
Black Star (Radiohead cover) (>)
Simple Gift of Man
(Brothers Past cover) (> ‘Best Kept Secret’ reprise)
From taper Keith Litzenberger
Greensky Bluegrass Audio:
Returning Peach veterans Greensky Bluegrass offered up some rich bluegrass, which was well-received by the crowd. The band has a nice following the Northeast Pa. region due to numerous appearances in the area, so the crowd provided some sing along harmonies to a few numbers, including the bands homage to the Allman Brothers Band by performing their classic “Ain’t Wasting Time No More.” The night’s headliner was another Peach favorite, the Trey Anastasio Band. Marking his third appearance at Peach, the Phish front man brought serious energy to the festival with tight takes on songs like “Cayman Review,” “Curlew’s Call,” and Phish numbers like “Magilla,” and “Gotta Jibboo.” The bands second set was regarded as one of the best of the entire festival, including a stand out performance of the Phish jam vehicle “Blaze On” and a funky “First Tube.”
Saturday’s late night performance on the Peach stage was a unique offering from Peach favorites Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Almost. Earlier in the day, it was announced that Russo would not be able to make the show due to his wife giving birth three weeks early. Instead of cancelling, the band opted to go with a two drummer format (maybe a tip of the hat to Russo’s ability to sound like two drummers) including Russo’s nephew/drum tech Evan Roque and longtime Russo comrade Ben Perowsky. While the opening was, justifiably, tense as the band worked out a few kinks, they were back to their thumping interpretations of the Dead’s music in no time. Songs like “Franklin’s Tower,” “The Other One,” and “Viola Lee Blues” were met with admiration from the dancing crowd.
A hot and dry Sunday morning kicked off with the bluesy Marcus King welcoming the VIP crowd to the Live For Live Music stage while beloved acoustic outfit Yonder Mountain String Band kicked off the festivities on the Peach stage. Both acts were a welcome start to the day as campers were just getting their day started and day pass goers were starting to roll into the venue. Easily one of the festival highlights occurred with the Inaugural Guitar Pull.
Audio of Marcus King band by Keith Litzenberger:
Sunday has typically been a guitar day at Peach as previous years have seen the likes of Santana, Joe Bonamassa, and Dickey Betts headline. Instead of picking just one guitarist, Peach organizers utilized Sharrard as the events host, who in turn welcomed the likes of Samantha Fish, Steve Kimock, Stanley Jordan, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, and Umphrey’s McGee Jake Cinninger throughout the performance. It would prove to be a non-stop barrage of technical guitar playing which left everyone on their feet after the standing ovation for the talent they just saw.
One of the festivals most frequent performers, Warren Haynes, made his yearly pilgrimage back to Scranton, but brought along a friend for a duo performance – the enigmatic Grace Potter. Since dissolving her former band, The Nocturnals, and becoming a first time mother, Potter has kept a low profile for the last few years. Taking the stage with nothing but smiles, the duo kicked things off with a standard run through Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman,” a song the two have performed in the past, but is always enjoyable nonetheless. After leaving the organ and picking up one of her acoustic guitars, Potter and Haynes dove into Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Find the Cost of Freedom,” which eventually morphed into Traffic’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Along with choice originals from both Haynes and Potter, the dup delivered a dark version of Led Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” which reached a crescendo at the end with Potter’s soulful singing. Eventually the duo ended with Haynes’ “Soulshine,” which featured a few lyrical flubs by Potter, who playfully blew off the slip up.
Not being one to avoid double duty at any festival, Haynes returned to the stage for a headlining performance with 79 year-old Grateful Dead founder Phil Lesh’s incarnation of Phil and Friends. Augmented by guitar extraordinaire John Scofield, Lesh’s son Grahame, keyboardist Holly Bowling and drummer John Molo, the outfit opened with a surprising take on the Cream chestnut, “Sunshine of Your Love.” Having been familiar and collaborating with each other for years, the number allowed the outfit to get its footing before moving along to another choice cover, Robbie Robertson’s “Broken Arrow.” When he did dip into the Dead’s catalogue, Lesh chose the deeper “Just a Little Light” before channeling more well known numbers like “Bird Song,” and “Viola Lee Blues.”
“Ah, what would Peach Fest be without a rain storm,” Haynes said as the band was forced to go on break while fans sought shelter from a storm which delayed the night’s proceedings. Being a professionally run festival, the producers were not stuck trying to force the band back on as there was plenty of time left before the venue’s curfew. When Phil and Friends did return for its second set, it brought the goods. The younger Lesh led the outfit through “Playing in the Band,” before other Dead anthems like “St. Stephen” and Lesh’s own “Unbroken Chain” had people singing along. The Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” wrapped up the set proper before the entire festival came to a close with the fitting encore of “Patchwork Quilt.”
Audio of the Phil Lesh and Friends set by Keith Litzenberger
After eight years, the Peach Music Festival has solidified itself as the premier jam band festival on the East Coast. What was started off as a trial run between the Allman Brothers Band and Live Nation has turned into the most popular and well run large scale festivals out there. With a focus on keeping both the artists and fans happy, it’s easy to see why Peach had the best lineup of the year. While it is unfortunate to see the festival end, it’s already less than a year before the next fire on the mountain in Scranton.