Peach Music Festival recently concluded its eighth year on Sunday after a full weekend of epic jam music from the scene’s strongest players. The festival merges the multi-stage festival environment with a water-park, giving it one of the more distinct vibes of any summer music fest out there. Over the course of four jam-packed days, The String Cheese Incident, Trey Anastasio Band, JRAD, and Phil & Friends lead the charge as thousands and thousands of music lovers ascended upon Scranton, PA’s Montage Mountain.
Thursday began with attendees getting down to a wild String Cheese Incident set and a double-dose of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. The latter performed an ecstatic display of funky jams, while the former focused on classic material over the course of their two-hour, no-break set. Highlights included a 23-minute “Shine”, which was just the second song played, along with a 16-minute “45th of November” and a 15-minute “It Is What It Is”.
As Friday began, even more festival patrons flooded into Montage Mountain. The perfect weather – sunny and in the 70s/80s – made for a perfect situation, and it was taken advantage of during the daytime. Montage Mountain – the ski/water-park resort that the festival takes place at – features multiple water slides that patrons can ride at no additional cost throughout the entire day. If you’ve ever been at a festival, and it’s a little too hot to stand and dance at the main stage, just imagine the ability to slide into some cool water and down a slide! It’s an absolute blast, and keeps tons of patrons engaged all day long.
Perhaps the coolest part is that the waterslides – along with lazy river, kids mini-park and wave pool – are located right around the Mushroom Stage, which featured performances from the likes of Cory Wong, Kat Wright, Andy Frasco, Magic City Hippies, Dopapod, and more. If you’ve ever dreamt of seeing your favorite band as you wait to slide down a waterslide, I think there’s only one place where that happens: PEACH FEST.
Friday night’s headliners were once again The String Cheese Incident, who settled into the two-set format this time around. Celebrating their 25th anniversary as a band, the group has been playing great all year, and their sets on Montage Mountain were no exception! Set one featured a 13-minute “Lonesome Fiddle Blues”, a 13-minute “Valley of the Jig” and then guitarist – and Gregg Allman collaborator – Scott Sharrard joining the band for “Outside and Inside” followed by a wonderfully-executed cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Southbound”. Set two kept the energy sky-high with a 16-minute “Song In My Head” and a small handful of monster jams that are being dubbed “Far But Close Jam” and “Big Peach Jam” on their Nugs.net recordings.
Lotus took over as the late-night, main-stage act, and boy did they send us off with a bang. Apparently, this is the first year that Peach Fest has offered late-night main stage shows, and it really made things spectacular. Monstrous sound and killer production right up until 2am made the nights a full-blown party, and Lotus soundtracked things remarkably. The five-piece band delivered a set that focused on older material and touched on their signature trancey jam sound along with dives into post-rock, funk, trip-hop and more. It was all done super well, with segues that elevated the crowd’s energy. Lotus is a bit of an ultimate late-night festival band at this point, and this set proved exactly why that is.
Saturday saw the biggest crowds of the festival, with Trey Anastasio Band and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead taking over the main stage from 8pm until 2am. Trey, of course, has been headlining massive stages for decades, but JRAD’s status is relatively new to them. They’ve gone from Brooklyn party band to one of the largest bands in the scene in just a half-decade, and it’s been a hell of a fun time to watch that all happen.
In classic Grateful Dead fashion, the band was thrown a massive curveball when leader/drummer Joe Russo’s wife gave birth to their child on Friday evening, three weeks early! The news that Russo wouldn’t make it permeated throughout the festival over the course of the day, and when the band took the stage with NYC jazz drummer Ben Perowsky and JRAD drum-tech Evan Roque, you could see that they once again had some butterflies in their stomach over the whole scenario.
What proceeded when they hit the stage was the equivalent to a car with wobble-wheel rolling down a hill. When the band would start jamming, it would boil up and into a manic display of wild, wild improv, sometimes with some form and other times almost totally formless. The band would wobble into a total spin out, and sometimes pull things back together in unison, while other times not getting quite so lucky. Luckily, and also very much in the spirit of the Grateful Dead, no one really seemed to give a fuck. The band focused on the hits and the crowd screamed “I Know You Rider” at the top of their lungs, cheering on the band as they did their best without their leader. And JRAD did a really great job with it as well, it just wasn’t the usual, air-tight jam vehicle that they’ve put on display for their 200 shows as a band.
Sunday was another day in paradise as fans were treated to more water-park fun and killer music as they awaited a monster Phil & Friends lineup to take the stage and close things out. Yonder Mountain String Band delivered an emotional set following the recent death of ex-member and co-founder Jeff Austin, and then the Inaugural Peach Guitar Pull delivered by cookin’ with a variety of special guests and killer covers. Marcus King showed the entire festival how and why he is the torchbearer of that classic, deep-fried Allman Brothers Sound with an astounding set, and that was before Grace Potter and Warren Haynes stole everybody’s heart with their first-ever duo set, covering the likes of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin to boot. Then it was time for Phil & Friends, which featured guitarists Warren Haynes, John Scofield, and Grahame Lesh, alongside keys superstar Holly Bowling, drummer John Molo, and of course Phil Lesh on the low-end strings.
The band started, surprisingly, by not playing a whole lot of Grateful Dead songs in their first set. Instead, the group started with “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream and then “Broken Arrow” by Robbie Robertson. “Just a Little Light” a more rare Dead song by Brent Mydland followed before the band played “Bird Song” and then Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”. They’d do “Viola Lee Blues” and Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” before having to call the first set slightly early due to an approaching storm.
That storm delayed the set break only slightly, and the band returned with a slew of classics to send things off in the most proper fashion. “Playing in the Band” was taken for a long ride, and Warren Haynes really shined on the Traffic cover of “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” (as he’s known to do). “St. Stephen” featured a wild improvisational segment that teased and touched on multiple Allman Brothers motifs, and then the group took Lesh’s “Unbroken Chain” for a wild spin, featuring killer guitar work from all three guitarists, but probably most notably John Scofield, who’s been a favorite of Phil Lesh’s for years now. A beautiful rendition of “Morning Dew” with Haynes on leads worked as the highlight of the two sets, and “Uncle John’s Band” allowed everyone to come down in a reasonable fashion. The group encored with Haynes’ “Patchwork Quilt”, which is a song he wrote about and immediately after the passing of Jerry Garcia.
The Peach Music Festival does a wonderful job of celebrating the lives and legacies of many passed musicians, while also focusing on the future of rootsy American music. With the Allman Brothers Band no longer around, it’s interesting to watch acts like Marcus King and String Cheese Incident tip their hats to them while offering something new as well. Over the course of four wonderful, long and intense days, music-lovers had their cups overfilled time and time again with killer performances. Until next year, thanks for the great times Peach Fest!