By: Faraz Chaudry
Drooling over festival lineups is a common pastime for many concertgoers come spring, yet there were few as saliva-inducing as the Peach Fest lineup for 2016, its 5th anniversary.
Yes, the musicians make the 12-hour trek to beautiful Scranton, PA worth it, but with this year's edition taking place on Montage Mountain, a ski resort/water park, the festival had no shortage of activities if your ears need a break. The mountaintop camping also provided scenic views of the Appalachian plateau and mountains, provided it wasn’t obscured by the scores of tents. There are many challenges associated with hosting a music festival on a not-so-accessible mountain, but the festival staff navigated the troubles with little to complain about.
There were two parking areas, on-site and off, with school busses and trucks with hay trailers ferrying campers to the sites. While some campers did endure long waits at certain lots on Thursday, getting to our campsite was fairly simple. The staff was courteous and helpful, ensuring that fest-goers felt welcome right away.
The campgrounds snaked through ski trails at the eastern end of the festival grounds. Camping on an incline proved to be difficult, but in the end it was nothing compared to traversing up and down the mountain from stage to stage. Future Peachers should be prepared to feel the burn in their legs by Sunday, and ADA accessibility patrons may have issues travelling back and forth, although the fest did have many accommodations in place.
Entering the festival from the campgrounds, you are greeted by a giant conical water slide, the Tundra Tornado, across from a wave pool, lazy river, and the aptly-named Mushroom Stage. The positioning of this stage allows fest-goers to lounge in the pool while to any of the acts who performed here over the weekend.
This feature makes this festival and Camp Bisco (which also takes place here) so unique. Though I will say that the optimum time for water park activities is in the first days of the fest, before the water transitions from crystal blue to “wookie brown”.
The water park aspect also attracts more children to the fest. Seeing so many kids seemed to be an odd juxtaposition with some of the glassy-eyed jamheads wandering aimlessly. There was also no shortage of vendors hawking wares, and the fest seemed very friendly to “amateur entrepreneurs” as well.
Alcohol prices are as exorbitant, as can be expected, further complicated by differing liquor licenses between the main Peach Stage and the water park/Mushroom area that prevented people from bringing alcohol from one side to the other. However, for those looking to execute the "sneak", security for the most part appeared genial and not out to get anyone for petty offenses.
Music lasts from Thursday afternoon until early Sunday night. The threat of thunderstorms loomed constantly overhead, and set times were either delayed or cut short each day due to the rain. As frustrating as it was, the festival kept chugging along, and eventually people became accustomed to the delays.
During the storms, they encouraged attendees to take refuge under the massive awning of the Peach Stage. To ensure everyone’s safety, they even opened up the much coveted and very large VIP section at the front of the pavilion. Campers who had seemingly just scored a sweet spot were soon disappointed when security checked wristbands and kicked them out again as the rain dissipated. This was a point of contention for the crowd, as the VIP section was mostly unfilled for some major acts. The recurring announcement reminding concert-goers that the 100 section is only for VIP ended with an almost sarcastic “Stay Peachy!” and incited a chorus of “boos” from the audience. Once the music started, their frustrations were quickly soothed and forgotten.
In the five years since it's inception, Peach Fest has gone from a generic-fest anchored by Allman Brothers to one with a defined DNA of its own. More than ever, many of the acts shared, if not a direct connection to the Allmans, a sense of their prevaling spirit. Even with the late cancellation of Gregg Allman and his headlining spots, this spirit was still pronounced.
Navigating a lineup such as this is no easy task. It is also what makes each individual’s festival experience unique and tailored to him or her. I will focus on the musical highlights as I saw them.
Trey Anastasio Band
While Trey’s individual playing may not differ greatly from his work with Phish, the band surrounding him provides a stunning contrast. The songs groove just as hard, but are not apt to take the crazy turns into Phish’s bizarro world of improvisation.
The most striking differences are apparent in the horn section and his kooky percussionist Cyro Baptista. Cyro boasts a multitude of percussion and non-percussion instruments, many of which seemed to be his own design. The coolest, I thought, was a tree of 10 Pandeiros, Brazilian tambourines sans jingles, which he actuated with a lever allowing them to be hit in unison. At certain points he would speak into a microphone, producing a metallic, unintelligible tone underneath the jams.
The horn section, comprised of two trombones and trumpet, was not your typical one blasting out funk shouts. They were incredibly mellow and behind the sound, playing smooth harmonies that complemented the songs without too much force. The same horn section also provided the most heart-warming moment of the festival, with father and daughter duo Jeff and Natalie Cressman performing together. Trey took a moment to acknowledge it and sweetly explained how they came to play in the band.
Set One: Cayman Review, Magilla, Soul Rebel, Gotta Jibboo, Valentine, Frost, Money Love & Change, Liquid Time, Sand…
Set Two: …Sand, Architect > Clint Eastwood, Push On Til The Day
It’s always fascinating to see how Umphrey’s handles a large festival as opposed to comfortable Midwest shows. It seems they come with the sole purpose of melting faces, and they can be reliably trusted to do so.
From the crazy double solo in "Bridgeless" seamlessly transitioning into the dancy jam in "Wappy", they proved to be the perfect band to close out Saturday night. It was disappointing, especially in this instance, to see the VIP section unfilled, as I am used to seeing Umphrey’s from an uncontrollable throng of people.
Le Blitz > Educated Guess, Bridgeless > Wappy Sprayberry > Bridgeless, Attachments, Puppet String > Hajimemashite, Controversy > Den, Conduit, 1348
Encore: In The Kitchen > Glory > Puppet String
The Allman Family Incident
String Cheese continued their streak of mash-up appearances with the Allman Family Incident, a somewhat last minute substitution on account of Gregg Allman’s illness.
The set was a parade of guests, with a songlist of favorites that was sure to please the crowd. Oteil, Jaimoe, Butch Trucks, Jack Pearson, Bruce Katz, and guest vocalist Lamar Williams Jr. were all on hand, complementing and never cluttering the arrangements.
While there were some miscues and false starts, this is to be expected considering the circumstances. Kyle Hollingsworth took the lead on the tunes, often taking first solos, and directing the band. His keys playing also worked very well against Bruce Katz’s organ pads. Bill Nershi got the audience to blast out their good vibes to Gregg, which also scored points in the heart warming category.
Statesboro Blues, Midnight Rider, Trouble No More, Melissa, Outside & Inside, Ain't Wastin' Time No More, Quinn, The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), Jessica > Drums > Jessica
Can't Wait Another Day, Believe > Dudley's Kitchen, Song In My Head > Sirens > BollyMunster, Close Your Eyes, It Is What It Is > Colorado Bluebird Sky
Bustle In Your Hedgerow
Joe Russo and Marco Benevento owned this festival. Not literally, but their 3 performances topped the list of favorites for me. For this set, they were joined by Scott Metzger on guitar and Dave Dreiwitz on bass.
Nothing gets the crowd singing more than playing instrumental versions of everyone’s favorite Zeppelin tunes. Metzger and Benevento love trading and building the sections of these iconic tunes into a frenzy, and then breaking it down into a showcase solo for Metzger, where he channels Jimmy Page and uses extended technique bends to make his Telecaster scream and wail.
They are electrifying, everything they play is filled with energy that the audience absorbs and sends right back. It’s especially fun when Benevento takes Page’s lines and Plant’s lines and puts them on a synth or his distorted Rhodes, the latter of which I think had the best instrumental tone at the festival.
Joe Russo as a bandleader is always fun to watch, happily passing off solo breaks with his drumsticks, non-verbally communicating “it’s your turn go... grab it.”
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead
The band rode the energy of the previous set onward with the addition of Tom Hamilton joining to form JRAD. They kept the set short and sweet, with only 6 “tunes”; however each was stretched out with plenty of room for improvisation.
The peak jams build and build in four bar phrases, continuing their ascent as Joe Russo pushes higher and higher with seemingly no end. With Metzger and Hamilton, the band doubles down on gunslinging leads, allowing either one to take a powerful solo at anytime, or join in beautiful guitarmony, as was the case on the epic set-ending, "Terrapin Suite".
No band at the festival was having as much fun as this quintet, their smiles practically brightening the stage more than any of the nightime light shows.
Cumberland Blues > Mr. Charlie > The Wheel > Eyes Of The World > The Music Never Stopped > Terrapin Suite
Claypool Lennon Delirium
There was a buzz of uncertainty surrounding Les Claypool and Sean Lennon’s new project, The Delirium. But if any band's sound can be discerned from its principals, it's this one.
Fuzzy guitar and keyboard layers keep a steady foundation for Claypool’s distorted basslines, creating a sound that emanates from the darkest Beatles cuts mixed with the industrial sound of Tool. Their personalities were in full form as they bantered with the audience, jokingly complaining about how Bustle played all the Zeppelin and String Cheese played the Allmans stuff, so what’s left?
How about a cover of King Crimson's "In The Court Of The Crimson King"? That's a song that falls right into this band's sweet spot, along with another KC cover ("Thela Hun Ginjeet"), and takes on tunes by Yes and Pink Floyd.
They played many songs off of their album Monolith of Phobos, but left ample room to stretch out and give Sean a chance to lay out dark melodies over Claypool’s unfaltering slap bass. It is a hypnotizing mixture. Sean also distinguished himself as a guitarist by not shredding relentlessly like so many others at the fest, but playing to his strengths of great, dirty tone that needs very few notes to be distinctive.
Astronomy Domine, Cricket & The Genie (Movements I & II), The Monolith of Phobos, Up On The Roof, In The Court Of The Crimson King, Boomerang Baby, Animals, Mr. Wright, Bubbles Burst, Heart of the Sunrise, Thela Hun Ginjeet
Russo, Benevento, Burbridge
In lieu of Gregg Allman Band, RB&B was officially announced to much excitement on Saturday. Benevento and Russo were once known for free improvisational excursion (their Duo act has been dormant in recent years) and was only further bolstered by Oteil Burbridges mellow bottom-end.
Oteil’s sound contrasts with all bass players who lean towards a bright, poppy sound. This stripped down group allowed Marco to stretch out and flex his jazz chops, laying down soaring 16th note lines that had tinges of Chopin and Liszt weaved within. It was the most adventurous set of the weekend and captivated me the entire time. The Sunday afternoon crowd, however, noticeably felt otherwise. I am excited what this group can do if they continue onwards, and are provided with a time slot that suits them.
Warren Haynes led his Southern Rock Quintet to jam glory for the final set of the weekend. He embodies the soul and personality that can carry on the Allman Brothers spirit.
The band ended with a special encore set once again packed with guests. Rich Robinson, Oteil Burbridge, and members of Blackberry Smoke came to support as they ripped through Dreams and Whipping Post.
Mule, Thorazine Shuffle, Game Face, Captured, Kind Of Bird, Sometimes Salvation (w/Rich Robinson), Rocking Horse > Blind Man In The Dark
Encore: Come & Go Blues, Dreams, Whipping Post (With Charlie Starr & Brit Turner, Oteil on Dreams, Brandon Still on Come & Go)
Haynes also payed a "Wake Up With Warren" set, which can be listened to in it's entirety here.
Can there be a better festival time slot for Railroad Earth than 2:00pm on a Saturday? There is something about their music that is the perfect complement to sunshine. Their set got the festival crowd out and moving and set the tone for a marvelous day of music ahead. If bluegrass music conjures images of home and comfort, Railroad Earth furnishes that home with warmth, laughter, and warm vibes all around.
The warm sounds of the Jerry Garcia Band / Old & In The Way staple "Catfish John" closed things out.
Lordy, Lordy, When the Sun Gets in Your Blood, Chasin’ a Rainbow, Everything Comes Together, Mourning Flies -> Lone Croft Farewell, New Lee Highway Blues -> Fiddlee, All That’s Dead May Live Again -> The Hunting Song, Colorado, Catfish John
Toots and the Maytals
Toots and the Maytals have been hitting the festival circuit before heading off to the UK on their first tour in years. Playing on Friday afternoon was a perfect slot, as they blasted their reggae, afrobeat, and world music jams from the main stage.
The crowd really started moving during their version of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (to West Jamaica, of course). Every good festival needs some world music presence and Toots filled the role to a tee.
Looking at the schedule, I was shocked by how good Aqueous’ time slot was, playing at 10:30 Friday opposire String Cheese Incident and The Werks. But their set assured me that they earned it.
After all, being from Buffalo, NY, this was nearly their ‘hood. They also did well to make sure people would see their set amidst the other great acts. You couldn’t fill up a water bottle without seeing Aqueous posters offering tear off tabs for free stickers at the set. Honestly, if I didn’t know them, it might haven taken a free koozie to get me over there.
Some technical difficulties prevented the band from starting on time, but they handled it like pros and jammed away while the sound guys performed their troubleshooting. I was most impressed by the communication on stage, and the whimsical lyrics delivered through very tight harmonies.
One can’t help but draw comparisons to Dopapod with their style of jamming and the band’s instrumentation. This notion was further solidified when they brought out Dopapod’s Rob Compa for a shredding duel with guitarist Mike Gantzer that had the patience of two old friends simply conversing. While that seems like a contradiction, it is a testament to these two players’ styles.
The set was long and late, and the jams did lose some steam at the end, but it was apparent these artists took every measure they could to ensure a successful appearance. They even debuted a cover of The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus". Their professionalism and marketing acumen will garner them a even larger national following.
Soundcheck Jam > Don't Do It, Aldehde (with Rob Compa), The Median > I Am The Walrus, Origami
Consider the Source
After doing some pre-festival "homework" listening, I was most excited to hear the exotic sounds of this unique power trio. Each member can wield his instrument with a certain ferociousness that electrifies the already blistering melodies.
Gabriel Marin shreds some fucked up combination of eastern melodies and metals licks with unmatched dexterity and technique on a double necked fretless, guitar. Not only can he fly across the fingerboard, the fretless neck allows for sliding, warbly lines that recall middle eastern double-reed pipes.
The MIDI functionality allows him to adapt the sound to an infinite degree, even taking a vibraphone-sounding solo that dropped many jaws, not just my own. This paired with a battery of drums and bass that could be fascinating as a duo alone. I was most interested to see how Marin could recreate live the wonderful array of sounds on their recorded albums, and I was left slightly wanting. Of course, live recreation is difficult enough, let alone when your album is so adventurous.