First Posted: 8/12/2013
For Warren Haynes, the summer usually means one of the busiest times of the year. He’s involved with numerous bands, does sit-ins with musical friends whenever he finds the time, and, in general, has something going on almost every day of the week.
This year is no different, from touring with his band Gov’t Mule to performing a symphonic celebration of Jerry Garcia’s music – including playing Garcia’s legendary “Wolf” guitar – to helping his other main band, the Allman Brothers Band, put together the lineup for the second annual Peach Festival, which returns to the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain starting tomorrow and runs through Sunday. For someone who is constantly busy, Haynes has been enjoying everything the summer has offered him.
“Everything’s going really good,” he said. “I’m in California; last night was the final night of the symphony tour doing the celebration of Jerry Garcia. It was a wonderful tour. That came right after four weeks over in Europe with Gov’t Mule. So it is busy, but it’s all good.”
For those who attended the inaugural Peach Festival last year, there were nothing but good times, great music, and a community vibe to the weekend. With so many other areas of the country to choose from, many people left the festival wondering how something so fun made its way to Scranton. When asked about the selection, Haynes said it was an easy choice after years of hosting the Wanee Festival in South Florida, which has become a yearly destination for fans across the country.
“Well, it sort of came about as a result of Wanee, the festival we do down in Florida, which has become more and more successful and has become a good music festival,” he said. “The idea came about that maybe we should do one in the Northeast as well. That was the emphasis behind it.”
As for this year’s lineup, the Allmans went above and beyond last year’s selections and brought out some of the bigger names in the jam scene: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Lotus, the Black Crowes, and a newly-reunited Bob Weir and RatDog. Picking a lineup for a festival can be a grueling task for any band, and Haynes explained that the choices are made to attract people who like every genre, from rock and funk to bluegrass and even electronic dance music.
“We want to keep expanding it and try to make it more diverse and try to attract a bigger audience,” he noted. “At the same time, keep the core fans happy. Music fans are like-minded in the way that the fans of all these bands don’t mind doing a little extra work to search out good music, and don’t necessarily want to be force-fed commercial music.”
Like all good festivals, there will certainly be surprises running rampant throughout the weekend. Last year, many people raved about the Allman Brothers Band performance on the second night, which included a beautiful segue between the crowd favorites “Mountain Jam” and “Blue Sky” and also the various guest sit-ins that took place between nearly every act. It’s a safe bet that there will be more surprises this year, but Haynes is remaining tight-lipped over what is in store, and he wants people to just enjoy the possibilities a festival has to offer.
“(It’s) nothing that I really want to give away, but we usually try to do something a little different for these kinds of things,” he said. “One of the beautiful things about doing this kind of festival is that we have so many friends there that it usually winds up where we ask people to join us on stage and vice versa. That’s part of the whole vibe of doing this kind of festival.”
For Haynes, another part of the festival vibe often includes doing multiple sets over different days with some of the different outfits he’s involved with. At last year’s Peach Festival, Haynes performed four times (twice with the Allmans, once with the Warren Haynes Band, and a solo set at noon on Sunday for “Wake Up with Warren.” This year, Haynes will perform three times: twice with the Allmans and once with his long-running outfit, Gov’t Mule.
Going on nearly 20 years, the Mule is set to release its latest offering, “Shout!” on Sept. 24. When asked about the record, Haynes enthused about the recording process and something different the band is trying – including a bonus disk of different artists, from Dave Matthews to Jim James, doing their take on the tracks from the new album.
“It started out as just another Gov’t Mule record,” he said. “We had not yet come up with the concept of making it this unique double-disk package that it wound up being. With Gov’t Mule, we go into the studio and try to record as live as possible; we set up with everybody recording at the same time and there are generally very few overdubs, which was no different for this record. One by one we started getting the ideas to have some guest vocalists who we would use for some alternate versions of the songs. It started out as one song, then two songs, then three songs. We just decided to make a whole bonus disk, which would be the alternate version of every song. That’s the most unique thing about ‘Shout!’ – we got all these wonderful singers to come in and do their own interpretations of our songs.
“Once we started to travel down this path, I made a list of every song and who I would most like to hear other than myself singing it,” he continued.
“I just started making phone calls and the response was amazing. Once we made the decision, we knew we were going to have to delay the release, but it would be well worth it. I think the thing I’m most proud of in that regard is that marriage of the singer to the song in each case is really good.”
Staying true to the formula that has helped Gov’t Mule become a heavyweight in the jam scene, “Shout!” finds the band sticking to its infectious blend of rock, blues, funk, and soul while taking new turns, which Haynes feels is due to the amount of influences the band brings in to help carve its own sound.
“I think having taken a year off gave us the perspective to look backwards and know what kind of record we were trying to make, based on what we have done in the past and not wanting to repeat ourselves,” he said. “It was very important to us to make a record that showcased as many of our different influences as possible. I’m really proud that each songs stands on its own and each song sounds like Gov’t Mule, but it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before. When you hear the alternate versions, you get an even better understanding of the songs.”
When the Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule, and the rest of the bands on the bill come to Scranton for the Peach Festival, Haynes feels that the fans should do what music festivals are made for: have a great time with your friends, go see your favorite acts, but keep an open ear for some of the other acts who may grab your interest and give them the attention they all deserve.
“It’s a music festival for people who love music and take music very seriously,” he said. “The vibe in general is very relaxed, and it’s a great place to see a lot of your favorite music and hopefully discover some new music you haven’t had the chance to experience yet.”
Grace Potter on the road, enjoying the ride
For nearly a decade, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals could call the road “home” after relentless touring, which has helped the band progress from smaller gigs in their native Vermont to being a major force on the national scene. Not being one to break tradition, the 30-year-old and her band have been on tour for over a year in support of their latest release, the infectious “The Lion the Beast the Beat,” which will find them making their first appearance in our area this Friday when they come to town as part of the Peach Music Festival.
“It’s an animal. Touring is one of the more rewarding things because you get to see and watch the progress of an album and a live show,” Potter said of the tour supporting what many people are calling the band’s most diverse offering to date.
“Things go on as you grow, and as a band, you get to learn new things. It’s a huge opportunity to look into the face of your fans, to look into the audience’s eyes and see them receiving the music. This album and tour have been really transformative; it’s been a game-changer for sure.”
Along with their headlining gigs for the new album, the band has been a long-standing staple on the festival circuit, where artists are able to pick up new fans and also collaborate with other musicians, which sometimes turn into a highlight of the festival. For Potter, the festival environment has been immensely rewarding, including a recent stop at the All Good Music Festival and Camp Out in Ohio, where Potter got to experience both sides of the coin when she sat in with the Grateful Dead offshoot band Furthur for a stirring rendition of “Turn on Your Lovelight,” and Dead/Furthur co-founder Bob Weir sit in with her band for another Dead classic.
“We grew up doing festivals; that’s where we feel at home and the most comfortable,” she said. “It’s the sense of born community…collaborating and creating that conversation between different bands and musicians. Not only was I able to sit in with Furthur, but Bob Weir came up during our set and did ‘Friend of the Devil’ with us, which was just stupendous and a really fun experience.”
Another major festival experience for the band (and arguably a bit more rewarding) happened a few months ago, when the band was part of Australia’s Byron Bay Bluesfest and legendary Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant – who was also on the bill with his band, the Sensational Space Shifters – caught their set and was so impressed that he asked to meet with Potter and the rest of the band, which ultimately led to the band being offered an opening slot for Plant’s tour of California.
“We were playing a festival down in Australia, and it was our first time in Australia, so we weren’t sure if anyone would show up,” she recalled. “But we watched the crowd grow from about 800 people to several thousand people. After we left the stage, we were told that Robert Plant was watching us and wanted to meet us, and he asked us to do a tour of California with him.
“That’s what the hope for my future is. Someday I’ll see some awesome band play a festival and I’ll be inspired by them and snatch them up and take them on the road. It’s a great community; that’s why we love festivals.”
The band’s love of festivals undoubtedly helped get them on the bill for Peach Fest, but the Allman Brothers Band aren’t just having the band make a stop in Scranton. For a few shows after the festival, the band will serve as the opening act for a portion of the Allman’s East Coast tour, which Potter is looking forward to after being a fan of the Allmans and its many side projects, and also having sat in with the band at its famed run of shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre.
“When we were routing the tour and thinking about summer and where we were going to be, it’s a great thing to piggyback on another band because you know what the expenses are going to be,” she said.
“You can see things laid out in front of you very clearly when you take such a base with a band. I do believe the Peach Fest was piggybacked on top of some existing dates. The discussion of us playing with the Allmans has been a long time coming; I sat in with them once at one of the Beacon Theatre shows in New York. This will actually be our first official time ever playing with the Allmans. We definitely have enjoyed Derek (Trucks’) and Warren (Haynes’) different projects they’ve done, but we’ve never been in direct contact with the actual Allman Brothers Band, so it’s going to be great.”
As far as their appearance at Peach Fest, Potter is looking forward to hitting the stage and delivering a diverse set of the rock, folk, blues, and passion that has helped Grace Potter and the Nocturnals become a major force in the touring circuit.
“I think you can expect a good, dynamic experience,” she said. “The word I keep hearing about our shows is ’emotional’ and that it’s a physical experience. We’re very energetic people, and our music is pretty ‘ballsy.’ I don’t know if that’s the right word… We like to take the listener on a journey. We start a show a little softer or mellow and then sort of build up – sometimes we just sock them in the head right away. So you never know.”
Since late 2009, fans of the Grateful Dead – and the acts keeping its music alive – have been feeling a bit empty. Sure, there have been bands like Phil Lesh and Friends, the 7 Walkers, and the immensely popular Furthur, but for the legions of people who followed Bob Weir and RatDog for more than a decade, the last couple of years have left them wondering, “Is it actually over?”
While fans always hoped to see the band come back and hit the road again, it was a simple announcement by the Peach Festival that had jaws hitting the floor. After four years, the band was regrouping and coming back for two shows in our own backyard (an area RatDog always seemed to enjoy due to numerous stops at Penn’s Peak, the F.M. Kirby Center, and the Scranton Cultural Center).
For keyboardist Jeff Chimenti – a member since 1997 – the announcement was also a high point, as he gets the chance to dip back into the catalogue of RatDog original tunes, many of which he hasn’t really had the chance to play with Furthur over the last four years, including gems like “Ashes and Glass,” “Two Djinn,” and “Money for Gasoline.”
“It’s definitely good to get back to the RatDog tunes for sure,” he said. “Furthur had played two or three of them a few times, but what is most hard to imagine is that basically four years have gone by in such a flash as they did. That being said, it’s nice to dig into the RatDog repertoire again.”
Getting back together also gave Chimenti the opportunity to reconnect with some of his old friends, like Jay Lane (drums), Rob Wasserman (upright bass), and Robin Sylvester (electric bass). For the last few weeks, the band has been rehearsing, and Chimenti has been enjoying the feeling of reuniting with the people who first got him involved with the post-Dead scene.
“Just like revisiting the tunes, rehearsing was like seeing some family member that you haven’t seen for a bit – and actually care about,” he quipped. “And to realize how good it is to reconnect and share some music and quality time together. I would hope that there is an opportunity to play more shows in the near future.”
This lineup might throw a few people for a loop, as the band will be featuring two bassists, but looking back on their involvement with the outfit – Wasserman was a founding member of the band, and Sylvester came on board as Wasserman’s replacement in 2003 – the two musicians will add a new dynamic to the band’s sound, something that hasn’t happened since its inception in 1995.
“The cool thing is that with both of them being stellar musicians, the combination of the upright and electric bass seam together in a sense as one big-sounding instrument,” he said. “Kudos to Bob for putting it together that way, as it is not something that you would see on a daily basis.”
For its two shows at the Peach Festival, RatDog will be joined by Bethlehem’s own Steve Kimock, who had a stint in the band in 2007 and is someone who is regarded as one of the top guitarists in the jam scene. It’s a move that caught many people off-guard, but one that Chimenti feels is a great fit for the band.
“Steve is a gem of a human being and a monster musician,” he said. “I personally feel that we have a good chemistry together and I would relish the opportunity to play with him any time I could. The same feeling goes towards Bob, Jay, Rob, and Robin as well.”
As far as the other acts on the Peach Festival, Chimenti speaks highly of the lineup and is optimistic about the chances of guest sit-ins, as was the case at this year’s All Good Music Festival and Camp Out in Ohio, when fellow Peach Festival artist Grace Potter sat in with Furthur for a stirring rendition of “Turn on Your Lovelight.”
“I personally always like having guests sit in when the situation arises,” he said. “The recent All Good Festival was the first time, I believe, I heard Grace and her band live, and I thought they were great. Of course during Furthur’s set, the rendition of “Lovelight” with her and Bob at the helm was awesome. It’s equally a thrill and honor to be able to personally sit in with other bands as well, especially those who have been such a big part of music history, such as the Allman Brothers and so forth.”
Coming off a hiatus, Chimenti knows the excitement that many people have about RatDog’s shows at the Peach Festival and wants everyone to bring the fun memories they have from the constant touring days and make those feelings be their guide for the upcoming shows.
“As Bob would always say, ‘If we are not having fun, we are not doing our job,’” he said. “I know that fun will be the case on stage, and I would encourage the audience to follow suit. Let their hair down, so to speak, and have a great time. That’s ultimately what it is all about.”