For fans of the jam band scene, Montage Mountain has become somewhat of a hotspot. Since last years’ inaugural Peach Music Festival, jam fans have been waiting to return to the Mountain for the same music, friends, water rides, and community vibe they fell in love with. What no one expected to see was the Peach Festival to come back with a stellar lineup, including more local artists, some of the bigger names on the touring circuit, and a band who has been dormant for four years, but picked Peach Fest as the spot for its triumphant comeback. For four music-filled days, the Peach Fest gave everyone a reason to celebrate what has turned into one of the best end-of-summer parties in the Northeast.
For the Thursday, Aug. 15 kickoff party, the Mushroom Stage – located in the water park – hosted some fiery blues rock courtesy of the Vegabonds and some driving rock from Bobby Lee Rodgers of the Codetalkers. Billed as the “headliner” of Thursday, Pittsburgh’s own Rusted Root took the stage around 9 p.m. for a pleasing hour-plus set of the percussion-heavy sound that helped the band become a bigger touring name. Of all the amenities the Peach Festival has to offer, having the water park host the Mushroom Stage is one of the best choices fans could make. Who else gives you the chance to hear “Send Me on My Way” or “Ecstasy” while lounging out in the lazy river or enjoying the wave pool?
After Rusted Root, the local music scene made its way onto the stage in the form of Scranton’s own Cabinet, who put in a spirited 70-minute set which featured guest appearances by Scranton’s Mike Mizwinski and Roy Williams. For a band that’s been together for under a decade, Cabinet has brought itself to festival status, and judging by the dancing of the immense crowd at Peach Fest, the guys will be hitting the main stages of festivals in no time. For those who stayed for the late-night party, Rogue Chimp and Laser Sex wrapped the opening night up around 2 a.m. with some heavy dance grooves.
Friday was arguably a high point of the festival with a lively offering from Railroad Earth, who served as the perfect kickoff to the “bigger acts” portion of the night. However, the main talk amongst the crowd was of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, who put in a rocking 16-song performance, including everything from cuts off her new album, “The Lion the Beast the Beat,” to a cover of Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” and her most recognized song, “Paris (Ooh La La).” It could be a combination of many things – a great voice, commanding stage presence, a tight band, or just raw sex appeal – but after their set, you couldn’t avoid hearing talk about the power of Potter’s performance.
Friday also saw the first of two co-headlining nights by the festivals hosts, the Allman Brothers Band, and also Bob Weir and RatDog, who marked its return at Peach Fest after a four-year absence. Coming on at 7:15 p.m., RatDog wasted little time in reminding fans of the immense catalogue Weir has to work with, including the opening of a bluesy “Easy Answers.” Bethlehem’s own Steve Kimock lent some exquisite guitar work to cuts like “Brown-Eyed Women” and a funky “Loose Lucy.” After a spot-on run through the RatDog original “Ashes and Glass” and a take on the Grateful Dead’s “Althea,” the band took a page from Little Feat’s book with a song that has become synonymous with Bob Weir, the tender “Easy to Slip.” Weir invited Potter to join the band on a slow but moving version of the Beatles’ chestnut “Dear Prudence” before wrapping things up with the long-standing Dead segue of “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.”
For headliners the Allman Brothers Band, the two shows on Friday and Saturday followed the blueprint that has helped the band persevere for more than four decades: twin lead guitars (courtesy of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks), bluesy vocals from Gregg Allman, and a thumping percussive backbone from Butch Trucks, Mark Quinones, and Jaimoe. The result was two nights full of tight runs though crowd favorites like “Statesboro Blues,” “Midnight Rider,” “One Way Out,” and the ever-magnificent “Mountain Jam.”
Saturday offered one of the most diverse billings, with everything from jazz and blues to rock and bluegrass, including Floodwood, an acoustic band featuring Al Scnier and Vinnie Amico from moe., who put in a pleasing set in the early afternoon. Bringing the jazz to Peach Fest were Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, who brought an hour-long mix of jazz, blues, and funk and helped prepare the crowd for the rest of the night’s acts.
Coming out in support of its soon-to-be-released new album “Shout!” Gov’t Mule brought its unique mix of Southern blues, rock, and funk to the Peach, including an almost reggae-fused “Scared to Live” and a thumping “Captured,” two cuts from the new album. Being a major part of the festival – including two shows with the Allmans, one with Gov’t Mule, and other sit-ins – Haynes made sure to have some fun in the set, including a surprising inclusion of Prince’s hit “When Doves Cry” in the middle of “Beautifully Broken.” Much like Friday, Bob Weir and RatDog once again put in a powerhouse performance, starting with the slower Dead gem “Bird Song.” Throughout cuts like “Jack Straw” and “The Other One,” to some of Weir’s deeper tracks like “October Queen” and “Even So,” and even the RatDog original “Two Djinn,” the bands tightness reminded fans of how good the musicianship of RatDog is and provided some hope of future activity from the outfit.
The Mushroom Stage schedule for Saturday was equally unique, as it saw everything from bluegrass (Bill Evans’ Soulgrass, and Cabinet) and jazz (Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band) to the electronic dance music of Lotus. For years, Lotus was almost a staple in this area, with numerous appearances at the former Murray’s Inn and the River Street Jazz Café, but after garnering much national attention, the band has now outgrown the smaller stages, but its loyalty to its fans remains. Judging from the reaction at Peach Fest on Saturday, its fans were grateful the band never forgot them.
For the final day on Sunday, only the Peach Stage was running, and fans were treated to a soothing start to the day with an acoustic set from Weir, who ran through classics like “Walking Blues” and “Me and My Uncle” before showcasing one of the more beloved traits of Weir shows: forgotten lyrics. At the Peach, it was a version of the often-overlooked “City Girls,” which he returned to later in the set. Kimock hung around for the show and later accompanied Weir on a touching “Peggy-O,” an exploratory “Playin’ in the Band,” and a rootsy “Standin’ on Shaky Ground.”
To close out the festival, the Black Crowes put in a lively two-hour show that showcased everything from its lesser-known tunes like “Sting Me” and “Black Moon Creeping” to familiar numbers such as “She Talks to Angels” and “Remedy.” Towards the end of its set, lead singer Chris Robinson brought out Weir – who was referred to as “The Mayor of Peach Fest” – for a stirring rendition of Bob Dylan’s classic “(Just Like) Tom Thumb’s Blues.” With no encore – something that seemed to be the norm for the weekend – the Crowes ended the festival with a tight segue between its version of “Hard to Handle,” meshing into a cover of Deep Purple’s “Hush,” which became a highlight of Sunday’s festivities and the perfect way to end Peach Fest.
In its second year, the Peach Festival has gained more fans, more bands, more respect on the festival circuit, and more staying power. For everyone who was there for the last two years, we can only hope the Allmans decide to bring it back for a third round. If they do, after this year, they’ll have some work to do to try and surpass it.