After a busy summer producing festivals, I finally got my chance to be an attendee. I decided on Peach Festival due to the convenience of the location for a New York City resident (located on Montage Mountain in the Northeast Pennsylvania region) and my love of the soon disbanding Allman Brothers. The festival delivered as expected but as the beating heart of the festival became one with mine, it turned into one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a festival… and I’ve had a lot.
As soon as I walked through the gates at Montage Mountain, I had a good feeling. George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic was throwing down funky beats and water slides were flowing all around the stage. The staff and volunteers were exceptionally relaxed yet helpful. The crowd was young and old but seemingly experienced. They knew what they were doing. They knew how to party without attracting attention or infringing upon others mental and physical space.
We joined friends who had set up camp on the mountainside overlooking a lake. We had tons of space and easily accessible shade. We could hear the music at the perfect volume. How had I never heard of this festival before?
We made it to just one show Thursday night, due to our late start, but it certainly did not disappoint. Dopapod is a band my college band once opened for; now they are headlining festivals! It was awesome to see the growth. The show was at the medium-sized stage, the “Mushroom Stage,” out of the 3 stages. It was my favorite stage due to the proximity to our campsite and the open feel. The crowd extended up the mountain so that even those in the back had clear view. To the right of the stage was the wave pool, where festival-goers were wading or floating peacefully as the music rocked on.
Friday morning we were ready to go. Due to the cool mountain air and our position in the shade, we had solid night of rest, unusually characteristic of my festival camping experiences. We made sausage, bacon and eggs on our camping stove and absorbed the surrounding serenity. Packed with protein, we headed to our first show of the day, From Good homes, which features singer/songwriter/guitarist Todd Sheaffer, who you might know from Railroad Earth. The band had a similar roots/bluegrass/Americana feel, perfect for dancing on the lawn in the back of the main stage, “Peach Stage.” We used the gap of time in between From Good Homes and the highly anticipated Victor Wooten show to wander through the festival grounds and peruse the craft vendor markets.
Front center and ready we took in bass master Wooten, whose naturalistic jamming was reminiscent of being at home in his basement versus performing. His brother was featured on guitar and his 16-year old and 12-year old daughters came out to sing a tender yet powerful hallelujah. The crowd really got roaring when he ripped apart Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” fusing his funky style with the heavy rock tune.
After such a powerful performance, we were ready to make a break for our campsite and gear up for the evening with beers and blankets as the evening chill swept through the misty mountains.
We headed back to Peach Stage where we would remain for husband and wife duo Tedeschi Trucks Band and Phish front man Trey Anastasio Band. I’ve seen Tedeschi Trucks a number of times and always enjoy Derek’s smooth slide guitar and Susan’s soulful blues vocals. TAB, as Trey’s solo project is often referred, was a first for me, though I have seen Phish at least 30 times. They filled the slot that was originally set aside for Bob Weir, one of the guitarists from the Grateful Dead, and his band Ratdog. TAB played some Phish classics like “Sand,” “Alaska,” “First Tube,” and “Gotta Jibboo,” which was cool to see with the different instrumentation, filled with powerful female vocals and horns. They also played songs from their own albums such as “Caymen Review,” “Push On Til the Day,” and “Shine.” Another fun cover was The Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood,” but the highlight of the 2 sets for me was their epic cover of Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” featuring Jennifer Hartswick’s waling vocals, the perfect counterpart to Trey’s masterful guitar work.
We capped off the night with the late-night fun, electronic-sax jams of Big Gigantic, swaying in slow-motion through the sea of bodies at the Mushroom Stage, still going strong. We ended the night with a party in our massive tent as night broke into day.
As I unzipped my tent, ready to face the day, the line-up ahead dawned on me. I would head to the stages at 2 PM and not come back until the wee hours. I was dying to see just about every artist on Saturday! We headed first to The Infamous Stringdusters, who make bluegrass exciting for even those little attuned to the genre. Next, Karl Denson brought us down to New Orleans with his band The Greyboy Allstars, who played both classics and material from their new album. The highlight for me was the jazz-heavy “Happy Friends,” from their 1997 album, A Town Called Earth. Gov’t Mule followed with a great performance and sadly one of the last times Warren Haynes look-alike long-time guitar tech Brian Farmer would be seen before passing. Karl Denson took the stage for a groovy “Sco-Mule,” that got everyone in the pavilion out of their seats.
Trey took the stage again for another great set with TAB and then came the moment we had all been waiting for: The Allman Brothers Band featuring their legendary album, Eat a Peach. The performance was largely a tribute to the late guitarist Duane Allman, who essentially founded the band and remains one of the greatest guitar players of all time. Hearing this album from start to finish was pure joy, amped up by knowing exactly what song would come next. The combination of guitar work from Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes is ethereal to the ears; nothing will ever replace it for me and I feel so grateful for all the experiences I have shared in. Gregg Allman’s vocals were ever powerful, dug from the depths of his soul. The beauty of songs like “Melissa” and “Blue Sky,” the roaring blues of “One Way Out,” and the deep jamming of “Mountain Jam” kept my eyes and ears glued to The Allman Brothers for the entirety of their set. Just as I thought it was over, they launched into “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” and “Black Hearted Woman.” The heart and soul of the band has been carried throughout the decades, from when they first met in Georgia 45 years ago.
Minds blown and feet worn, we journeyed on to Lotus, reconvening with all lost or straggling friends. The electronic jams kept us moving and grooving until the bitter end.
Sunday would be our last day at the festival, as the following workday loomed ahead. Luckily, we had another Allman Brothers show to close it out! We mixed up dancing in the sun on the grass with being under the tent and close to the stage. They played early, personal Gregg songs such as “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” and “Midnight Rider,” and classic blues covers such as “Done Somebody Wrong” and a rocking “Statesboro Blues” featuring Taj Mahal. Peter Levin added keyboards on an exploratory “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and they closed out with an outstanding “Whipping Post.”
Thank you Peach Fest, my life is complete.
Words by: Whitney Smith
Photos by: Whitney Smith and Peach Fest Media Team