Peach Fest 2021: People Can You Feel It? | JamBandsOnline.com

Peach Fest 2021: People Can You Feel It?

Review by Ely Yarborough

Photos by Jesse Faatz

I finally made it to The Peach on top of the picturesque Montage Mountain in Scranton PA. Now, as a board certified and Allman Brothers fan since childhood, I have wanted to attend this festival for years, yet somehow never made the trek. Sure, I knew there was a waterpark…and I knew it was on a mountain…and I knew that the lineups were always stacked top to bottom. All of that is right up my alley, so how did it take me this long? Well, life is too short to live in regret, so let’s dive in the wave pool and get to the good stuff?

Now, I’d rather not pull a generic “set list/blurb” type review. I saw many great sets and I also missed many great sets so if you don’t see your favorite band reviewed proper here, I am sorry! I know that every band I saw played to their absolute peak of “hettyness” so I am sure that trend continued through the bands I did not see.

Photo: Jesse Faatz

Past any notes that were played or any lights were flashed, Peach ’21 was the celebration of life that we all desperately needed. This reporter can confirm that seemingly every person on the mountain was being their most awesome selves, from the staff, to the bands, to the patrons, all the way down to the town. 

Music is back and we could not have missed it more. Rest in Peace to those we lost, always check on your friends, and stay hydrated so we call all keep doing this for a long time.

Anyway, I was looking through some older lineups and it really makes my heart happy to see some of these bands once on the bottom line, just a few years ago, moving on up to that deluxe headlining slot, in the sky. 

We finally made it on site just in time for moe. on Friday. The guitar interplay between Al and Vinnie is unparalleled in the scene and it is always a treat to catch these two shredders go to town. moe. in general is just a great band with an original sound and we at JBO absolutely love Buffalo’s finest.

While we are on Buffalo’s finest, fellow Buffalo band Aqueous was set up on the mushroom stage right after the moe. set. 

Now our editor and many of my friends have raved Aqueous for years, but this was my first interaction and I absolutely loved them. No recycled riffs from these boys, only a fantastic set of original sounds from a hungry band that, like PPPP, have worked their way up from the bottom of these lineups to primetime slots. 

Next up was the musical explosion of a tribute band known as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. The style and direction of JRAD segments are clearly inspired by the Dead even in their most radical moments. JRAD could drop into the deepest of early 70s “Dark Star” space out of mid 80s JGB staples like “Cats Out Under the Stars” or one of my favorites, “Mission in the Rain”. JRAD honors the music of the Dead while also pushing it to territories that are not often reached by any band under any circumstance. It’s always a pleasure to see these boys especially when it starts to get fast during “Dancing in the Streets” or “Bertha”.

During the set change I ended up catching less than I wanted to of the Nth Power but the few minutes I did hear before Umphrey’s McGee was so funky. I had seen the name on lineups before, but unfortunately had not seen them before and now I urge any funk fans to do so if they can.

The late night for Friday was prog jam heroes Umphrey’s McGee and they did not disappoint. Now, I will fully admit I do not understand what an Umphrey’s is nor understand what they do but good Lord, do they rage? 

I crave adventurous music that leaves the original song well behind it. Under these criteria, 7/2/21 is the best set I have ever seen from them, as I have never heard UM push it quite as hard as the boys did on Friday. Many deep explorations with heady grooves and peaks; what more could you ask for? How  a sick Led Zeppelin cover of “Dazed and confused” with Doom Flamingo’s powerhouse vocalist Kanika Moore? This chick has it. Angelic pipes with devilish dance moves that seem to be the perfect combination for all the legendary vocalists; like a female Robert Plant. The boys laid down the foundation and Ms. Moore sent it over the top. She is something special, especially with the Doom Flamingo proper, an outfit we at JBO are huge fans of after this weekend.

As the night wound down, we hit the shuttles that connect the day parking lots down the mountain with the amphitheater towards the top. I was a little wary of having to wait around for a bus each night but it was a seamless process that never left us waiting for more than a few minutes. Very convenient and a complete non-issue getting out. Pro tip: head out the bottom exit. Longer walk, immediate payoff. Thank me later.

Now the weather on Saturday afternoon/early evening did not play nice. Because of this we missed 2 sets that I certainly wish I could write more about, those being Tauk and Andy Fraso and the UN. Tauk is a fantastic unit, especially their drummer Issac Teel. I have seen them a few times and they never disappoint. 

I heard somebody say that Andy Frasco is the Bruce Springsteen of the Jam Scene and I just think that is fantastic. Nobody works a crowd to a frenzy like this guy and honestly, I’m cool with calling him the “Boss”. I saw videos of him crowd surfing to the wave pool… and yeah… I wish I had been there, but judging from everybody’s reactions to it, I can report that Peach was that classic Andy Frasco freak-out. 

Luckily we did make it on site for one of my favorite sets of the weekend, Oteil and Friends. Such an interesting band. The first time I saw them was some sort of gospel R&B dance party mixed with classic Dead tunes. This performance, on another hand, was a total jazz set featuring one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Krasno, throwing down tasteful support lines for Oteil Burbidge, Trio guitarist Tom Guarna. This guy blew me away. The whole set did. Given that the first sixty to ninety minutes of their set was super rainy, there were many people present under the tent that I theorize would have missed this masterful performance had the weather been clearer. It was slow, groovy and dripping with tasty jazz licks, like the sticky syrup off a freshly tapped maple tree. A nectar so sweet. A purity that can only be achieved from open and honest musical communication. The kind of stuff we at JBO chase around. 

The more I think this set, the surer I am that it is the purest form of the artist known as Oteil. From the psycho jazz ARU days (RIP Colonel), to the jazzy grooves of the Allman Brothers, it’s clear that his whole career is built on such progressions. The jam out of  “Here Comes Sunshine” was truly one of those “High Brow” movements and I felt honored to have experienced it. More than honored, absolutely blessed. The “Comes a Time” is one of the most beautiful passages I have ever heard and I urge the JBO faithful to seek this set out by any means necessary. After this segment, Oteil brought out the extended Allman Brother Family from the Allman Betts Band for what can only be described as Peach Fest Magic.

After the introductions and a few hellos, the opening chords of the classic Allman Brothers tune “Midnight Rider” rang through the pavilion, up the mountain, and blasted through the sky giving the sun a chance to chase the rest of the rain away. The radiant sunbeams shone through the humid stage right corner and in the middle of the bright haze. The way I see it, if Gregg was there, then I bet Duane, Barry, Butch, and Alan were there too. 

The whole family was rocking out with us for a few timeless minutes as respect for the past melded with excitement for the future. Simply put, it was a magic moment that will stick with me for the rest of my life. 

After Duane Betts swelled the crowd with a rousing “Blue Sky” solo, the whole extended family came out for one more jam through the ABB classic “Revival”. People can you feel it? LOVE IS EVERYWHERE. Yes we can feel it.  And it feels good!. “This is how you do The Peach,” remarked Oteil as the legend himself wrapped up a set for the ages.

At the same time, one of the best sit-ins in Peach history happened with Trey Anastasio, who was there for his headlining Oysterhead set later that night, sat in with his Ghosts of the Forest cohort Celisse Henderson at the very rainy Grove stage. If only we could be at two places at the same time, or if we even knew it was going to happen, then maybe one of our crew could have gone and witnessed the magic. But because of modern technology, we have the videos at least.

Another set I missed was Dopapod but having listened back, it sounded immaculate. Why did I miss it? Well Doom Flamingo started up and frankly I could not leave. I’m not going to lie, whenever I hear about a new side project, my first instinct usually isn’t excitement, but this one is different. They mix jam grooves with like, some New Order or Depeche Mode style industrial to fantastic results. It is a niche that I was not aware that I needed but frankly, I could not get enough. 

They had most of the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands from the first tune, “Hot Wheels”; a groovy number mixed with the sheen of 80’s synths. 

By the time they completed their set, the Flamingo had achieved a legion of new fans, including us here at JBO. The kicker? Kanika Moore bringing down the house with their cover of Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best ” as the fireworks exploded in the night. 

Earlier in the set, they played another cover, “Touch of Grey ”. I was in the little reporters room and out of nowhere, there was a full men’s chorus in the bathroom. Singing the tunes of our culture, with complete strangers, in perfect unity after all we’ve been through. We are everywhere! We are never alone! It was beautiful! 

I could write 50 pages about the top headliner of The Peach; super group Oysterhead. Consisting of Trey from Phish, Les Claypool from Primus, and Stuart Copeland from The Police playing their first east coast show since 2006 and only the third total in the same time frame. The anticipation was palpable and the crowd got bigger and bigger, until everybody on the mountain was witnessing history.

 Mr. Oysterhead, Rubberneck Lions, Army’s on Ecstasy all had incredibly lucid passages that allowed for all three legs of this outfit to shine individually but most importantly, as a unit. The whamola/Matterhorn drone jam>Shadow of a Man opened portals and had the entire crowd drooling before dropping the only cover of the night; standard “First Tube”. I completely lost it as I was doing my best to destroy the venue as the band peaked it out. You may think I’m joking, but I was posted up under one of the support wires near the moat of the venue. I had one hand grasped on the wire as I jumped back and forth, raging/dancing/jumping with the pent up energy of a head that hasn’t had an opportunity to do so in almost two years. I know I wasn’t the only one either. 

I believe that 7/3/21 is the most fully realized version of this project to date and I really hope they have a few more shows down the road. The jams were tight and punchy like you’d expect, but given this is the third show where all three members have been sober, they also expanded on the material in fresh and unique ways to deliver a truly fantastic set worthy of both headliner and super group. 

The late night Saturday was tough, because I love all three bands on the bill. First up was Harrisburg’s finest, YAM YAM. These jazz groove stars are incredible and I could not pass up a chance to see them at a major festival in the most primetime slot there is. Playing the Grove stage, they had pulled a great crowd that was a mix of Yam vets and newbies just figuring out the sound. Their drummer Tyler Fuller is an absolute beast who keeps the party moving all night long. Picking up from Mr. Fuller’s foundation, the rest of the band lays down their own brand of groove that feels like cruising down Rainbow Road in your favorite version of Mario Kart. 

I wish I could have driven that road all night long, but both Spafford and were calling me. After walking over to hear Spafford do their thing for a while, I simply could not resist hearing Turkuaz finally debut their Talking Head project with Adrian Belew and Jerry Harrison. 

And what a debut it was. If you like freaky dance parties, this will be the set for you. From top to bottom, the gang absolutely ripped up the classics in ways they have not been played since the 80s. I am not a scholar on the Talking Heads, but I am pretty sure Turkuaz worked out some fresh arrangements, which they played with passion and love for the source that could be felt from every bass bomb to each Belew solo. 

The moat area during this set is easily the most pornographic dance party I have ever been a part of. People must have been practicing these moves in private since they originally saw “Stop Making Sense”. I know I had been and boy were we all ready to finally bust them out. The whole ambiance of the moment was set even further with the fog on the mountain. That was just a little Peach extra. 

Sunday was an easy day for us, as we could finally do all the other stuff that The Peach offers, namely that waterpark. We rode the waves, got extra lazy in the river, went down all the slides and even treated ourselves to the scenic ski lift ride. The 30 minute ride took us over the fireworks displays, around the glamping tents and out at the top of the mountain. After stopping at the top for a few minutes to look at where we were, we rode back down the mountain just in time to hear one JBO’s favorite bands; The String Cheese Incident tuning up the instruments and warming up the fondue pot.

They did more than warm it up. They crafted their unique blend of melty grade-A quesso that had us all double dipping. SCI are American legends as far as I’m concerned and they are without a doubt my feet’s favorite band. There’s no more appropriate band to close out a fest and to groove it out on the Fourth of July than the Cheese boys. Especially when they bring two sets of that gooey heat starting the night out with Texas>Lost, Can’t Stop Now. They didn’t go too deep here, but that is a strong opening frame for any show, especially given how tight and practiced they clearly were. The highlight of set one was the closer “The Big Reveal”>”US Blues” with ABB/Gov’t Mule legend Warren Haynes holding down the slide. The only thing that would have made it more American is if the band was throwing slices of apple pie to the crowd.

Set two started with a truly spectacular treat, the Blind Boys of were brought out to serenade us with their version of “Amazing Grace” sung over the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun”, which apparently they had done earlier in the day.

“I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now, I see!”

The Blind Boys talking about those Inner visions. Beautiful. 

The rest of the set was a complete and utter dance party the likes of which only Cheese can throw. “Best Feeling>Exodus>Best Feeling” got the party started off right. “Colliding” reached that Matrix level groove without ever getting too electronic. “Search” and “Black and White” while standards were fantastic. Heck, even the drum solo was top notch and had the whole crowd moving like a tribal rain dance. 

The kicker of the night was the “Black Clouds” which probably isn’t the best version ever, but is the best version I have ever seen. It is one of my favorite songs and I finally got to experience one that was perfectly aged. 

Throw that “Jessica” encore while the rockets red glare and bombs burst in the air and there you have it. It was perfect. It was America. IT WAS THE PEACH!

Peach is a jam fest for jam fans and after seeing so many festivals start as one thing and then slowly change to another, frankly it was a breath of fresh air to attend a major one that didn’t have some DJ or bib pop start in major headlining slots; a place where we can really shake these old bones.

Peach 2021 confirmed that not only do we have these places; the scene is growing, thriving and ready to explode all over again. So if you see any of the JBO staff at a show this year, come say hey, let’s talk about some tunes, get ready to dance and in general just celebrate life together.

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