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13 Best Things We Saw at Peach Fest 2015

From Willie Nelson to founding father Gregg Allman, the 13 most noteworthy moments of the annual rock, jam and country fest

Willie Nelson Peach Fest

Willie Nelson performs at the Peach Music Festival in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Derek McCabe

Ironically, the first time the Peach Music Festival — founded by the Allman Brothers in 2012 — was held without its signature band in the lineup is the year the eclectic gathering found its identity. While Gregg Allman represented the seminal Southern-rock jam band at the fest on Friday night, it's no longer defined as "the Allmans' festival" — now, it's simply "The Peach." This weekend, artists from rock, country and bluegrass performed over three stages for 64,000 fans at the Montage Mountain ski resort and waterpark near Scranton, Pennsylvania. From Willie Nelson's hero's welcome to Old Crow Medicine Show's Live at the Apollo-worthy stage presence, here are the 13 best things we saw.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Todd Brodginski

Best Nashville Cats: Old Crow Medicine Show

From the icky thump of the show-opening "Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer" to the penultimate amphitheater sing-along of "Wagon Wheel," Old Crow Medicine Show had the Peach crowd — from hippies to hillbillies — eating out of their hands. The Grand Ole Opry members also made the case that they're the James Browns of country music. Between singer-fiddler Ketch Secor's hat-and-harmonica routine (which called to mind J.B.'s dramatic cape bit) and mandolin player Cory Yount's Jesco White-like dancing, the Old Crows' stage presence is hard to beat. Especially when Secor, who clearly does pre-city research, name-checks neighboring towns, landmarks and even streets during his between-song patter. The band, currently on tour with Willie Nelson, is in the zone, as eye-catching and mesmerizing as the guys' snazzy Western shirts.

Willie Nelson Peach Fest

Derek McCabe

Best Greenskeeper: Willie Nelson

The bag searches entering the Peach were at best nonchalant, as if security just assumed every other person was holding. And when Willie Nelson took the stage, it sure smelled as if that were the case. As a group of fans paraded past with a "Shotgun Willie" totem, adorned with a fake joint and marijuana leaf, the Red Headed Stranger lit into the medley he's been doing for years now: "Whiskey River" into "Still Is Still Moving to Me" into "Beer for My Horses." While that last song may be ready for the glue factory, the rest of Nelson's set was above reproach, especially a gorgeous "Georgia on My Mind" and a spirited "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." But it was Nelson's go-green songs that seemed to get the biggest ovation: "It's All Going to Pot," his Django and Jimmie duet with Merle Haggard, and the now requisite "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" with Old Crow Medicine Show as a backing choir. Morbidity has never smelled so sweet.

Gregg Allman

Derek McCabe

Best Founding Father: Gregg Allman

As the Peach began as an Allman Brothers festival, it was ripe for a memorable performance by one of its godfathers: Gregg Allman. The gravelly-voiced singer split time between his organ and a guitar, delivering a surprisingly high-energy set full of crowd-pleasers from both the Allmans catalog and his own solo career. "I'm No Angel," one of his most notable solo hits (though not written by Allman), was a highlight, as was his embrace of traditional blues with a cover of T-Bone Walker’s "Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)." "Melissa" made for an emotional moment and the band showed off its versatility by recasting "Whipping Post" as a funky jam. The encore of "One Way Out," however, with guests Warren Haynes and Jaimoe, was faithful and searing, and gave Allman his best opportunity to stake his claim as King Peach.

Blues Traveler

Derek McCabe

Best Nineties Nostalgia: Blues Traveler

With a diverse set that didn't shy away from radio hits like "Run-Around" and "But Anyway," John Popper and Blues Traveler effectively recreated the Nineties on the Peach's Mushroom Stage. As festivalgoers took advantage of the venue's water slide and wave pool, the charismatic Popper manned the harmonica, sending good vibes up the ski resort's slopes. A performance of the onetime Busch Light anthem "The Mountains Win Again" with guest Warren Haynes (whom Popper introduced as "a badass, a motherfucker") was especially setting-appropriate. But it was a curveball cover of Radiohead's 1992 single "Creep" that proved Blues Traveler still possess their gift for versatility — and love the Nineties as much as we do.

Cabinet Peach Fest

Derek McCabe

Best Hometown Heroes: Cabinet

Having performed at every installment of the Peach, Scranton-based bluegrass band Cabinet is the local heart of the festival. This year, the six-piece led by cousins Pappy and J.P. Biondo did triple duty, opening the four-day event Thursday, playing a Friday afternoon slot under the hot sun and capping Saturday night with a wee-hours jam on the Grove Stage, highlighted by an epic and fitting take on J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" with guest guitarist Justin Mazer. It was actually the second gig for Cabinet — one of Rolling Stone Country's Artists You Need to Know — that day, having driven to Maryland for another festival appearance earlier in the afternoon. As their T-shirts say, "Woooooo Doggie."

Tom Hamilton Peach Fest

Derek McCabe

Best Peach MVP: Tom Hamilton

Whether he was sitting in with Joe Russo's Almost Dead, leading his own band American Babies or jamming with Grateful Dead royalty Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann, singer-guitarist Tom Hamilton was ubiquitous at the Peach. The Philadelphia-based musician's nuanced playing was ethereal and inspired, subtly tailored for each artist with whom he shared the stage. While Kreutzmann may get top billing in his increasingly popular Billy and the Kids collective, it's Hamilton who leads the charge, guiding Dead covers and musical adventures with a steady hand. He shines best though with the Babies, crooning originals like "Winter War Games" or doing his most defiant Dylan with "Tangled Up in Blue."

Bob Weir Peach Fest

Derek McCabe

Best Dead Cover: Bob Weir With Billy and the Kids

In the shadow of the Fare Thee Well shows in Chicago, the Peach heard a lot of Grateful Dead songs played in tribute, but it was the genuine articles who, not surprisingly, gave the crowd its most heightened Dead experience. With Weir and Bill Kreutzmann on stage with Reed Mathis of Tea Leaf Green, Aaron Magner of the Disco Biscuits and Tom Hamilton of American Babies, the five-piece played embellished versions of "Feel Like a Stranger" and "New Minglewood Blues." But it was their passionate, victorious performance of "Estimated Prophet" that invoked the most nostalgia and sentiment from fans, and supplied the night with a shared anthem.

Santana Peach Fest

Derek McCabe

Best Sermon on the Mountain: Carlos Santana

With Santana headlining the final day of the weekend, the festival faithful piled onto the main stage lawn and into the tented seats to see the legend do his thing. But the most memorable part of his performance was delivered with words, not his guitar. Following an eerie take on "Evil Ways," Santana began addressing the crowd in an extended outro. After thanking everyone for being there and giving their energy, Santana implored fans to regard life as a blessing, suggesting they "make every day the best day of [their] lives." The in-the-moment audience cheered at every thoughtful word and Santana, bolstered, championed self-worth and acceptance before leading the masses in a chant of "light and love."

Joe Russo's Almost Dead

Derek McCabe

Best Dead Flashback: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Arguably the best jam ensemble at the festival, Joe Russo's Almost Dead performed such emotive and tight renditions of Grateful Dead songs that they all but surpassed the "almost" of their name. After an obligatory jam lead-in, drummer Russo and his players, including guitar magician Tom Hamilton, wove together a mixture of classics like "Bertha" and lesser heard songs like "Lazy Lightning" (which Bob Weir initially played with Kingfish). The group's version of "Uncle John's Band" featured a psychedelic blues jam that led back to the chorus with energy and purpose — only to have the P.A. go out at the least opportune moment. Undeterred, an enthralled crowd carried on singing and saw the band into their finale of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" without missing a beat.

Australian Pink Floyd

Derek McCabe

Best Natural Fireworks: Australian Pink Floyd

The late set on Friday night at the main stage became a walk among the stars, as one of the most revered and well-reviewed tribute bands in the game brought a powerful performance with help from the recently peaked Perseid meteor shower. With haunting performances of "Welcome to the Machine" and "Time," the Australian Pink Floyd had the crowd in a dreamlike state of ecstasy. When they moved into the orchestral intro to their rendition of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" — written by Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour as a tribute to fallen Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett — the sky above the amphitheater lawn offered brilliant yellow streaks. Combined with the Australian Floyd's own trippy light show, it made for a spectacular bit of pyrotechnics.

Dumpstaphunk

Josh Brasted/FilmMagic

Best Family Tree: Dumpstaphunk

Cousins and descendants of the Neville family, Ivan and Ian Neville brought old-school funk to the festival early and often. Taking a side stage Saturday afternoon to small crowd, they played as if there were 50,000 standing in front of them. Ivan churned out delightfully raunchy melodies from behind the organ, while Ian's silky, sexy guitar style delivered tasteful rhythms and masterful fills. A rhythm section that included two bass players playing in unison and trading solo riffs kept time with Swiss precision, while the Steeltown Horns from Pittsburgh were equally on point. Still, they brought the funk, and tracks like "I Know You Know" and "Meanwhile" made for the dirtiest juke-joint dance party of the whole weekend.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Bob Weir

Derek McCabe

Best History Lesson: Preservation Hall Jazz Band

In 1969, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans opened three shows for the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. A handbill from that year shows an early incarnation of the jazz band in their first decade of existence. Forty-six years later, the most current assembly of the critically acclaimed group stepped on stage at the Peach Festival and snapped the crowd — who had been listening to noodled jams all weekend — back to life with a refreshingly crisp jazz set. When Bob Weir joined them for a rendition of "Iko Iko," the traditionally jazzy, New Orleans tune that the Dead often covered, it was a perfect nod to the groups' shared history.

Bruce Hornsby

Derek McCabe

Best Big Pharma Dis: Bruce Hornsby

Ivory tickler Bruce Hornsby has long shed his identity as simply "The Way It Is" singer — he doesn't always include that 1986 Number One in his gigs — and his Saturday afternoon performance was far from a greatest hits set. Instead, Hornsby and his masterful band the Noisemakers offered a tour of American music, from bluegrass and jazz to Celtic-inspired acoustic fare. At one point, Hornsby ditched his trusty piano altogether for an Appalachian dulcimer and led a deliciously intimate jam at the front of the stage. But it was the fan favorite "Life in the Psychotropics" that elicited the most whoops. With Hornsby singing about the ups and downs of mood stabilizers — and cleverly noting in the lyrics that Xanax is a palindrome — he all but tore down the prescription drug industry.