The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has hosted a deep and diverse lineup for the Peach Music Festival since the event was launched by the Allman Brothers Band in 2012, but the seventh annual rendition provided the most colorful bill yet. From Allman Brothers co-founder Dickey Betts and South Carolina soul rockers the Marcus King Band to Nashville songwriter Nicki Bluhm and jam titans Moe., the Peach served up four freewheeling days of inspired music. Here are the 10 best things we saw. (Photos courtesy of the Peach Music Festival)
Best Southern Fusion: The Marcus King Band
While the Marcus King Band’s Southern rock, blues and soul influences are evident in their own music, the group isn’t afraid to be a live jukebox. Led by the mighty voice of its namesake and frontman, the six-piece, with horns and organ, delivered the haunting roots-rock of “Goodbye Carolina” and sharp-edged R&B with “Virginia.” But they also nodded to the festival founders when they played original Southern-psych tune “Self-Hatred” into the Allman Brothers Band’s “Dreams.” The set highlight: nailing a medley that bridged their own “Sharry Barry” with Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” and Funkadelic’s “I’ll Stay,” a barrage of jazz and funk fusion led by King’s ferocious guitar work.
Best Troubadours: Anders Osborne & Jackie Greene
Separately, Osborne and Greene are proven songsmiths and accomplished instrumentalists; together, they’re a charming and unflappable team. Generating prime-time energy during a mid-day set, Greene started things off with his creeping, jazzy “I Don’t Live in a Dream,” Osborne obliging him with spine-tingling guitar fills. Osborne followed with melancholy alt-country ballad “Ash Wednesday Blues,” with Greene moving from guitar to piano. The duo cover the spectrum, from folk to blues to rock & roll, with their poignant lyrics punctuating every turn. Osborne’s “Flat Earth Song” championed reflection and self-love, while Green’s “Shaken” touched on the fleeting nature of life’s circumstances.
Best of the Fest: Moe.
After bassist and vocalist Rob Derhak’s successful battle with oropharyngeal cancer in 2017, Moe. have played each set like it could be their last. Leading with the sinister funk of “Brent Black,” the band, who celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2015, gave the Peach audience an adrenaline shot, led by the howling bends of guitarist Chuck Garvey. Moe kept things going with an onslaught of bass-soaked progressive rock, acid-jazz and raging metal, jamming through “Billy Goat,” “The Pit,” “Tubing the River Styx” and “George” before mellowing a bit with the melodic “Downboy.” New tunes “Who You Calling Scared?” and “New Hope for the New Year” kept things weird and funky, while acute covers of the Band’s “Ophelia” and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” had even the non-moe.rons singing along.
Best Psych Out: Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Everything the Chris Robinson Brotherhood does is dipped in psychedelic rock. Led by the former Black Crowes singer, CRB lets its R&B and Southern roots shine through, but not without taking a regular trip to psych town. The hallucinogenic soul of “Narcissus Soaking Wet” featured Robinson’s bayou blues harmonica, and an unapologetic “Aint’ It Hard But Fair” was laced with Neal Casal’s ebullient guitar work. Each song in the set made room for mind-expanding interludes of circus-psych, and a swampy “Rosalie” and shimmying cover of the Coaster’s “I’m a Hog for You” brought the show home behind Robinson’s robust vocals.
Best Time Capsule: Little Feat, Moe. and the Turkuaz Horns
Little Feat’s 1978 live album Waiting for Columbus has made the Los Angeles band’s 1977 tour iconic for its distinct blending of California rock, blues and low-country boogie. Joined by progressive jam ensemble Moe. and the horn section from Brooklyn funk outfit Turkuaz, the band relived that moment in time. A gleeful “Fat Man in the Bath Tub was a celebratory rock romp with booming dual bass by Moe’s Rob Derhak and Little Feat’s Kenny Gradney. A raucous “Oh Atlanta” was laced with gospel organ by Bill Payne and ended in the moaning syncopated twang of Fred Tackett and Paul Barrere’s guitars. The show-stopper though was “Dixie Chicken,” which, with the Turkuaz Horns and Tackett on the brass, inspired a spontaneous audience chorus.
Best Weather-Be-Damned Performance: Nicki Bluhm
As incessant rain showers plagued Saturday evening at the Peach, masses headed for the venue’s covered pavilion and main stage, but Nicki Bluhm and her Nashville sound-tribe played their hearts out at one of the festival’s auxiliary stages. On the heels of her new album To Rise You Gotta Fall – a cathartic project formed in the aftermath of her divorce and separation from her previous band – Bluhm barreled through a captivating set. “Things I’ve Done,” accented by the rhythmic punch of drummer Lemuel Hayes and bassist Cameron Carrus, and self-assured “To Rise You Gotta Fall,” which featured warbling organ by Jeff Adamczyk and screaming fretwork by John McNally, highlighted the crack band. Bluhm’s potent voice was on display throughout, and especially shined in a rendition of Dan Penn’s country blues ballad “I Hate You,” showcasing Bluhm at her most raw and passionate.
Best Crazy Diamonds: Dark Side of the Mule
Gov’t Mule has honed its brand of below the Mason-Dixon blues and heavy rock over the course of an accomplished career, but the way the quartet – joined by a few helpful guests – inhabited the headspace of Pink Floyd was uncanny. Danny Louis’ whirring organ filth kept the crowd uneasy between songs, setting the stage for the trippy musical collage. Warren Haynes did his best David Gilmore impression – his Southern-rock style fitting Gilmore’s deliberate six-string caterwaul – leading the ensemble in Floyd instrumental “Echoes,” while an effervescent “Fearless” was a light spot in a set that offered a mourning “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and a devilishly funky “Have a Cigar.” The crescendo came with “Great Gig in the Sky,” which showcased operatic background vocalists and magnificent saxophone work by guest Ron Holloway.
Best Spirit of the Allmans: Dickey Betts
After parting ways in 2000 with the Allman Brothers Band, a group he helped found, Dickey Betts did not speak to Gregg Allman for 17 years, until the pair reportedly found common ground during a series of conversations that preceded Allman’s death in 2017. Betts’ arrival at the Peach Festival was the posthumous musical reconciliation that never happened while Allman was alive. Joined by son Duane Betts on lead guitar and a keenly capable band, Betts performed a feverish “Statesboro Blues.” Though not as spry as he once was, Betts took turns finding the sweet and twangy blues sound that made him one of the greats, and yielded elsewhere to the expert players in his band. Devon Allman joined for a “Midnight Rider” that at least reunited Betts with the younger generation of Allmans, and the warm, Southern-rock hop of “Blue Sky” moved the crowd to cheers. Even when this wasn’t the tightest set of the weekend, iconic songs like the harrowing “Whipping Post” and the guitar masterpiece “Jessica” incited roars, mostly out of respect and a realization that everything was in its right place for the first time in decades.
Best Scene-Stealers: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead
Performing the vast and complex catalog of the Grateful Dead is a challenge to most ensembles, but JRAD takes improvisational jam rock to the nth degree. Fueled by the combined talents of drummer Joe Russo, keyboardist Marco Benevento, guitarists Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger, and bassist Dave Dreiwitz, Almost Dead pushes the Dead to its most ecstatic. Second-set opener “Estimated Prophet” was an unabashed wave of bubbling guitar by Hamilton and gave way to the sleazy groove of “Mississippi Half Step.” Metzger took the first face-melting lead on “Eyes of the World,” which the band peaked three times in a series of jams before segueing to the rock & roll revelry of “One More Saturday Night.” With these players, Almost Dead is a perennial Peach show-stealer.
Best New Act: Midnight North
Growing up the son of Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, Grahame Lesh was exposed to plenty of great American music, but his band, Midnight North, takes the best parts of roots music and weaves them into a tapestry of rock and Americana. Onstage with vocalists and multi-instrumentalists Elliot Peck and Alex Jordan, and bassist Connor O’Sullivan, Lesh leads a group that just as easily sounds like Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac in its soulful rock simplicity as it does a Dead outfit. The writhing blues progression of “Headline From Kentucky” allowed the group to show off its vocal harmonies and the frolicking rock tune “Everyday” featured Jordan’s country-jam Telecaster tones. “Miss M” was a cool blend of swamp-funk and gospel, and Midnight North’s cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning” began with a vaudevillian intro before sliding into a slinky torch-jazz feel.