By Michael Lello
Photos by Jim Gavenus
SCRANTON — While the Allman Brothers Band are the name at the top of the bill, the star of the show during the second day of the Peach Music Festival Friday night was Grace Potter, who brought boundless energy and sultry sex appeal to not only her own band’s set, but also Grateful Dead legend Bob Weir’s performance with Ratdog.
Potter and her band The Nocturnals made the very most of their late-afternoon main-stage slot, offering up songs from their latest album “The Lion, The Beast, The Beat,” such as “Turntable” and the beautiful ballad “Stars,” commanding the stage whether wailing away on her Flying V electric guitar, strumming an acoustic, manning organ and piano or working the crowd without an instrument.
A raunchy take on J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine,” played in honor of the recently passed singer/guitarist, was an early set highlight, as was a riff-heavy “Sugar,” showing the band’s classic influences like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. After “Sugar,” Potter told the crowd being at a festival reminds her of “being a misbehaved 14-year-old, telling boys I was 18 or 19. I loved the campground. I feel left out. I wish I was hanging out with you guys. After the show, look for me out there and I’ll be among you guys. I’ll be on something, and it’s not a pony.”
The Nocturnals yielded the stage to Potter, who after a flurry of rhythmic Flying V riffs, launched into “Nothing But The Water,” from the band’s 2005 debut album of the same name. As the rest of the musicians returned the stage, Potter banged her head during an organ solo and danced in front of the drums during Matt Burr’s short solo. Guitarist Scott Tournet began teasing the riff of Neil Young’s “Down By The River,” while Potter continued to sing “Nothing But The Water,” eventually leading the Nocturnals into a full-on version of Young’s tune, complete with a meandering instrumental section.
“The Lion, The Beat, Beast,” one of GPN’s best compositions, was otherworldly and powerful, and conjured My Morning Jacket in parts, while “Paris (Ooh La La),” the band’s 2010 hit, closed the set. “Paris” took on a heavier character than the glossy album version, and all of the Nocturnals finished the song playing percussion, with Potter pounding Burr’s bass drum with a mallet before the group stopped on a dime.
Weir’s Ratdog, playing its only set of shows scheduled for 2013, featured an interesting lineup, with Bethlehem’s Steve Kimock on lead guitar and standup bassist, former Ratdog member and longtime Weir collaborator Rob Wasserman joining core members Jay Lane (drums), Robin Sylvester (bass) and Jeff Chimenti (keyboards). After a tepid start with “Easy Answers” and nicely played renditions of “Brown Eyed Women,” “Loose Lucy” and “Ashes and Glass,” the show took off during a segment that found the band playfully morphing back and forth from “Dark Star” into “Easy To Slip” and back.
Weir’s take on the latter, a Little Feat song that has been in his cadre of songs for decades, was beautiful, melodic and hazy, and led to a lilting, blissed-out jam, the band reaching the zone jam band fans dream about. Weir then led his charges into “Dark Star,” and the guitarist/vocalist, in phenomenal voice all evening, stretched out the “Searchlight casting” line, giving the psychedelic classic added weight. While Wasserman bowed his bass and the band melted into a patient improvisation, letting mini melodies develop while Weir played squealing lines on his Stratocaster, the music became lighter. Strumming the opening chords to The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” Weir told the crowd they’d finish “Dark Star” on Saturday, and welcomed Potter to the stage, saying, “We have a lovely guest here.” Potter’s magnetism immediately took over, singing close to Weir and dancing ethereally like Stevie Nicks.
Potter walked off the stage and waved goodbye as Ratdog kicked off “China Cat Sunflower,” with the dancing crowd eating out of the palm of their hands at this point. Tangling guitars and smooth, rumbling bass and drums shaded towards “I Know You Rider,” and Potter bounded back onto the stage. She shared verses with Weir, and induced a goosebumps moment when she sashayed to the front of the stage to belt out the “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train” line. She left, dancing off the stage like a twirling fan on the lawn, before returning for a quick a cappella “Rider” reprise, commencing in a set-ending group hug.
The Allmans had a tough act to follow, and while it did not reach the screaming intensity of Potter’s performances, it was a memorable set in its own right. While last year’s Peach did not feature many collaborations, this year’s sit-ins continued during the ABB set, with Eric Krasno of Soulive and The Tedeschi Trucks Band, saxophonist Bill Evans, Weir and Lane all joining the fray. Opening with the familiar one-two punch of the instrumental and “Don’t Want You No More” and “Ain’t My Cross To Bear,” Gregg Allman sounding great on organ and vocals, the group barreled into the boogying blues of “Trouble No More,” drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe and percussionist Marc Quinones pounding away in the back. “Midnight Rider,” with Allman and Warren Haynes singing tandem lead vocals, was a nice treat, as was the progressive “Spots of Time,” a recently debuted ABB song penned by Haynes and Phil Lesh. Haynes unleashed a ferocious solo, contrasted nicely with Derek Trucks’ subsequent gentler leads, which grew in intensity as his uncle Butch played harder and harder.
“Revival” is the perfect festival song, a hippie anthem complete with the refrain “People can you feel it?/ Love is everywhere.” Tough to argue with that sentiment during an ABB show on a cool, crisp August night. Haynes played a brief tease of “Mountain Jam” — expect the ABB to take that one on Saturday night – before steering toward the instrumental workout “Hot ’Lanta.”
Pictures of the late Duane Allman were projected on the back screen during “Statesboro Blues,” and a few songs later, Haynes welcomed Weir to the stage for a slow and slinky “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” Weir and Haynes traded verses, with Weir adding some tasty guitar leads and rhythmic strums. Near the end of “One Way Out,” Derek tossed a guitar pick to a fan before Allman’s big vocal finish on the repeated “It just might be your old man” portion.
Evans took “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” into unique and interesting forays, bleating textured and percussive sax lines; certainly not the typical honking rock saxophone. His insistent blurts created a trance-like feel as the guitarist riffed off of him, with Haynes alternating between the “Liz Reed” riff and some out jazz licks. The ABB quickly riffed on the Dead’s “Slipknot!” before returning to the main theme, then leaving the stage to the percussion players. Bassist Oteil Burbridge took over Butch’s drumkit, while Butch shifted to tympani for a long drums and percussion segment; the rest of the band, and Evans, returned to wrap up “Liz Reed.”
After a rather lengthy encore break, the ABB returned for a nice and relatively quick “No One To Run With,” a bright ode to fallen brothers in arms; photos on the screen of Duane and late ABB bassist Allen Woody, whose final performance was with the Allmans at the Peach venue.
It was a sweet ending to a phenomenal day and night of music, and conjured ideas of what could happen Saturday, as the festivals rolls into its third day.