Photos by Jason Riedmiller
Fans crushed by Bob Weir and Ratdog’s absence from this weekend’s Peach Festival on Montage Mountain could hardly have been disappointed by the energetic “Dead Set” they witnessed Friday night from the festival’s hastily arranged quintet that included Ratdog and Furthur keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and Furthur drummer Joe Russo.
In fact, by night’s end, it wasn’t a stretch to suggest the last-minute Ratdog Replacements outdid the headliners that followed them on the canopy-covered main stage — the Tedeschi-Trucks Band and Trey Anastasio Band.
The 1-hour, 45-minute Dead Set concluded with Jackie Greene emerging from backstage with Joan Osborne and mystery guest Sarah Buxton on either arm.
The trio approached a center-stage mic and led the excitable crowd into a “Not Fade Away” clap-along as the backing band of Russo, Chimenti, guitarists Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger, and bassist Reed Mathis revved into the song’s familiar riff borrowed from Bo Diddley.
Greene harmonized on the song with Osborne, with whom he performed earlier in the afternoon with Trigger Hippy, and Buxton, the raspy country-crooning wife of Trigger Hippy lead guitarist Tom Bukovac.
“Not Fade Away” shifted into a hip-shaking “Turn On Your Lovelight” with Greene, Osborne and Buxton leading the hip swiveling, before a return to “Not Fade Away.”
Greene and Osborne, proudly wearing a bright blue Kentucky Wildcats T-shirt, began the Dead Set off stage as the band opened with “Truckin,” followed by “Help on the Way” and “Slipknot!,” with American Babies frontman Tom Hamilton handling most of the vocals.
The bearded, straw hat-wearing Greene emerged on stage for “Shakedown Street” after playfully sneaking up behind a smiling Chimenti and planting himself behind the Hammond B-3 stationed on Chimenti’s platform-raised keyboard rig.
Fittingly, the soulful Greene provided vocals on “Sugaree.” That was followed by “The Other One,” which included a “Rocky Mountain Way” tease near its conclusion.
“The Other One” than morphed back into “Sugaree” before the encore.
The crowd’s rousing applause at the conclusion of the Dead Set made it clear Grateful Dad fans’ devotion to the band and its music remains unlimited nearly 50 years after the band’s formation, regardless of the newest incarnation performing the songs.
One “Get Well, Bobby” sign was spotted near one side entrance to the pavilion area.
Some of the performers, including Trey Anastasio, clearly had Weir on their minds too. Anastasio made a sympathetic mention of Weir toward the end of his band’s funk- and horn-heavy set, which included one Phish number Friday, “Sand.”
What wasn’t clear to some in the crowd was what the Phish front man actually said about Weir. While the sound system at the main stage improved as the night progressed, performers’ spoken words were difficult to decipher.
While both fantastic bands, Tedeschi-Trucks is probably most appreciated in a smaller, more intimate venue like the Beacon Theater in New York City.
Same goes for Trey’s side project, whose tours regularly stop at smallish venues, like the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg. Smaller rooms allow a crowd to better appreciate the talents of drummer Russ Lawton and keyboardist Ray Paczkowski.
Trey Band’s Friday set included covers of the Five Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child (Things are Gonna Get Easier)” and an encore of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” part of the band’s regular repertoire.
— By Michael Lester
Saturday’s Peach Festival performances featured a fun mix of Peach veterans, some performing in different incarnations, and Peach newbies, all playing music that loosely fits under the “jam band” umbrella, but with healthy doses of diversity among the acts.
While the Allman Brothers Band’s later penultimate performance loomed over the earlier proceedings, some of the day’s best sets came from lower-billed acts, like Rich Robinson (who closed Peach last year with The Black Crowes), Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers and The Greyboy All Stars.
The secondary Mushroom Stage at Montage Mountain’s water park heated up with Robinson’s smooth yet hard-driving performance, which set the stage for Bluhm and her band, a rising force on the festival circuit and beyond. The Gramblers laid down some slinky funk before the very tall Bluhm emerged, introducing herself and welcoming the crowd as she led the way into a set that covered terrain from classic r&b to countrified licks. Bluhm commanding the stage, while lead guitarist Derren Ney weaved melodic, funky, dark and sometimes jaw-dropping leads into the set, but never stealing the show from Bluhm and the songs. This is an act to watch for, and if Peach Fest continues, Bluhm and company deserve a main-stage slot.
Karl Denson, who played last year’s Peach main stage (the Peach Stage) with his band Tiny Universe, was back Saturday afternoon, this time with The Greyboy Allstars, a band that also features keyboardist Robert Walter of Robert Walter’s 20th Congress. Jazz on the main stage might sound like a dud, but this wasn’t café be-bop; Denson and company played a downright rocking mix of acid jazz and James Brown-worthy funk, laying down infectious grooves with Denson’s powerhouse vocals, saxophone and flute riding atop. An instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Fee” was a highlight, as was their set-closing “Get A Job.”
Gov’t Mule, another Peach returnee, took the main stage next, and Warren Haynes and company did not disappoint, playing a set that did veer into the group’s tendency to stretch out a bit too much, but also including some dynamite moments. Performing as part of their “20 Years Strong” tour, the hard rock/jam outfit kicked off with “World Boss” from their newest album “Shout.” “Broke Down On The Brazos” followed, and a nice Danny Louis organ solo and rocking jam led into two of the Mule’s best and most poignant songs, “Banks of the Deep End” and “Time To Confess.”
“Banks of the Deep End’s” foundation, like many of Gov’t Mule’s songs, is deceptively built on a reggae groove, but it is a classic rock tune at its core. Written in the wake of founding bassist, former Allmans bandmate and Haynes’ best friend’s Allen Woody’s death, the dark and brooding tune tells of “where I lost my only friend.” The succinct and heartfelt tune was delivered perfectly.
The similar “Time To Confess,” from the same Mule era, found Haynes unfurling a rich, bright solo. After more heavy reggae/rock riffing, Louis soloed simultaneously on organ and clavinet, then Haynes kicked down the doors with a screaming solo.
Composer Gabor Presser, whom Haynes told the crowd flew in from Budapest to play, joined in on keyboards for an emotional take on The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Understood,” and Ron Holloway emerged to add some saxophone licks.
Other highlights of Gov’t Mule’s set were an exploratory “Sco-Mule,” with Denson on saxophone. The band rocked through various changes, even tossing in teases of Santana’s “Oye Como Va” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water.”
The buzz going around the Peach campus on Saturday was mostly about the Trey Anastasio Band’s Friday set, particularly their set-closing take on Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” with TAB horn player Jennifer Hartswick on vocals. Saturday’s TAB set was also the easy highlight of Saturday’s performances. TAB, which bears only glimmers of similarity to Anastasio’s day job with Phish, opened with “Cayman Review,” from his self-titled 2002 album. Sweet harmony vocals, an Afro-Cuban groove that this band favors, a Ray Paczkowski organ solo and a Hartswick trumpet solo helped get the party going. “Night Speaks To A Woman,” from the same album, was another early high point, and Anastasio included his very The Band-esque “Alaska,” which has also found its way onto Phish setlists, in the early portion of the set.
The deep-pocket Afro-Cuban funk of “Burlap Slacks and Pumps” was triumphant and perfectly sequenced before the breezy “Drifting.” Phish’s “Gotta Jibboo” was fun, with each band member providing dynamic accents. “Tuesday,” from Anastasio’s most mainstream album, “Shine,” was straightforward and anthemic. TAB’s cover of Gorillaz’ hit “Clint Eastwood” was a fun treat, with Anastasio and Hartswick sharing vocal duties.
TAB closed its powerful set with “First Tube,” recorded as a Phish song, but, as Anastasio mentioned, the first song written by TAB core Anastasio, bassist Tony Markelis and drummer Russ Lawton. The repetitive melody and rhythm gave Anastasio a solid bed to play wild, spiraling guitar solos, as he bounced up and down and danced. (He might be enjoying TAB more than Phish, but the excitable redhead seems to have a renewed energy for both projects.) He ended by holding his guitar aloft, letting it feed back.
The Allmans, possibly saving some energy for Sunday night’s Peach-closing set, seemed a bit lethargic, especially vocalist and organist Gregg Allman. Allman took some time find his vocal footing, leading to a somewhat drowsy take on the set-opening “Ain’t Wasting Time No More.” Haynes, an ABB member in addition to his role as Gov’t Mule’s leader, helped hold things together with a mellifluous solo. The instrumental “Les Brers in A Minor” opened into a ferocious jam, before guitarist Derek Trucks switched to an acoustic guitar for the classic ballad “Melissa.” Allman sounded sluggish, before the band kicked into another instrumental, “Mountain Jam,” maybe giving the singer some time to rest or get it together; it’s worth noting that he’s been forced to cancel shows due to health problems recently.
A lengthy Butch Trucks/Jaimoe/Marc Quinones drums and percussion segment, usually placed a bit later in an Allmans show, made one speculate again that the group was buying time for Allman.
“One Way Out,” “Trouble No More” and “Stand Back” led to “Blue Sky,” with Haynes handling vocal duties in place of ousted founding member Dickey Betts. It was pretty and featured a nice Derek Trucks solo, then an extended Haynes solo.
After just eight songs, the ABB left the stage, before returning for a three-song encore, at first without Allman. Up first was “Little Martha,” with Derek Trucks and Haynes playing delicate licks while photos of late founding member Duane Allman were displayed on the stage screen during the sweet and lilting instrumental. It was a fitting tribute for sure. Still without Gregg and Danny Louis of Mule filling in on keys, Haynes led the band into a cover of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” before Allman finally rejoined in time to finish the song and sing “Blackhearted Woman.”
“Blackhearted” was notable for its inclusion of a snippet of the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One,” which is not rare in a Brothers set, but it took on extra meaning, as the Weir-penned tune might have been included to show the Dead member, forced to cancel a slew of shows including his scheduled Peach set, that his friends are thinking of him.
— By Michael Lello