Back in December of 2019, the announcement of the next Peachfest had teased us with the unexpected; a 4th of July celebration, 3 days of fireworks, and an Oysterhead headliner. What was even more unexpected was how long that anticipation would be building for.
A week out from the festival, things were looking dicey. A recent record-breaking heat wave and a forecast of nothing but rain on the slopes of Montage Mountain had me discouraged, but I had already bare witness to enough miracles to know that this wouldn’t be a tough prediction to overturn. As anybody from Appalachia knows, mountains call their own shots when it comes to weather. While Mother Nature gave us a thorough rinse on Thursday, the rest of the fest felt like an out-of-season but forgiving weekend in April. With sunny afternoons, cool nights, and the occasional morning shower, the circumstances were lengths better than most of us were expecting.
In what might be the Peach team’s favorite way to begin the festival, the weekend started with longtime returning acts Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Dark Star Orchestra, not including a welcome appearance by The Wailers for those who managed to snag Early Arrival passes. With Peach reserving the Mushroom Stage for the Friday, Saturday, Sunday portion of the festival, you could feel the concentrated energy of “I think we’re back” at the main stage which would quickly evolve into “We’ve really made it!” that would charge through the entire weekend.
Early on Friday afternoon would be one of the extremely special commemorative sets to the history of the festival as artists such as Duane Betts, Warren Haynes, and Brandon “Taz” Niederauer came together to play a “Live at The Fillmore East” set, a proper dedication that was a fine reminder of how talented the original tunes of the Allman Brothers Band are. Despite the set getting cut short before the stage could fulfill the ending song; Whipping Post, watching Duane and Taz going back and forth on their axes was a treat in itself.
Later on in the night Joe Russo’s Almost Dead did a fine job of delivering a quintessential Peach experience with two sets of the music that never stops, starting the first set with the song by the same name. Playing a personal favorite “Mission in the Rain”, it couldn’t have felt like the band knew what they were doing better, by not only giving a metaphorical hat tip to the weather but also by simply settling everyone back into a state of confirmation, the festival really was happening, and the music really was coming back.
Umphrey’s McGee would then steal the spotlight of the entire night, starting off with a festive “Leave Me Las Vegas” and “Silent Type”, and ending with a completely face melting cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused”. Bringing onto stage Doom Flamingo vocalist Kanika Moore, her voice would forge the band’s rendition of the song to be one of the greatest covers I had heard in years.
When Saturday rolled around the electric vibes would reach a peak as the energy of the busiest day of the fest spanned from the top of Z camping all the way to the outer RV lot. The two most talked about daytime sets of the weekend would happen on the Mushroom stage as Brandon “Taz” Niederaurer and Andy Frasco and the U.N. threw gasoline of the fire, making excellent examples of how it doesn’t matter what time of day it is at Peach, the crowd is always ready to jam.
“Taz” cemented himself as the next big player in the scene, gathering as many compliments from other musicians as he did from the crowd. Elevating himself from gifted kid to Peach prodigy, comments like “I remember when his guitar was bigger than him!” followed surprised glances and struck stances. The young musician hopped on stage with a handful of acts, never wearing out a welcome. Each guest appearance being as good as the last, it was easy to see why he was so popular to play with.
Not to arrive at any party and not make his presence known, no other man on the lineup deserves the title of performer like Andy Frasco. An untamed explosion of rock, funk, and mischief, Frasco and the crew belted out a set of enthusiasm that was akin to getting decked in the face with a pie holding tequila jello shot filling before the frontman himself crowd surfed his way into the wave pool sitting parallel to the stage.
And in the easy breeze of the night came the thick psychedelic soup that was the weekend’s headliner; Oysterhead.
With a rolling mountain fog creeping up over from the back of the stage as the band started with the iconic “Mr.Oysterhead”, the mood couldn’t have been better set. Between songs the jams would swing like a pendulum, sinking into Les Claypool’s deep, disorienting, and spiraling dark transitions only to be yanked into Trey Anastasio’s soaring lightning storm riffs, the contrast being a special engagement that makes the act such a sought after production. And if the two string musicians performance was a gunshot, then Stewart Copeland’s riveting drumming would be the chamber and barrel that directed and held together the blast was this supergroup trio’s set.
What I was surprised to hear to be many people’s favorite set the weekend, was Turkuaz’ Talking Heads set right after. One of those sets where the artists make those cover songs their very own, the tasteful mix of improvisational rhythm and classic radio hits became a treasure of a main stage late night finisher that kept people dancing all the way back to their campsites.
Though the stages had closed down right after, the night went on in the campgrounds. What was a first for many Peach goes was a late night music hub settled smack in the middle of the campgrounds called the Thunderdome. An enclosed dome that noodled till about dawn each night, the acoustic cavern went above and beyond providing music for any night creatures who simply could not get enough after the official lineups were through. Big ups to the team who had managed the dome, as it seems an entire community of weekend warriors had formed, rattling the mountain each night till the sun rays poked themselves into the sky.
Speaking reality to the world, Sunday was the first real day of summer weather we were blessed with all weekend. In the upper 70’s and lower 80’s the excellence of the water park came to full use while the sun beamed over dancing crowds. The biggest festival to take place in the country since the lock downs in 2020, by a glance you never would have known live music was taken away in the first place.
For a proper 4th of July celebration, The String Cheese Incident finished out the weekend with two sets at the main stage. Playing to the theme of the day Cheese started out with “Texas” and brought out Warren Haynes for an ecstatic cover of “US Blues” and then a great recital of Amazing Grace to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. But this was Peach, and the true messages of it were never strayed far from. This wasn’t solely a celebration of the holiday, it was a celebration of the Music, and the culture having made it through to the present, and remembering everything that it was built upon to make it possible. And with that in mind, as the firework celebration made its way through, the band ended it’s pause playing The Allman Brother’s song “Jessica”.
While the musical portion of the weekend had ended, the festival still had an abundance of energy to go through. For those not shaking down to the Thunderdome, there was one mountain festivitie happening that’s possibly a more staple act for the fest than anyone on the lineup; The Wagon Races. After hundreds if not thousands had gathered near the P campsites, an incline that would have made the races an EMT internship waiting to happen, the real races were found to be happening near the letter N. The foretold racer, The Leprechaun, was reigning supreme as was an occurrence, until a newbie had shown up. A fellow known as The Astronaut, and dressed like one, had shown up to give his wheels a spin and The Leprechaun a run for his gold. And that he did as the spaceman won the last of the races before festival officials had instructed the Wild Ghillie Man to shut down the races for the night. In good fashion, while the crowd “awh’d” and “boo’d” for a minute, the people dispersed, waddling back to their campsites to laugh the night away.
All in all Peachfest did what it does best, it tired our legs, brought out our laughs, emptied our wallets, and filled our hearts with the music that never stops. It brought us together after a 16 month music free lock down only the way Peach could, and for so many of us, we couldn’t have asked for more.