As 2019 comes to a close, the team at Live For Live Music has been looking back on all of the memorable musical moments fans were lucky enough to experience this year. For the first installment in our 2019 year-end Staff Picks series, we’re taking a look at our favorite festivals from the past year—those magical weekends that delivered the kinds of memorable experiences we all chase.
Once you’re done, you can also check out our other 2019 Staff Picks including The Breakout Artists of 2019, our Favorite Live Collaborations of 2019, and the Strangest Sagas of 2019.
The Peach Music Festival | Montage Mountain | Scranton, PA | July 25th–28th, 2019
[Photo: Scott Harris]
A frequent flyer on our staff’s list of favorite festivals is The Peach Music Festival. The Peach celebrated its 8th year after being co-founded in 2012 by the Allman Brothers Band, this festival is jams, the whole jams, and nothing but the jam at Montage Mountain Resort, the amphitheater/campground/water park in Scranton, PA. This year was certainly no exception, with performances by headliners Phil Lesh & Friends featuring Warren Haynes, John Scofield, John Molo, and Holly Bowling; Trey Anastasio Band; The String Cheese Incident; Joe Russo’s Almost Dead; moe.; Greensky Bluegrass; Lotus; and many, many more.
Along with playing host to some of the biggest names in the jam world, Peach also served as a point of major exposure for several up-and-coming artists including Goose and Billy Strings. Goose’s daytime set at the Live For Live Music Stage on Saturday was packed shoulder-to-shoulder. This set, along with several other high-profile festival appearances at Domefest, Summer Camp, and Resonance have helped catapult Goose into the national spotlight [Note: Goose was also featured in our “Breakout Artists of 2019” Staff Picks piece].
The other big name to emerge from Peach was jam-grass rising star Billy Strings, who enjoyed some memorable sit-ins in addition to his solo set. Billy and his eponymous band helped kick off the weekend on Thursday with a set on the main stage following Aqueous‘ performance, but that wasn’t the last that the Peach audience would see from Billy MF Strings that day. He came out later that evening to share the stage with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong during one of their two headlining sets, which were separated by a set from The String Cheese Incident (creating a delicious Cheese sandwich with Pigeon bread). Billy donned a Fender Stratocaster in lieu of his traditional acoustic guitar to lend a hand in a jam of Pigeons’ “Burning Up My Time“.
Of course, Peach is as much for the titans of jam as it is for the up-and-comers. Friday night featured a double helping of String Cheese Incident followed by a set from jamtronica pioneers Lotus to close out the main stage. The heavy-hitting lineup kept coming the next night with a performance from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead that saw the band perform without its namesake drummer for the first time ever following the birth of his new daughter. Instead, Russo’s place was filled by both Evan Roque and Ben Perowsky. Even without Joe, Almost Joe Russo’s Almost Dead ensured that there were Grateful Dead songs to fill the air in Scranton. The Peach 2019 also featured two of the best Trey Anastasio Band sets we’ve ever seen, though they wouldn’t even wind up being our favorite TAB sets of the summer (more on that later).
The weekend closed out with the all-star Phil Lesh & Friends lineup ripping through Dead classics as well as some rarities including the Brent Mydland/Robert Hunter song “Just A Little Light” and a cover of Traffic‘s “The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”. Of course, they worked in some Phil Lesh tunes, including “Unbroken Chain” and “Broken Arrow”. Despite the threat of inclement weather that briefly paused the performance, the band came out for the encore and ended their show, and Peach as a whole, with Haynes’ musical obituary to Jerry Garcia, “Patchwork Quilt”, which could’ve brought a tear to a glass eye.
We also had a blast conducting a series of backstage artist interviews at the event. You can watch some of our favorites below. You can watch full-set streams, other backstage artist interviews, and more from The Peach 2019 here.
Backstage at The Peach 2019: Warren Haynes Interview
Backstage at The Peach 2019: Bert Holman (Allman Brothers Band Manager) Interview
3 Questions at The Peach 2019: The Allman Betts Band
3 Questions at The Peach 2019: Andy Frasco
Suwannee Hulaween | Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park | Live Oak, FL | October 24th–27th, 2019
[Photo: Keith Griner]
For the third year in a row, northern Florida’s Suwannee Hulaween has made our list of favorite festivals. Hulaween has been able to rocket up the list of the country’s premier Halloween concerts through year after year of unique, eclectic lineups and elaborate, themed spectacles by host band, The String Cheese Incident. This year featured a 90s-inspired tribute set from hosts The String Cheese Incident. Other headliners included Bassnectar, Anderson .Paak, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Big Wild, Flying Lotus, Greensky Bluegrass, Jai Wolf, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Snails, STS9, Tchami, Tycho, Umphrey’s McGee and more.
The party really got started day two when Andy Frasco took the stage for his afternoon set, and before long brought up special guest Brandon “Taz” Niederauer to kick things into full rage mode. After Frasco jokingly introduced Taz as his son, the young virtuoso engaged in a guitar duel with The U.N.‘s Shawn Eckels. The guests kept on coming with a special appearance from The Motet singer Lyle Divinsky, who belted out a cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “Signed Sealed Delivered”.
One of the most highly-anticipated moments of the weekend came Saturday night when String Cheese donned their musical costumes for a ’90s-themed set. Their Saturday Spectacle was filled with elaborate production and nostalgic covers of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Tupac, Phish, Will Smith, and all points in-between. The music wasn’t the only thing ’90s themed, as the set also featured visual homages to the decade with references to The Matrix and montages of other pop culture fads and memories.
The final day of Hulaween offered no respite for attendees looking to take it easy as Billy Strings came to Suwannee ready to play. Billy and company weren’t prepared to wrap up their breakthrough year just yet, as they ripped through a mix of a dozen originals and covers in his hour-long set. The early-afternoon performance kicked off a Sunday that would prove to be just as rowdy as a Friday. Later that same afternoon, Strings joined Cheese for the first four songs of their set. Along with his banjo player Billy Failing and mandolinist Jarrod Walker, they joined in on “Remington Ride“, followed by a cover of Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe‘s “Walls of Time“, which the band hadn’t played since July 7th, 2017. The ensemble then ripped through a fast-paced “I Know You Rider” before bringing their collaboration to a close with “Rivertrance“.
The String Cheese Incident – Suwannee Hulaween Saturday Spectacle – ’90s Hip-Hop Medley – 10/26/19
Domefest | Marvin’s Mountaintop | Masontown, West Virginia | May 16th–18th, 2019
[Photo: Matt Shotwell]
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong‘s Domefest is certainly the David stacking up against other Goliath-sized music festivals, but the small-scale gathering brought out jams of Biblical proportions in its 10th year. This year’s lineup featured the usual five sets of Pigeons, alongside other repeat customers The Magic Beans, Aqueous, Mungion, West End Blend, Goose, and many more.
This was the festival’s first year at Marvin’s Mountaintop, having left its nest at Fort Royale Farm in Bedford, PA to accommodate its ever-growing flock of “Domies.” Even though Marvin’s, the site of All Good Music Festival from 2003–2011, can hold several thousand people comfortably, the band admitted just over 2,000 people in an effort to keep the festival small and familial. The intimacy of the festival was shown by the two adjacent stages, the Main Stage and the Bamboo Eater Stage beside it, which insured no overlapping sets all weekend long.
Pigeons’ first themed set was “Domecoming Weekend“, which saw the bird band don their sparkly-golden suits debuted at New Year’s StEve in Pittsburgh, PA. The band honored this theme with covers of “The Final Countdown”, “Sports Theme”, “You Sexy Thing”, and many. But the highlight of the set came when the band busted into Metallica‘s “Enter Sandman“, which saw the vocal debut of drummer Alex “Gator” Petropulos, prompting the crowd to break out into chants of “let Gator sing!” The set’s encore also featured another weekend highlight with a cover of John Denver‘s “Country Roads”, where the crowd joined in with the altered refrain, “country road, take me Dome,” before segueing into “Su Casa” where they reminded the audience “this is your home now.”
Night two saw a number of highlights as Pigeons subscribed to the day’s “Magic KingDome” theme by recycling their Mickey Mouse costumes from their DisNYE celebration in 2017 in Covington, KY. Fans saw the band take their second-ever stab at Steve Miller Band‘s “Abracadabra” following its debut at New Year’s StEve in 2018. However, what really made waves that evening wasn’t any cover that the band busted out, but rather a brand new song debuted for the encore: Greg Ormont‘s ode to hydration, “Water”.
The talk of the mountain on the last day of Domefest was the highly-anticipated performance from rising stars Goose, who were only just beginning a breakout summer of festival appearances and sold-out shows across the country. Goose played three 30-minute tweener sets while headliners got set up on the main stage. The Connecticut quartet got into the day’s theme of “Dome For The Holidays” with a cover of The Waitresses‘ “Christmas Wrapping” and the debut of their original “Drive”.
One of the biggest sets of the weekend was the final one which, unfortunately for some, didn’t start until 3 a.m. The Domefest All-Stars, featuring members of Pigeons, Aqueous, Funk You, Litz, Mungion, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, Goose, and SchwizZ, closed out the festival with one of the year’s more memorable collaborations. The one-time-only supergroup played covers by Prince, The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more until the sun came up around 6:30 a.m. and the group closed the weekend with the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World” into Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” as the Flockers began to pack up their nests and start the long flight home.
Domefest 2019 – Official Recap Video
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival | Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots | New Orleans, LA | April 25th–May 5th, 2019
[Photo: Adam McCullough]
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is one of the oldest and most prolific music festivals in the United States. This past spring, Jazz Fest celebrated its 50th year of bringing a whole world of music to New Orleans—and bringing the rich musical heritage (and incomparable eats) of New Orleans to the world.
Ironically, the biggest storyline from this year’s Jazz Fest surrounded a band that didn’t even wind up playing: The Rolling Stones. After the festival added a specially-ticketed extra day to accommodate a headlining set by the rock icons, the Stones were forced to pull out when Mick Jagger was forced to undergo last-minute heart surgery. That set off a chain of events that saw Fleetwood Mac announced as their replacement only to have them pull out, too, due to a bout of the flu for Stevie Nicks. Finally, Jazz Fest veterans Widespread Panic stepped up to fill the void on the lineup, and made good on their last-minute addition with a set featuring help from George Porter Jr. on a pair of Dr. John covers.
Beyond the Stones/Fleetwood Mac/Panic bait-and-switch, the offerings on the Fest lineup this year were characteristically exciting and eclectic. Before icon Herbie Hancock to closed out the festivities with an Earth-shattering set in the Jazz Tent, a slew of legends like Dave Matthews Band, Chris Stapleton, Mavis Staples, Widespread Panic, Diana Ross, Trombone Shorty, Gladys Knight, The Revivalists, John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Alanis Morissette, Gary Clark Jr., Galactic, Dumpstaphunk, Taj Mahal, Anders Osborne, Ani DiFranco, North Mississippi Allstars, Ziggy Marley, Kamasi Washington, Kermit Ruffins, Sonny Landreth, Jon Cleary, Santana, and many (many) more performed across 11 stages throughout the Fairgrounds’ eight days in action.
Of course, Jazz Fest is as famous for the multitudes of lightning-in-a-bottle, you-can-only-see-that-here “after dark” shows around The Big Easy throughout the course of the event as it is for the acts it brings to the main, sanctioned Fest at the fairgrounds. Some of the biggest names in jam, jazz, soul, rock, gospel, blues, and everything in between come out to play once the official Jazz Fest sets are over around sundown, and this year surely served to reaffirm that tradition.
The massive influx of concertgoers to Jazz Fest makes it a great opportunity for rising artists to get a seat at the national table, and New Orleans buzz band The Grïd did exactly that with their show at the Blue Nile where they backed up Nigel Hall. The Grïd, led by drumming machine A.J. Hall, played a sexy-smooth cover of Marvin Gaye‘s “Sexual Healing” that audiences would not forget. Local upstart Boyfriend trotted out her unique brand of burlesque hip-hop at One Eyed Jacks with help from The Revivalists. NOLA favorites The Iceman Special made a number of appearances around town, including a slot at the Cosmic Crawfish Boil during the “daze between.” And that was just the tip of the iceberg…
Jazz Fest is just as much about the titans that tower over the main stages at the festival and the bigger after parties. The late-night crowd in New Orleans saw memorable performances like Phil Lesh with son Graham Lesh playing alongside George Porter Jr. for their “Foundation of Funk” tribute set, Lettuce debuting new music at their annual RAGE FEST, Mike Gordon of Phish sitting in with The Claypool Lennon Delirium, and beyond.
It just wouldn’t be Jazz Fest without some all-star supergroups, either. As always, the 50th Jazz Fest was full of crossovers like Lett Us In The Dumpsta featuring members of Dumpstaphunk and Lettuce; the always-incredible FIYA POWA; a guest-laden Ghost-Note recreation of their critically acclaimed album, Swagism; a tribute to Col. Bruce Hampton featuring Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Marcus King, Roosevelt Collier, and more; a NOLA 50 celebration of the city’s musical heritage with an all-star cast of local legends; the always-exciting Daze Between Band; a wonderfully deranged 3:00 a.m. performance by Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz (featuring Claypool, Skerik, Mike Dillon, and Stanton Moore) and far more than we could list out here.
[Note: Our own B. Getz exhaustively broke down all the Jazz Fest 50 late-night magic after the fact. You can read the full recap here].
4848 Festival | Snowshoe Mountain | Snowshoe, WV | July 11th–13th, 2019
[Photo: Doug Siegel]
With new festivals popping up every year, some tend to get lost in the shuffle. But one first-year festival that certainly made a name for itself was 4848 Festival on Snowshoe Mountain in Snowshoe, WV. The inaugural lineup for 4848, which is produced by All Good Productions, included Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, Umphrey’s McGee, Lettuce, Railroad Earth, Billy Strings, and many more.
This resort-style festival presented the perfect festival getaway as attendees were shuttled from their hotel rooms on Snowshoe Mountain to a central promenade where the concerts themselves took place. If you weren’t feeling up to the task of heading all the way down to the show, you could watch a live feed from the stage on a closed-circuit TV channel in your hotel room.
Once again, the talk of the town was Billy Strings, who made a guest appearance during Umphrey’s McGee‘s headlining set along with members of Greensky Bluegrass. However, Strings wasn’t the only one making surprise appearances as blues guitar virtuoso Marcus King showed up at the Greensky set to jam out on “I’d Probably Kill You” on Saturday night. King also lent his hand to Lettuce during their set on Friday for “Love Is Too Strong“.
While it may sound like each band didn’t have a moment to themselves on stage, the weekend saw many memorable straight sets by the talented bans on the bill. Lettuce grooved through a funky 15-minute rendition of their reimagined cover of Tears For Fears‘ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” during their Friday set. Not to be outdone, Greensky had their own marathon jam with a nearly 20-minute “Leap Year” that saw the band experiment with visual elements by having costumed interpretive dancers on stage with them. During his solo set, Billy Strings took time out to pay tribute to the recently-departed Jeff Austin with a cover of “Rundown“.
4848 Festival just announced their equally intriguing initial lineup for next year’s party on Snowshoe Mountain, and we couldn’t be more excited. Here’s hoping 4848 is here to stay.
Umphrey’s McGee w/ Billy Strings, Greensky Bluegrass’ Paul Hoffman & Anders Beck – “Nothing Too Fancy – 4848 Festival 2019
[Video: Phish Phan]
LOCKN’ | Infinity Downs & Oak Ridge Farm | Arrington, VA | August 22nd–25th, 2019
[Photo: Dave Vann]
LOCKN’ seems to find its way onto our “Favorite Festivals” list every year, and it always boils down to the same reason: collaborations for days. The marquee collab at LOCKN’ 2019 was an intermingling of two of the greatest guitarists alive today: Derek Trucks and Trey Anastasio. In an unprecedented summit of guitar greatness, the festival billed two sets of Trey Anastasio Band (second set featuring Derek Trucks) and two sets of Tedeschi Trucks Band (second set featuring Trey Anastasio) at the top of their lineup.
As LOCKN’ co-founder Peter Shapiro told Live For Live Music ahead of the event, “Even as a fan, I’m excited. I knew they would like each other, but it was really a push for it. I just had a feeling. I also had a similar feeling that Trey would work well for Fare Thee Well with the Grateful Dead guys. But it’s not that hard to figure out that Tedeschi Trucks Band with Trey will be f*ckin’ crazy. That ain’t rocket science [laughs].”
Related: Trey Anastasio At LOCKN’ 2019: 3 Bands, 4 Sets, Endless Fireworks [Gallery]
Shapiro’s prediction proved to be spot-on. The TAB set with Derek made a strong argument for “Best TAB Set Ever,” with Trucks’ slide guitar adding untold new elements to favorites from throughout Anastasio’s Phish/TAB/Ghosts of the Forest catalog. They even welcomed Trucks’ wife and co-bandleader Susan Tedeschi to join them on vocals for standout renditions of “A Life Beyond The Dream” and “Rise/Come Together”.
The TTB with Trey portion of the double-inverse-special collaboration proved to be just as memorable, as the outfit endeavored to cover the entire classic album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos—the band after which Trucks is named. Along with Anastasio, Tedeschi Trucks Band welcomed Doyle Bramhall II, a frequent Eric Clapton collaborator, to assist of the album’s many, layered Eric Clapton and Duane Allman guitar parts on the album. The result was a performance that none will soon forget.
The LOCKN’ collaborations extended far beyond the top-billed TTB/TAB crossover. On Thursday, Anastasio joined Khruangbin for the majority of their set. moe. welcomed Marcus King; Susan Tedeschi and Mikaela Davis joined Bob Weir and Wolf Bros; Twiddle recruited John Popper, Bob Weir, and Eric Krasno; Edie Brickell and Old Crow Medicine Show got some help from Bob Weir; Soulive welcomed Duane Betts, Danny Mayer, Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, and James Casey.
LOCKN’ 2019 offered an embarrassment of sit-in riches, to be sure. Weir even notched a highly entertaining “Couch tour sit-in” with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, appearing on a couch reading a book as the festival’s famous rotating stage turned around during “Eyes Of The World”.
On a more somber note, LOCKN’ 2019 will be remembered as the world’s last dance with Neal Casal. After performing with an all-star Oteil & Friends lineup and wowing Garcia’s Forest with a milestone Circles Around The Sun late-night, Casal tragically took his own life the following week. During an emotional tribute to his life and music at The Capitol Theatre the following month, Peter Shapiro made sure that Neal’s spirit will live on forever in Garcia’s Forest when he announced the official dedication of the late-night stage: Neal’s Stage at Garcia’s Forest.
LOCKN’ switched up its dates for next as part of a special 80th birthday celebration for Phil Lesh. While it’s no longer our go-to late-summer fest, we’re sure LOCKN’ will continue to blow our minds in 2020.
Trey Anastasio Band w/ Derek Trucks – LOCKN’ 2019 – Full-Shot Pro-Shot Video
Honorable Mentions: Jam Cruise 17, ARISE Music Festival, Intersect Festival, Suwannee Rising, Resonance Music & Arts Fair, Bonnaroo, Electric Forest