As thousands inhabited the Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton with thousands more on their heels, the annual Peach Music Festival, now in its seventh year, got a running start Thursday.
Moving performances included sets by the South Carolina-rooted Marcus King Band, Northeastern Pennsylvania sons Cabinet and Baltimore-based Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
The King Band is an impressive ensemble, complete with horns, organ and a frontman who delivers both soulful vocals and jaw-dropping guitar chops. The band covers a lot of ground, from rhythm and blues with a Southern twang to jazz-tinged psychedelic rock.
Highlights of the King set included the somber roots rock of “Goodbye Carolina,” a hard-charging R&B/Southern rock blend titled “Virginia,” and a masterful cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Dream.”
But the set’s pinnacle was a medley that proved the ensemble could play anything they chose. It began with the MKB original “Sharry Barry,” a hard-rocking instrumental, and segued into Jeff Sipe’s “Sliced Milk” before giving Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” an aggressive edge that seemed to fit just right. The jam then tipped its cap to Funkadelic with a cover of “I’ll Stay” and Billie Holiday, by touching on “Gloomy Sunday.”
After King primed the crowd, who gathered at the main stage under the Pavilion — the only active stage on Thursday — hometown heroes Cabinet took the spotlight for what’s billed as their only show of 2018, following their announcement of hiatus in December.
The bluegrass fusion group opened with the mandolin-punctuated instrumental “Treesap” before delivering a melancholy “The Dove” and a jazz-kissed “Mysterio.”
About halfway through the set, the band found their stride when the bass-driven singalong “Pine Billy” incited a crowd refrain and cousins Patrick “Pappy” Biondo and J.P. Biondo came together onstage for some banjo/mandolin exchanges.
From there, the energy rose as “Caroline” provoked another audience-chorus and led the way for a passionate performance of “Dirt,” which Pappy pointed out was the first song Cabinet wrote as a band.
What followed was crowd favorite, “Heavy Rain,” a true bluegrass jam that features Todd Kopec’s trippy, deft fiddle work and never disappoints the Cabinet faithful.
After two fine examples of American roots music, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong got funky on the mountainside.
A rambunctious “Porcupine” showed the band’s ability to flow between skilled funk and trancy dance rock as the rich, driving bass playing of Ben Carrey, who got the crowd moving with his deep groove.
Sitting in, trumpet/trombone ace Justin Johnson and saxophonist Dean Mitchell of the Marcus King Band, brought biting brass to “F.U.,” — the song title represents the first two letters in the tune’s refrain, “F.U.N.K.” — and paired brilliantly with lead guitarist Jeremy Schon’s skillful fret work.
Other high-energy moments included a bouncing, island music-infused “Julia,” which had the Peach Festival audience gyrating, and a guest appearance by Marcus King, who offered screaming lead guitar to the tune and later combined efforts with Schon in a moment that made the two young guitarists sound as if they’d been playing together for decades.
The Peach Music Festival continued today with performances by Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, The Revivalists, moe., Twiddle & Friends, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and more.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @RMatthewMattei.