Peach Fest 2019 at Montage Mountain ski resort near Scranton, Pa. (Courtesy Live Nation)

Festival moves up dates to July Fourth weekend for Oysterhead appearance

Booking live music is as much about timing as anything else. For Dave Niedbalski, Live Nation’s vice president of marketing and talent buyer in Greater Philadelphia, the opportunity to showcase jam band super trio Oysterhead at the 2020 Peach Fest was a key driver for switching the event’s dates to the Fourth of July weekend.

The festival, held at Montage Mountain ski resort outside Scranton, Pa., celebrates the heritage of the Allman Brothers Band and the jam band scene. It has taken place in late July since it originated in 2012. After Oysterhead reunited to play a handful of dates in 2020, including Peach Fest, Live Nation moved the event to July 2-5. 

Oysterhead’s members are Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Les Claypool of Primus and Steward Copeland of The Police. Next year’s shows will be the band’s first live performances since Bonnaroo 2006 and first in the Northeast in about 20 years, according to Niedbalski.

“We moved our dates because I have the fortunate luxury of having an idea of what’s happening in the marketplace the rest of the summer,” he said. “I can strategically decide where the best place (on the calendar) for the festival is, so it’s not interfering with other things that are happening. The other part was the ability to get Oysterhead, which is a major ‘get.’ That made it a no-brainer.”

The switch hasn’t hurt ticket sales. Peach Fest had its best presale ever, he said. Live Nation sells a limited number of advance general admission tickets priced at $99 to $149, some with camping access, before officials announce the lineup, which was disclosed Dec. 6. Again, it’s a matter of timing. The Fourth of July next year falls on a Saturday, which means many festival attendees can take a “floating holiday” on Friday or Monday without having to use an extra vacation day, Niedbalski said.

“For everyone that may have to go to brother Jimmy’s cabin for the holiday, there’s 10 other people that (the dates) open up for,” he said. 

Apart from Oysterhead, the 2020 Peach Fest lineup stands out for funk band Turkuaz celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Talking Heads’ 1980 album “Remain in Light.” Talking Heads co-founder Jerry Harrison and veteran guitar wizard Adrian Belew, who played on the record and toured with the Heads, are part of the ensemble. Harrison knows Turkuaz well from producing the band’s 2017 single “On the Run.”

John Bongiorno, Turkuaz’s responsible agent at Paradigm Talent Agency, and the group’s manager, Red Light Management’s Jason Gibbs, were instrumental in booking the performance in their effort to revisit the Talking Heads’ “Live in Rome” 1980 concert, which was made into a film.

“They’ve been talking for a few years about Turkuaz and the vibe they have … and put their heads together to capture the energy of that time period and those shows that were so special,” Niedbalski said. “They’re going to do several festivals next year.”

In addition, Billy Strings and Goose, two breakout acts that created a lot of buzz in 2019, return to Peach Fest after playing the event last summer.

“Billy Strings is the darling of the bluegrass and Americana world,” Niedbalski said. “He’s going to join us all weekend; (he’ll) do his own set and be an artist in residence, which means that some of the relationships he has with the artists in the lineup he’ll connect with (on stage).” 

Goose, a Connecticut quartet, played a side stage at Peach Fest last year before exploding on the jam band circuit, selling out club dates across the country well in advance of performances. It’s rare in the jam band community, where the trend is for fans to buy tickets late in the selling cycle. 

“They’re breaking the pattern,” Niedbalski said.

The Slip, meanwhile, a trio based in Boston, will make one of its first appearances on the East Coast since 2011 and its first public performance since 2015, he said.

“They’re one of my favorite bands — I booked them in college,” Niedbalski said. “They were an underrated jam band from the late 1990s and early 2000s with strong song crafting ability. Their music still holds up. They’re like the music afficionado’s jam band.” 

The String Cheese Incident, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Oteil & Friends, Tower of Power, Steel Pulse, Spafford, Ghost Light, Umphrey’s McGee, Moe. and Jaimoe & Friends, plus the Allman Betts Band are among the other acts booked for 2020 Peach Fest. Oteil Burbridge played bass with The Allman Brothers for 17 years. The Allman Betts Band bears the name of two sons of Allman Brothers’ original members: Devon Allman (Gregg Allman) and Duane Betts (Dickey Betts). 

“We’re throwing it back a little bit with Oteil & Friends and Devon (Allman) and Duane (Betts) will sit in with them,” Niedbalski said. “We’ve got part of the Allmans’ core and the bloodline. It’s a tip of the cap to our festival’s origins.”

Niedbalski confirmed that Warren Haynes, another longtime piece of the Allman Brothers and a Peach Fest mainstay, will perform at the 2020 event. Officials are still working out the details of Haynes’ participation. 

For next year, facility upgrades include increased parking and more spots for the enhanced camping known as “glamping.” Live Nation, which runs the amphitheater on site, found additional space by repurposing some things on resort property, Niedbalski said. 

Last year, Peach Fest producers introduced projection mapping for the event, the ability to display images in concert above the crowd on the tent covering the main stage, and they’ll use the technology again in 2020.

“We’re going to expand that experience to capture the entire tent underneath,” he said.