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45 years after Woodstock, the summer festival scene is on the right track

Jeff Miers

When the original Woodstock took place, I was barely 2 years old. My parents, not being hippies, music freaks or risk-taking parental types, didn’t take me. I’m OK with that. This past weekend, I thought it would be interesting to take the temperature of the summer concert festival scene, as it sits comfortably at middle age. So I grabbed my son, threw a tent, a few backpacks and a cooler in the trunk, and headed for Scranton, Pa., and the third annual Peach Music Festival.

The four-day festival, started by the Allman Brothers Band, featured a ridiculously well-packed lineup of artists ranging from Saturday and Sunday headlining sets from the Brothers themselves – their final sets as a touring act, and the official farewell from guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes – to younger acts like Lotus and Big Leg Emma. (That latter band featured Buffalo’s Corey Kertzie on the drums.)

While the ethic – the whole “three days of peace and music” thing – remains unchanged from the original Woodstock, much has changed in the 45 years since that long August 1969 weekend in Bethel. This became immediately apparent when we rolled freely southbound down Interstate 81 toward Scranton, four hours after leaving Buffalo. Traffic flowed comfortably, unlike the original Woodstock, where the highways were clogged with cars and folks abandoned their vehicles left and right and walked the remaining miles toward the site. Festival organizers have learned much over the years, and one of the main things they’ve begun to get a handle on is traffic flow.

We started ascending toward Montage Mountain, the ski resort and water park where Peach makes its home. Signs had been carefully placed along the roadway, advising travelers on what to expect and offering clear directions toward the best-available parking..

It was remarkable how smoothly everything seemed to be going, as we followed the directions offered by helpful volunteers, grabbed a spot and lugged our gear toward an orderly line where hippies covering several generations waited for the school bus shuttles that arrived in five-minute intervals to transport all to Peach proper.

The shuttle line was hundreds deep, but the holdup was minimal, with Peach volunteers in abundance to answer questions, lead disabled concertgoers toward their own private shuttles, direct traffic and keep things flowing smoothly. When Woodstock took place, this was all virgin territory and, naturally, moving people in and out of the concert area was far more problematic.

The sort of grass-roots, noncorporate, “We’re all in this together, let’s have a positive time” vibe deepened when we arrived at the festival site. Peach volunteers and employees dealt with will-call issues, answered questions and generally attempted to get people where they needed to go with a minimum of fuss.

It had been two hours from the time we parked our car until the moment the tent was pitched, and we were heading back down the mountain to start digging some of the sounds spread across three stages.

Concessions were readily available and, for the most part, reasonably priced. Homemade food, craft beers, the ability to have your own wineskin filled, solar-powered stands serving fruit smoothies, a vendors’ village selling mostly handcrafted clothing and jewelry, and easy traffic flow around the festival grounds – none of these, based on the available information, were part of the original Woodstock experience.

I won’t review the festival here. Suffice to say that Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, Gov’t Mule, the Trey Anastasio Band, the Allmans themselves and every other band that we caught gave all they had, and that was more than enough.

Equally significant was the fact that it was painless to move around the festival grounds, and despite the massive crowds, finding a decent vantage point from which to watch the bands was never a problem.

A strong contingent of Buffalo folks attended the festival. We encountered a few hundred of them, which lent sort of a “shared vacation” element to the experience. Maybe this is because, despite the fact that we are in a prime location to host an event, we’ve never been given a festival of our own. It’s time for that to change. Let the festival crowd come to us, for once.

We’ve come a long way from Woodstock’s mud-soaked, chaotic, traffic-jammed, understaffed, food- and drink-lacking maiden voyage. My experience at the Peach Music Festival suggested that we are finally starting to figure out how to do these events right.


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