Peak, Bookends of the Pandemic, and Live from Yasgur’s Farm

We were drenched from head to toe, despite our thin plastic ponchos. We were cold, as the temperature had dropped into the mid 40’s with a wind that ebbed and flowed with its own prerogative. We carried nothing but my “zoo bag” purse strung across my body and a cold bag full of beer and alcoholic iced tea. We shivered as we walked through the mud, dodging puddles that swallowed whole feet and filled shoes. Under normal circumstances, we were in a situation that would have had us declaring “fuck this” and heading back to our sketchy but warm motel room in Monticello and ordering some takeout while planning an early voyage back home to our own lake in New Jersey. 

But that wasn’t tonight. Tonight was special. Our dear friends in Peak had invited us to Yasgur’s Farm to see them play Yasgur Road Productions’ “May Meltdown” festival. It was not a normal festival. We have shown up for lots of festivals, but this was different. This was a legendary place. The entire area has an infectious energy that seems to come up from out of the dirt. Every single day people arrive just to feel it. But there was so much more to this evening.

Before COVID came and closed all the clubs and all the venues, before it took over our schools, our hospitals, our families and our entire lives, the last show we saw out and about in the world was Peak. We saw them play at The Bowery Electric on February 29th, 2020 and it was a wonderful, pure, and energetic evening. I look at the photos from that night and I can feel the sweat I was shedding as I danced, and I can feel the joy that I felt in that moment as I let myself be enveloped by the kind of magic that only music can conjure. For the entirety of the COVID shutdown, I thought often of that feeling and that show. The insecurity that was brought on by over a year in relative isolation, despite occasional cheat days with friends we knew were clear of COVID due to recent testing, created a haze on the joy that live music had always given me. It’s such a strange thing to think about. But anyway, our last show before the world went crazy and then shut down was Peak. 

It surprises me none that our first show back would also be Peak.

I just had no idea it would be in a place I had been trying to get to my whole life. 

To know me is to know that I have kind of a pervasive fascination with the Woodstock festival. My husband has on more than one occasion called it a weird obsession. He’s not totally wrong. For me, it’s like an itch. It’s an itch that no amount of watching the videos or listening to the record has ever been able to scratch for me. My parents were 19 years old in August of 1969 and in my opinion, the perfect age to understand and appreciate everything that it was, whether or not they actually did. They met in college at what was at that time Glassboro College. They both remember that weekend vividly, even though neither one of them attended the festival. They saw the feature film from Woodstock in the movies on a date. It was a highlighting of so many artists that they knew and loved and it was important to them. As a result, every single time that PBS played the film during a telethon throughout my childhood in the entirety of the 80’s, we watched it. We watched it as a family. I knew all the dialogue from beginning to end.

Much of my teenage years were spent listening to modern music that I loved but split evenly with the music my folkie parents raised me to love. Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Jefferson Airplane, Etc etc etc. I used to pick at their brains about these artists and why they loved them. What their lives were like when they first heard them. What they thought about the songs. I feel like I could just go on forever. No matter what I heard in my life, no matter what band or artists I fell in love with (and there were many), no music ever resonated with me or felt like it understood me like that. It makes perfect sense to me why I would enjoy watching Woodstock. But why is it so deep? It didn’t matter tonight. Tonight, I was here, and I was here with some of my favorite people. We had made it through all of this, and here we were.

I showed up with my husband on this rainy, cold night. We got our wrist bands from the amazing women set up in ponchos under a canopy in front of the barn proclaiming the Yasgur name. Despite how wet and cold the world was in that moment, these gals were truly an embodiment of polite joy in their duties as gatekeepers to this amazing place. It felt a genuine privilege to meet them. We moved on from that station and parked our car in the muddy field, and prepared ourselves with ponchos and umbrellas for our hike down into the woods. We made our way down through the puddles into the forest and found tents of habitation, tents of retail purpose, and it felt like festival season was just alive despite the conditions. I don’t know what food vendor it was that had the booth closest to the entrance to the woods, but their tents smelled divine. We moved on down towards the performance tent, tucked under the trees among the bravest campers I think I ever saw. The conditions were terrible for camping with temperatures well below what they should be for Memorial Day weekend in the Catskills and rain that continued to fall in buckets. But there were campsites! Tents set up with popup canopies and spots for hangouts within those woods. I couldn’t say enough that night how much I admired those folks. The energy within those trees was incredible.

I first discovered Peak in 2016 when i asked the Facebook masses for some new material to dig into. A friend and colleague, Cat Sisco, referred me to this new release from a band called Peak – a song called Barometric Pressure. I had been driving for Lyft at the time and was constantly adding to a playlist that I played while out spending hours driving. I added this song to my list and after many hours on the road became addicted to it. A couple years later, I was writing occasionally for the Jamwich magazine and I received an email from my editor. She knew I was working in midtown for a publisher and could easily check out a band having an album release show. She asked if I could go and review Peak. Of course I took the assignment and off I went. That was how I met Jeremy Hilliard and Johnny Young.

Jeremy Hilliard, the guitar and voice behind Peak, used to be in a band called Turbine. When I told my husband that evening that I was headed over to cover his show, he was excited his old colleague was off on another adventure. That night I showed up to their venue in the village and met up with Jeremy in the bar. We walked to the pizza spot across the street where Johnny and his wife, audio tech, and superhero Michelle Young were. The four of us sat down and rapped about influences, music venues, and the vibe of it all and in that moment, I knew I had met lifelong friends and amazing musicians. Their energy was infectious and sincere. These were folks who genuinely loved what they were doing. I was bummed that night that I didn’t hear ‘Barometric Pressure’, but I heard so many other songs that were exciting. I left a genuine Peak fan.

Later, Kito Bovenschulte of Particle and Josh Carter of Haley Jane and the Primates were added to the mix and the entire sound started to morph into an entirely new, amazing trip. They were the dance-funk vibe that the songs that Jeremy and Johnny had drafted were missing. Now the band was complete. And along the way, we were following. Fast forward to this past weekend…

Peak was in rare form on this particularly wet night. Not only were they back in front of an audience for the first time in well over a year, they were in truly ceremoniously Woodstock 1969 wet conditions in front of people who were feeding off their contagious energy like a festival game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Every single member of the band played with the fire of one thousand suns behind their instruments. They played a few tunes, including “Choppy Water” from their upcoming new album by the same name. Then, all of a sudden, there was “Barometric Pressure”! Yay! I might have hurt myself dancing in that moment.

Speaking of dancing, we were all in a tent in the woods with the stage. When we arrived, there were a handful of people under the tent leftover from the previous band’s set. As Peak began to move, these people started to come in from the rain. It was like beings moving towards a light in that moment and all of a sudden, our dancing numbers had doubled. Then they tripled. I am not sure what the numbers were when the set ended, but I know that with the conclusion of every song, there was more applause, whistles, and deliciously positive energy. At one point, the guys busted into the unmistakable intro to Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same”. Lots of bands tease an intro like that, and that’s pretty much what I expected it to be, but it didn’t stop. They played the whole song and they KILLED it. I remember turning to Josh’s wife in the crowd just to remark that he was absolutely knocking the bass parts right out the water. I have been listening to this song my whole life and I never heard someone cover it so flawlessly, but here were these guys destroying the song in the best possible way.

Our favorite song, “Path Paved With Roses”, was the second to last tune the guys did and it was so wonderfully amped up and dancy, I am sure egged on by the energy of the crowd that just darted around that makeshift, muddy dance floor. It was amazing and dream-like the way people circled around amongst one another. The encore was their song “When The Night Comes Calling You”, which after this weekend might very well take the top spot for me. I was dancing like I can’t remember ever doing. It was energy that flowed through bodies on the floor like electricity that had left its channels and was running wild. It didn’t feel possible to be in this magical place, feeling this incredible, despite everything that had happened to us all – everything that had happened to us as a species and a nation. We felt incredibly lucky. Peak brought us back to the wonderful world of live music. They were the bookends for us, to the pandemic, and normality.

And it was here, in Bethel, where positive energy emerges from the dirt.

I don’t know what will come of the world in the wake of COVID. I can say though that bands like Peak are there to help us navigate whatever it is. They are here to bring us slowly out of despair and isolation and back into the magic that is the energy of live music.  To have been in such a magical place with a band that understands how to not only capture that vibe but encapsulate and hand it to their audience felt like a delicious privilege that I don’t really yet know how to file in my heart the right way. All I know is that I feel so lucky to have been there, dancing my ass off, and feeling it all in that moment in that wonderful place. That night my body more or less gave out from it all, and I didn’t even care. I was somewhere magical with some of the most wonderful people.

The guys have a bunch of shows coming up this year, concluding with their album release show on October 22 in Brooklyn. If you are headed to that one, it’s my birthday so come find me and buy me a drink. Maybe some pizza. Either way, I look forward to dancing with you all as soon as possible. See you out there, friends…

Welcome Back, Michael Arnone’s 31st Annual Crawfish Festival!

Growing up in Sussex County, NJ meant a lot of things for me in the summers. The best corn on the cob, the best tomatoes, summers spent in cool spring-fed lakes, and something always going on at the Sussex Fairgrounds. One of those things was the annual visit from Michael Arnone and his Crawfish Festival. The fest itself has a great back story. A few decades ago in 1989, some homesick Louisiana folks stuck up here in the Northeast decided to enjoy some music and a crawfish boil to bring their hearts home if their bodies couldn’t be there. They had such a good time that the idea kept going, growing every year, getting bigger and more incredible… and delicious! What started out as a good time for friends has grown into one of New Jersey’s most beloved annual events.

This year will be the 31st annual Crawfish Fest.

Thanks to Covid, it won’t be without some changes. The fest is normally a kickoff to the summer festival season for many of us, but for the sake of safety, this year’s Crawfish Fest will be taking place in August on the 27th through the 29th. No matter though, as the music will still be just as hot as the weather! The talents of Tab Benoit, Samantha Fish, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Bonerama, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Amanda Shaw, Honey Island Swamp Band, and many many more! It’s three stages of the best in Cajun, Zydeco, Delta Blues, New Orleans R&B, Brass, Gospel, and Jazz. There are even free Cajun/Zydeco Dance lessons. I’ll be there for that. Lord knows I need all the help I can get!

This is the kind of festival where you need not only your best dancing shoes, but you also need your best eating pants. Unfortunately the late date does impact the crawfish boil. I admire the heck out of Mr. Arnone in that he won’t pretend to serve up a pile of frozen crawfish in a boil if he can’t get fresh. Those delicious little buggers are out of season in August. However, he is making sure those southern flavors are still WELL represented here to compliment the music. Crawfish Etouffee, Alligator Sausage, Po-Boys, Southern Fried Chicken, and more – all $12.00 or less. My mouth is watering just typing this. I want to eat all the things…

The fun doesn’t stop with the music and the food though. Do you like to camp at festivals? You can do that too! There are camping passes and various campgrounds that range in party atmosphere to quieter for families and those who actually like to sleep. You can bring your tents, pop-ups, or RV’s! (though I hear RV passes might be nearly sold out now) There is even a spot to set up your tent for the day if you don’t plan to stay overnight. Campsite hangs are the best part of any festival, after all. Check the ticket and FAQ links on the website for more information on that.

Tickets are presently on sale and tickets from 2020 are still being honored. After 31 years of doing this festival, you can be assured you are in for a heck of a good time. Somehow in all my years with this amazing festival in my backyard, I have yet to make it there! This year is going to be our first, and we can’t wait to see you all there and shake it with you! You can get tickets and all the information you could possibly need at the festival website, http://www.crawfishfest.com

We will have more information on the artists, food, and lineups leading up to the festival, so get your tickets and keep an eye here for more!

Check out the daily line-up posted below for more details:

See you out there, friends!

PEAK Show Dates!

I am cautiously optimistic, but I am seeing show posts popping up. Earlier today, I caught myself scream a little when I saw Galactic will be at the Blue Note Jazz Fest in New York City this summer. Could it be true? Can we dance together again soon? So much of our life blood is the energy of live music. Can this be real?

Then here comes my regular “Peakin’ Beacon” email and low and behold, PEAK dates!

PEAK. TOUR. DATES.

The last show we saw before the world shut down was PEAK. Their livestreams were some of our favorite glimmers of normal. I am incredibly excited to be able to share these upcoming show dates with you!

5.30 Yasgur’s May Meltdown, Bethel NY (PEAK headlining Friday night!)

6.17 Stella Blues, New Haven, CT

7.10 Electric Haze, Worcester, MA

7.16 Snug’s Bar, New Paltz, NY

7.23 B.R.Y.A.C. Bridgeport, CT

8.26 Tellus 360, Lancaster, PA

8.27 Altered State Distellery Erie, PA

9.10 ALBUM RELEASE SHOW Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY

ALBUM RELEASE SHOW? Yes you read that right. There is a new record in the hopper, and it’s going to knock socks right off. More on that later…

I’m sure I will see your lovely faces at a few of these! See you out there, friends!

A Different Side of Peak’s Jeremy Hilliard with “Long Lives”

The pandemic was hard.

Things got really scary really fast for many of us. Most people were forced to stay home. I was not one of those people as my job is pretty paper-heavy, so I was still going to work a lot. My husband was still going to work every day, as he was a retail worker in construction. But while our work worlds spun madly on, the good stuff in our world was slowing. We all had to slow our roll and pull all our limbs back in the car. As we all know, clubs shuttered. Festivals and shows were cancelled. The music got real quiet.

Then one day, people started having shows in their homes and letting us all in. It started slow and then everyone was doing it. I don’t know what other people thought about this phenomenon, but I loved it. I loved the rawness of the material and the nosey person in me loved getting to look in people’s homes and at their artwork and furniture. I’m that person who absolutely WILL look in your window at night if your blinds are open as I drive by. Not because I’m pervy or anything, I really just want to see what colors you paint your walls and stuff. So this, for people like me, was magical. Music and interior design!

Anyway, one of my favorite living room peeks was New York’s Peak’s (see what I did there?) guitarist, front man, and mastermind Jeremy Hilliard. He would take requests, create lists, show us tiny cups, and sometimes his lovely wife or cat. It was an acoustic hour of all sorts of material and it always felt like just hanging with a friend for some tunes. Even though he never took my Simon and Garfunkel suggestions, I loved and looked forward to those living room shows. They were super fun and appealed to my not-so inner folkie. Fast forward to now, and Jeremy has taken some of the songs he’s had stored in the freezer for a few years, mixed them with some songs he’s been working on recently, and compiled a bunch of home demos he calls Long Lives. It’s a wonderfully rough and real batch of songs that play with folk, Americana, true blue country (you know, the good kind) and just pure emotional rock and roll, stripped down and laid bare.

Long Lives, according to Jeremy, is “10 demos of mine that seem to fit together.” He’s absolutely right. The songs all have a wonderfully rootsy Americana feel. It’s a great collection that gives you a sense of journey. You feel like you are along for the ride through states and cities across our country, seeing the landscapes and meeting the people. Jeremy’s guitar playing is absolutely wonderful in general, but this collection really highlights how broad his talents are.  While there are some tasty solos throughout, his playing simply lays a really comfortable and smooth set of tracks for every story he is telling. My favorite track is the collection opener, Shot in the Dark. It reminds me a bit of Arlo Guthrie in how the song is strung together and has a wonderful singalong quality with the really great backups. I could see this song as the credits roll after a good romance film. I also love Morning in Brooklyn. “Late night crackheads, early morning hipster joggers”…it paints a picture. The best line though is “BQE sunrise…every exit tells a story”. Blue Parkway is also a really gorgeous song with a bit of a soaring folkie feel. You can get the sensation of being within this tune, along for the ride.  The title track has a wonderful “froggie went a courtin” kind of feel, but with Jeremy’s amazing guitar work and much better lyrics, plus a really hopeful vibe. It’s a song I actually plan to teach my daughter to sing because it has such a wonderful message.

Jeremy recorded these tunes pretty bare bones, using Logic Pro x, one 58 mic, and two guitars. Also in the credits on vocal harmonies is his lovely wife, Beth. It’s a refreshingly raw recording. Everyone these days is very into perfectly polished records. Overproduction is a thing and in my opinion, it’s REALLY prevalent. It takes away so much of the personality of a song sometimes to make something sound so studio perfect, and I love the fact that this collection is nothing like that. So much of the folk music I love is pretty much under produced and that lends itself wonderfully to the overall feel of the songs. I would put this collection right there with some of the best of those records, in that you feel connected to the artist in the recording. Like you could be sitting right there with them, the way we used to before the pandemic closed down our intimate venues. I really, really enjoyed Long Lives and I would be happy to see it become a one man show for a few dates or even a full on release – as long as it stays rough and true. It was a genuine privilege to get to dig into this material.

But as always, don’t take my word for it. Head on over to Soundcloud and give the collection a listen for yourself, and let’s discuss!