SCRANTON — Over a four-day Peach Music Festival that saw frequent thunderstorms congest the skies over Montage Mountain, Sunday was the first moment the sun seemed determined to stay out as A Tribute to George Wesley took to the Grove stage in what became an emotional and hopeful display of musical appreciation for the Wilkes-Barre reggae legend who died in July.
Performances by blues rocker Warren Haynes, both solo and in his band, Gov’t Mule, Black Berry Smoke and the trio of Marco Benevento, Joe Russo and Allman Brothers Band alumnus Oteil Burbridge marked a stellar day of music, but it was the five-piece of James Wesley (George’s son), Mike Mizwinski, John Shemo, Freeman White and Ian McDougal who shared the day’s most poignant moments with friends and fans.
White, who hails from Northeastern Pennsylvania but now lives outside Nashville, Tenn., travelled home to contribute on keyboards and vocals.
“George was one of a kind,” he said. “It still hasn’t sunk in that he’s gone. What a great idea Mike and James had here.”
The tribute opened with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” which started in a traditional cover and morphed into a skanky jam with Shemo improvising a verse about Wesley, singing, “He gave us inspiration/He gave us motivation.”
Shemo, who began playing with Wesley in the late ’90s introduced the band including drummer James Wesley as “George’s living legacy.”
He continued: “We’re hear to celebrate the music of George Wesley … May his soul rest in peace,” which drew cheers from the crowd.
Their second song, Wesley’s “The Timekeeper,” was a relaxed Caribbean shake with Shemo and Mizwinski trading gleeful guitar solos. The lyrics brought posthumous perspective from Wesley as Shemo sang, “The timekeeper/No you can’t cheat/No matter how you try.”
“You’re So Precious” spread Wesley’s oft championed message of kindness and compassion with it’s refrain, “It’s in your heart/It’s in your soul/You’re so precious/You’re worth more than gold.”
When the tune ended, Shemo took the mic and addressed the crowd: “We know George’s spirit is here. He wants you to be happy. He wants you to be up.”
Shemo played through Wesley’s guitar cable and Mesa Boogie amplifier — the group rehearsed in Wesley’s living room studio leading up to the show.
The tribute ensemble got the crowd moving with “Dance All Night,” before embracing the lazy island hop of “Strong” and bringing an ensuing rush of feelings.
The lyrics, “So don’t put off tomorrow what you do today/’Cause who says tomorrow is coming anyway” tugged on the heart strings of friends, fans and musicians. Tears streamed the faces of many in attendance.
“The moral of the story is, when I was singing strong, everyone in the band was trying not to cry,” Mizwinski said after the show. “I never realized how emotional the lyrics were for me until now.”
The group presented a reggae infused version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now,” before closing with Wesley’s, “Thank You.”
After the set, Shemo said playing with Wesley in 1997 revived his “whole inspiration for music,” and James Wesley said it was the most difficult show he’s played since his father died in July. “It was beautiful and hard at the same time.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected]