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Pigeons Playing Ping Pong Share Their Pizazz

If you went to Lockn’, odds are you saw, or at least heard about, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s Saturday afternoon set. It had something for everyone: unrestrained funk jams, silly onstage antics, a tease of “Shakedown Street” and hordes of dedicated fans, known as The Flock, singing along to every word. From their formation in 2009, the Baltimore funk foursome’s fun-loving spirit and unabashed sincerity have won over crowds from coast to coast. And thankfully, with a new album due this fall, they show no signs of slowing down.

We caught up with Greg Ormont (guitar, vocals), Jeremy Schon (guitar), Ben Carrey (bass) and Alex Petropulos (drums) backstage before their Lockn’ set. As soundchecks thumped in the background and stage techs wandered in and out of the band’s green room, the guys were in their element, more than happy to discuss their sound, their upbeat ethos and their new, fan-funded record, Pizazz.

What are your impressions of Lockn’?

Greg: For most of us, this is our first time even attending Lockn’, let alone playing, and I’m blown away by the site. It’s gorgeous. And we got lucky on a year that’s only 79 degrees. The weather’s really been nice and I like the way they lit up all the trees around the site. It’s got a magical feel. Kind of a once-in-a-summer vibe.

How does it feel sharing the bill with all of these epic names in the Jam community?

Greg: It’s pretty crazy. My dad’s favorite Dead album was Terrapin Station so to be playing our music in the same place Bob and Phil played theirs is not something I ever expected to do, and not something we take lightly. So we’re gonna put the pedal to the metal and show these veterans that the new kids on the block are ready to hit it hard and take the baton somewhere.

Alex: It’s awesome, being able to be on the same bill with those people we look up to and are such fans of, not only from a musical standpoint but as fans as well. I love all the bands here. I’m a huge Umphrey’s fan, so I was really excited to see them play multiple sets. Everyone’s been great. A lot of bands as well that I’m not as familiar with, they’ve all been great too.

Jeremy: It feels great. It’s awesome to get to see a lot of our favorite artists throughout the weekend and get to hang. It’s definitely cool to share the stage with a lot of people we’ve looked up to over our career.

Greg: It’s really cool to be able to share the stage with these veterans but it’s even cooler to share a backstage with them. You’re just sitting there drinking a coffee or a beer and out comes Phil Lesh or any of our other musical idols milling about and being normal people backstage. It’s even more of a surreal moment than being on the bill with them. Sharing the stage is cool but sharing the backstage is surreal, when you’re talking about members of the Dead, and Widespread Panic and all the other Mount Rushmore members of the jam scene.

You guys played a full summer tour, and you have dates announced through December. You’re obviously road warriors. Talk to me about the joy of playing live and why you guys are driven to perfect your live performances?

Alex: We love playing every night and we’re still at a point where we get to experience a lot of new places as well as returning to a lot of places. And having that contrast is really awesome, because you get some venues where you get to recognize the fans who have been there all along, and then you get the new venues where you meet the new faces and get new fans. We’re also lucky in the style of music we play. We get to switch up sets and be able to explore musically night to night and try new things.

Jeremy: We love playing live. That’s why we do what we do. We really enjoy playing music for people. Our number one motive is we like to have fun on stage and watch people have fun in the crowd. We radiate positivity to them, they radiate positivity to us. Touring is fun. We get to mix it up every night, play to a different group of faces. Being in the world we’re in musically, we can kind of do whatever we want. The setlist is always changing, the songs are always evolving, the jams are always different.

Following up on that, how do you guys craft a setlist?

Jeremy: It’s usually a day-of thing. Sometimes we’ll have a super solid setlist that’s written with all the transitions and everything down to a T, but other times we’ll have a list of songs and we might not play any of them. Once we hit the stage we go with the flow and see what makes sense. A setlist is sort of a guideline for us. Something so we don’t get lost.

Greg: Fortunately jam music allows each song to take on a new form each time around, and I guess that’s why we play up to 200 shows a year. Because even if we are rotating a catalogue, we have a new experience with it each time. Each song is its own beast and new jams are born nightly. We also have a new album coming out that the entire fall tour will be supporting. It’s called Pizazz, and it’s helpful to play those newer songs in front of crowds and tour that album around and bring it from coast to coast. Put it into the flock’s ears.

What’s the balance of work and play for you guys?

Greg: We love our jobs and it’s funny to even call playing music a job sometimes because the natural highs we feel onstage are worth every drop of blood sweat and tears to get there. I find that the more work aspect of it is just travelling and driving. As a result it’s always wonderful to take time off. We just played two shows in Colorado, two sold-out ragers, and then we all stayed in Colorado, and did our own thing. We disappeared into the mountains and let them swallow us up. Some of us jammed, some of us didn’t touch our guitars.

Were those Colorado shows the ones with Twiddle that were supposed to be with moe.?

Greg: Correct. We were supposed to play Red Rocks, but the jam gods said it wasn’t our time yet and that’s okay with us. We know that everything happens for a reason and we’re even more determined to get back there and keep things moving in an upward way. So we pivoted and played two awesome sold-out shows. One at the Boulder Theater with Twiddle, and that included a special Twigeons set, a collaborative encore set that was a ton of fun, playing each other’s music and a couple of covers. And then we did a really rare intimate show at a small venue in Denver that we don’t get to do a lot anymore. Here at Lockn’ we’re in front of, fortunately, a few thousand people, but in Denver we were in front of 200 rabid ragers. And that was a sweaty party to say the least. We were excited to salvage the Colorado shows and have an unbelievable time with our friends and then take in the sights.

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