Artist Spotlights, Festival Coverage

Summer Camp Series: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong [INTERVIEW]

Summer Camp Series: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong [INTERVIEW]

Written by Fatima Hasan and Cory Callahan

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is not merely an incredible band name. It is also the name of an extremely talented group of musicians that bring earnest enthusiasm and devotion to the music industry. Comprised of “Scrambled” Greg (Vocals/Guitar), Jeremy Schon (Guitar/Vocals), Ben Carrey (Bassics/Vocals), and Alex Petropulos (Drums/Electronics/Vocals), Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is a force to be reckoned with.  Their high-energy psychedelic funk sounds are unique and infectious. Their electro-funk grooves are one-of-a-kind, and they bring an undeniable live energy to every performance. Their loyal fanbase, known as the “Flock”, has been steadily growing as the band continues to make a name for themselves. Based out of Baltimore, Maryland, these musicians have been venturing around the country due to popular demand, and their future only gets brighter.

You’re performing at Summer Camp this weekend, tell me a little bit about your experience with the festival.

Greg: “I’m really pumped for Summer Camp! We actually played there two years ago and it was such a home-y festival. I ran into so many friends of mine that are in different bands, it kind of felt like everyone was there! We ran into The Main Squeeze, Tauk, and Aqueous. So, I’m very much looking forward to head back there. It also has this really chill vibe for being such a large festival. It has a real intimacy about it that, when you get into the range of about 30,000 people or so, sometimes that feeling is lost. I’ve never felt like I was being watched by Big Brother or anything like that, and sometimes when you get to those bigger festivals you lose that special magic. But for some reason, Summer Camp has that vibe where you can really just escape from the outside world. We are big fans of moe., we’re playing with them at Red Rocks soon. We all love Umphrey’s McGee… that’s our drummer’s favorite band. We’re looking forward to seeing those shows, and I’ve got to say we really do have some special stuff planned for Summer Camp that won’t happen anywhere else during the summer. We’re playing at 7pm on Friday, and it’s going to be a special set!”

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Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – Summer Camp 2018

Domefest was a few weekends ago and I really want to talk about that too. Tell me a little bit more about it, like how you guys ended up starting it out and some of the challenges that you faced in doing so?

Greg: “Domefest is our pride and joy. Our guitarist, Jeremy, started the festival in his senior year of college at the University of Maryland. He found a really cool site at some guy’s house about 15 minutes out from the University. Jeremy always wanted to throw a festival or a big musical event of some sort, so when he found the place, he spoke with the owner and the owner was very interested in having a festival at his house. It started as a one-day, one-night celebration of music, friendship, and our impending graduation. It was a smashing success and everyone had such a great time. It was actually the first festival that I had ever attended. That’s pretty wild because we just celebrated nine years of Dome Fest this year. Personally, I have been on the team for about 5 years working my way up the ranks from side ops, to vending coordinator, then volunteer coordination, to now being a full blown producer alongside Jeremy. He is really the captain of the ship and original visionary of the festival. It has been a really incredible experience because most jam bands that have been to their first festival have this ‘ah- ha’ moment of what music can do beyond just a concert. It really brings a community together. And to be able to help organize and execute the festival now is such a huge full circle moment for me and is something that I am very proud of, knowing hopefully that people might have their ‘ah-ha’ moment at Domefest. This year was actually our biggest one yet with it being sold out, and it was just a ton of fun.

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Working your way from the bottom to the top, is there anything that you have learned about the music industry that wasn’t in your initial expectations?

Greg: “You hear it all the time but organizing a festival really is a lot of work. It is always worth it, but Jeremy and I work on Domefest 9 months out of the year, virtually every single day. As it gets closer, in the last 2 or 3 months of preparations, we are working 16-hour days, sleeping less than we should, and just trying to get everything organized. I mean, as you can imagine, there is a lot of people involved. You know, on my end of things we have a volunteer crew of around 90 people that we have to coordinate with to make sure they know where they are going and what they’re doing. Beyond that, there are the vendors. We have a staff of about 75, and they have usually been the same people from the last 4 to 7 years, which is really important. If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that you really can’t do this alone. It’s just not physically possible. You need to have a really supportive and driven team around you to help pull off the vision of the festival. Our team works so hard on-site to make sure that everyone at the festival is not only having fun but that they are safe, accounted for, and taken care of. This year we had quite a bit of rain, but you could have fooled me because the crowd was just so happy and loving life. The attendees are so cool, we were pushing some cars up the hill because it got a little slippery and random ‘Flockers’ just kept jumping in to help. That sense of community is a beautiful thing. 

I’ve also learned that it really is a full-time job, so Jeremy and I will be back at it in just a couple months, reaching out to our team and lining up bands for next year. We are already brainstorming what it is that we can do better moving forward. We try to make as many improvements as we can pull off, so that each year we’re stepping in the right direction. Having been to so many festivals as a band and as a fan, we just kind of put on an event that we would want to got to. From not only the artist standpoint of what we would expect from basic hospitality and organization, making sure that everybody knows where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing. But also from the standpoint of one that we would want to attend.”
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Do you have a favorite post-show snack?

Greg: “Oh man, post show snack!? Uhh.. We love cheese, I can tell you that. Thats the real truth, we love some cheese! *laughs* We had some amazing cheese as a band recently up in Wisconsin… mind blowing cheese. Like, if you have heard that an area specializes in something– such as the chicken in Nashville, the food in New Orleans, or the Cheese in Wisconsin– it’s probably true. Everything that I’ve experienced traveling has been true thus far. We are big cheese heads though, and Wisconsin was on another level… truly incredible.”

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How did you guys come up with the name “Pigeons Playing Ping Pong”?

Greg: “You know, when you strike gold like ‘Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’, you don’t really need to consider much else. You know what I’m saying? I mean, it’s like a beam of lightning. *laughs* 

I could tell you a story of how it came about, but I think that it’s more important for our fans to interpret it and weigh in on what they think it means. I can tell you, it took a while for that name to actually catch on. Especially when we were starting out in college, we were an an acoustic duo. At the university of Maryland, there is a lot of different people who go to the school, they’re not just into jam bands so not everyone was super open to the concept of listening to a band called Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.

When we used to book shows in our earliest years when nobody had a clue who we were, Jeremy did a lot for the band. He booked the band for 5 years and probably longer and is really a huge factor in where we are today, it’s just his work ethic.

Anyways, when he would call these venues trying to book us, he would say ‘Hi, this is Jeremy from ‘Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.’”

They’d be like, ‘Okay well…I’m not really sure if we have circus performances or if we can have animals in the bar, but…I’ll transfer you over to special events.’

Then he’d be like  ‘No, no, no, we are a band! It’s not actually pigeons playing ping pong!’

So, it took us awhile to  be accepted with that wacky name. As you can imagine, some of the frat guys at the University weren’t too keen of it off the bat, but hopefully the music kind of carried us through. I think we leaned into the name though and you can really see that just from our goofy performances. We try not to take ourselves too seriously on stage, but behind the scenes, we are working our butts off to make this happen… or I should say our tail feathers.”

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Traveling across the country and playing in all of these different venues and festivals, is there a particular region that you really enjoy visiting/performing in and why?

Greg: “I’m sure I’m not the first musician to say this, but the Pacific Northwest is absolutely incredible. I grew up on Long Island, New York… and we don’t have mountains on Long Island. We have beautiful views of the water, but I mean once we started going to Colorado, I was really sold on that region. We did that for a few years, and I’m convinced we started playing Colorado just because Jeremy wanted to ski there! In retrospect, that was a great decision. Not only because the fans are great, the skiing is also incredible. Most of us snowboard and ski, just the vibe out there is great. I remember the first few shows we played out in Colorado, we were playing some new crowds and they were so interested in new music. The whole state of Colorado just feels like a festival crowd. I mean that because they are so accepting of new music, a band name like Pigeons Playing Ping Pong doesn’t phase them… it actually intrigues them. Once we gained a quality following in Colorado, we opened up the rest of the country further west. The first time we drove through Montana and Idaho… it was just breathtaking. I felt like I was on a set of a movie. It was winter time, so the mountains in Montana reminded me of maybe an area where a stormtrooper would be born– just towering, angular mountains. I really appreciate the nature out there and the vibe. We really love traveling, it’s nice to be able to experience the country because it is so vast… There are so many different places to go to. It’s cool to have expectations about certain states and areas, then having those expectations be completely wrong. I never expected myself to visit all the places that we have been, and it’s nice to see that humans are humans wherever you go. There has never really been a huge cultural disconnect, at least within the states. I love it all. We really do just love to play and I think that just comes from, you know, as a college band that was a dorm room project. After going out at night we would come back and Jeremy and I would play guitar together for a few friends in a dorm room very casually making songs filled with jokes about whatever is in the room. Kind of treating it as half comedy, half guitar-duo situation. We’ve never really lost that love for playing, and I think it shows. Our fans reflect that same love for and appreciation of life. When we take that to the stage, it compounds even more. We’ve always said that as long as we’re having fun, working hard to be our best selves, doing the best for our fans, putting in the time… then we can cut loose on stage and ride this thing out. It has been an absolute dream come true.”

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Is there anything that you guys are currently working on or anticipating?

Greg: “Well, the things that we are working on I’ll keep close to my chest. We are always coming up with crazy ideas, whether it’s a big show idea, just new merch, or what we’re going to do in terms of the next album. We’re fully committed to this project and it is a full-time job in itself even regardless of the music. Just managing the band, helping our manager make decisions. Jeremy and I still run our social media, so anything you see posted on Facebook or Instagram is coming from the band directly. We love to communicate with our fans. We’re always brewing up new ideas for themes, like on Halloween or New Year’s. For example, this past New Year’s we did a Disney-themed show. We called it DIS-NYE. That was actually an idea that was slowly cultivating for about 3 years… we decided to wait for the right moment, the right show to pull the trigger. I think the year before we ended up opening for Lotus, so we didn’t do the Disney theme then because they were headlining the show and it was a combined effort between us all. We have a few things that we’ve been holding in our back pockets for a while, I think they are awesome. So, just stay tuned for more and more!

As far as what we are excited for, our first show at Red Rocks is coming up on July 12th. We are going to be opening for moe., and it’s the first time that we are going to be playing at that venue. I haven’t even seen a show there! So, to be performing there for my first time is kind of surreal. I think I speak for a lot of jam bands, or even just regular bands, it’s kind of one of those Pinnacles…one of those huge moments for bands. We’re beyond excited to throw down a really special set for our first time. It’s actually going to be my fiance’s birthday that day so we’re really going to have a celebratory week in Colorado coming off of High Sierra Festival in California. That’ll be our first California Festival right before Red Rocks. We’ve only been playing California for about a year, so we were really excited to get that offer! Our first Bonnaroo will also be this summer, that’ll be a great milestone for us. We’ve got a killer late-night set at 1 a.m. on Thursday in THAT tent. Even though I’ve never been to Bonnaroo, I’ve heard of THAT tent. That’s a pretty big deal. But I don’t like to single things out! Like I said, we came straight from the dorm rooms in college and we were performing in basements. We had the time of our lives there, so I’m really looking forward to all of these shows that are coming up and the ones that follow.”

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If you were stranded on an island, what three things would you bring with?

Greg: “It sounds like I should bring an endless supply of food! For the sake of music, I would bring a guitar. And I would bring my fiance!”

 

Is there anything regarding Pigeons Playing Ping Pong that your fans may not know about?

Greg: “Well, none of us have tattoos. If the ‘Flock’ has any suggestions on what kind of tattoo each member should get, we’d be interested in what they think!”

 

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