An equal opportunity jam makes for a festival in West Virginia that’s All Good

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As the music industry has scrambled to figure out how to scrape up a buck in the digital age, music festivals have become a dime a dozen, and bands have been forced to do something they once didn’t have to do quite as much: tour. What festivals have provided to these artists has been a level of infrastructure that is more or less unparalleled.

Keller Williams described the festival experience as "the best lighting, the best sound equipment, a vast array of people in the audience, and the ability to introduce your music to people who may have never taken the time to give a listen otherwise."

What has resulted are many fields of dreams sprouting up across our great land. They have built them and people are coming; All Good 2010 was yet another example of how in today’s festival environment, artists can show up at an event site with only the bare necessities – a guitar in hand – and still put on a splendid show.

It is worth noting that all is not shits and giggles within the festival circuit – this shopping mall modality of operating has its cons. Some of the intimacy of clubs to be lost in translation, and in many cases artists are forced to sign non-compete clauses that preclude them from playing within a certain proximity both preceding and post-dating the festivals.

ag1.jpgOn the other hand, it has its pros as well: giving fans the opportunity to engage in all that Keller spoke of, along with providing a safe environment to allow its patrons to let it all hang out over the course of a few days instead of driving to and from each venue in search of the next sound. As a result, many of the younger in attendance at these events can be seen donning wristbands from preceding festivals. It has now become their version of "tour."

In the dead heat of summer, there are few things that can make one want to spend his weekend frying in it. Bonnaroo offers a lineup that spans genres and more to take in than humanly possibly in terms of art installations and music, yet some stay away because of its "corporate nature." Earlier in the summer, The Hangout Beach, Music, and Arts Festival offered the first and only major festival located on the beach within the United States. Some stayed away because of its remote location in correlation to the majority of the country, the unusual diversity in headliners, and the expenses that would be incurred as a result of it not being a camping festival.

All Good, nestled in mountainous Masontown, West Virginia, persisted in its quest to give equal opportunity to each and every artist present with its tradition of no overlapping sets, while once again staying true to its jam roots. For obvious reasons such as avoiding noise ordinances and the need for spacious fields to pitch tents and portable stages, most festivals are located in remote areas.

All Good takes the cake in regards to being located in the middle of nowhere. As I was making my way up the long and bleak West Virginian interstate road with no 3G service for over 100 consistent miles, Loretta Lynn’s "Coal Miner’s Daughter" came to mind. I began to wonder where postcards for the hanging would be being sold as this festival is seemingly situated at the very end of a Bob Dylan-esque metaphorical "Desolation Row." Maybe the whole "turn by the barbershop" notion in the festival’s FAQ section should have been a clue. Instead, I simply trusted in my Garmin that has not been updated since 2007.

ag2.jpgAs luck would have it, all went well with the portable GPS and I rolled up to a colossal line of cars, trucks, and buses all vying for the same thing: a place to rest their wheels and allow their occupants to set up camp beside them. If there was a complaint to be had it would be the parking situation, and this is most likely to be blamed squarely on the fact that this year’s festival broke all previous attendance records and actually sold out to the point that there were citizens of festival nation lining the dusty gravel roads near the entry looking for spare tickets.

The weekend celebration began with the usual All Good practice of kicking things off on Thursday night in the valley between Marvin’s Mountaintop. It did so with thumps courtesy of DJ Harry serving up strawberry jam-sweet mixes sandwiched between the bread of Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson, Fort Knox Five, Dark Star Orchestra and a late night set by The New Deal. It was clear that the event organizers were trying to create an early mood conducive to the community vibe that they have been trying to create since the festival’sinception.

As Thursday swirled into the darkness, the crowd danced and smiled the night away to familiar tunes such as the opener of Dark Star’s set, "Scarlet > Fire," and into the less familiar but still groove conscious melodies of Canada’s The New Deal, who brought the warmth full circle from their place of majestic electronic magnificence that worked the amped up crowd into a frenzy. They did so at times with progressive changes and swelling climaxes in tunes like "Subsky" before placing them back down tenderly with an appropriate track for a 4:00 AM set closing time in "Deep Sun." With this closer, the hordes made their way back to their weekend abodes and were able to rest easy on the fact that the carpet had been laid with a solid foundation that would serve as a taproot for sustenance throughout the following three days.

Click next for Friday{mospagebreak}

As is typical, Friday morning came way too early. But to a festivarian, this is nothing to fret about. There would be plenty of sources for energy as the day evolved and certainly some of that energy would spring from the well of one of the most profound lineups imaginable.

On this day, the delight would be ours as we would be treated to a roster that was as eclectic as it was deep, boasting everything from Cornmeal‘s unadulterated bluegrass to the raw Acid Jazz Electronica of Lotus. It was like riding a wave that had no known crest. One would only move to his right or left depending upon which show was going on at that given moment.

ag3.jpgThis is where All Good places itself on high. No one has anything to worry about. The stress of walking to and fro has been eliminated, creating a place for a collective conscience to thrive. The only thing that has the propensity to break one’s focus is Mother Nature’s occasional yearn to relieve herself in the nearest bush, or porta-john if you prefer civilized behavior.

Just as Friday would bring sweet sounds, it also brought a steady flow of rain. However, either no one noticed or if they did, they definitely did not seem to mind.

By the time that the Chicagoan double header of Umphrey’s McGee and Cornmeal arrived, the thoroughly soaked crowd was obviously in it for the long haul as they broke out their party favor glow sticks, stuffed animals, and blow up toys.

Once the Umphrey’s boys hit their stride with the fourth song of the set, "Miss Tinkle’s Overture," the passion in the crowd had nestled up neatly to the swapping of licks between guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, held tight by an impressive under filament provided by bassist Ryan Stasik.

ag4.jpgAs the closing notes of "Divisions," which segued into "I’m on Fire" and back into a subdued rendition of itself came to pass, Cornmeal took the other stage with a blistering rendition of "Girl with Short Brown Hair."

Cornmeal continues to be on the rise as more and more recognize the joy that emanates from the creative process of these five and spreads like butter on the bread that is whichever crowd is witnessing the performance in ass shaking observance. And while all of this was quite nice, it was time to take it Further.

As the rain persisted in its dusting of the crowd, Friday night headliners, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Further burst onto the All Good stage 15 years to the day since they last played publically prior to Jerry going to the great beyond. They did so with a fervor that reminded us all of how this entire scene came to pass.

Hopping right in, the opener, "After Midnight," authoritatively informed us all that we were about to indulge in four hours of pure jam grandeur complete with flawless segues, improv perfection, and an emotional roller coaster ride ranging from the smiles produced by corkscrew of "Scarlet Begonias" all the way to the always tear jerking and spine quiver inducing incline of "Attics of My Life."

These two sets managed to dole out a complete affirmation of who still reigns supreme on the jam circuit, but this wasn’t the performance that patrons were expecting to take place to a crowd of 25,000 – it lacked in deep space and extended hyper jams.

However, the genius orchestration behind the two-set extravaganza became abundantly clear to me as I lied down to sleep that wet evening with a mind clear enough to allow retrospection to fully take its course. Evidence included the implementation of venue and environmentally-appropriate tunes such as "Cumberland Blues" and "Colors of the Rain" that were played both heartily and with an emotional candor that cannot be duplicated, serving as testament to the genius amongst other evidentiary introductions.

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Following what I assume was a tune played in homage to Jerry in "So Many Roads," 2:00 AM came upon us coupled with the familiar intro of the final encore "Ripple" which was punctuated by the first of what would be two firework spectacles for the weekend.

Upon Further’s closing notes, many fleeted off into the night to their awaiting tents, vehicles, and sleeping bags. I stayed for Lotus’ glorious late night finale set before doing the same.

Click next for Saturday{mospagebreak}

Saturday morning was more of the same – too early. Upon crawling from the confines of my shanty, there was one very noticeable difference…sunshine. The serving of vitamin D was just what the doctor ordered and it served as a catalyst to a phenomenal day to be at a festival. The rain had brought cooler temperatures, the dust was minimal, and dispositions were elevated even higher than they were in the foregoing day.

As if this was not enough, the calendar was slammed with wall to wall music that was just as diverse as its former. Acts ranging from Perpetual Groove and their self coined "Trance Arena Rock" all the way to an act that absolutely defies any categorization in Garage A Trois.

ag6.jpgWith all of this on the horizon, the complainer in me had to find something to critique and I did not have to look too far as there was one thing about this day that failed to make sense to anyone that I spoke with at the festival throughout the weekend: Yonder Mountain String Band as a late night set beginning at 2:00 am.

No matter what anyone’s opinion of YMSB is (mine is quite high), the scheduling placement was at best peculiar, and at worst, a blunder. But there was no time to be a negative Nancy with so much on the agenda. It was up and about to catch a little of what Michael Franti says that we all deserve, "sweet music."

As with almost every event of this type that I have attended, All Good had a sleeper in its midst. It came in the form of The Rex Jam.

The band for the jam, conducted by The Everyone Orchestra’s Matt Butler, was comprised of Perpetual Groove’s Brock Butler and Albert Suttle, Lotus’ Chuck Morris, Oteil Burbridge on bass, master trumpeter Jen Hartswick, The Lee Boys’ Roosevelt Collier, and Dr. Didj’s Graham Wiggins on didgeridoo. This feverish set was high on pure improv and filled deep with soul. There was only one thing could have trumped the absolute bliss that was radiating from the stage: a naked guy.

ag7.jpgYes, you heard it right.

In a moment for the All Good Annals, a bare-assed grown man leaped like a deer over the security brigade and in one pace onto the stage. Unfortunately his cat-like reflexes eventually failed and he was unable to clear the cymbals of Suttle and it all came to a crashing halt…all except for the music, which never broke stride. In fact, the jam only thickened and progressed at an even harder pace.This is saying a lot since it was apparently already orgasmic enough for a guy to strip down and make a go for the responsible artists.

In the end, we were left with a vocal crescendo that was stunning in its simplicity and The Rex Foundation was left with close to 1500 dollars that was collected within the 45 minute slot and subsequently donated to a local high school’s instrument program.

As the festivities wore on, we would bear witness the funk of Parliament with a dreadless and sad-looking George Clinton, a set from the authentically steeped Railroad Earth, a too short in length Perpetual Groove set that had the crowd writhing and wanting more, and Jimmy Herring joining Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi for "I’d Rather Be Blind Crippled and Crazy."

However, much of the crowd was in great anticipation for the Athens Georgia jam staples, Widespread Panic, who would deliver exactly what those filled with eagerness were patiently awaiting.

ag8.jpg Over the course of their three hour headlining spot, and through talking to actual fans of the band (something that I am not), there really was nothing special about the set. What Panic did do throughout the set was deliver what their fans have come to know and love by serving a solid helping of Southern rock with classic blues licks and a crooner at the helm.

One thing that was definitely obvious was that bassist Dave Schools needs to be turned up and utilized more effectively as he was in the days when I used to see them on occasion. However, as the progression of this outfit has left me far in its wake, it simply is not a subject upon which that I can speak with any authority.

What I can say is that when Derek Trucks joined in for the final three songs of the first set, it was a moment of jam-phoria spawned by the interplay between him, Jimmy Herring and John Bell.

Then came set break and one of the most surreal and serene occurrences that I have ever witnessed took place. The moment was when hundreds if not thousands of wish lanterns were sent sailing into the sky by the crowd in a demonstration of what felt like true camaraderie and met the very definition of what most seek within our live music community.

After a brief trip into the chaotic and dark world set masterminded by Stanton Moore, Skerik, Mike Dillon, and Marco Benevento through their undeniably unique ensemble, Garage A Trois, it was now time once again to close the book as Saturday’s chapter had now come to a close.

Click next for Sunday and the fest photo gallery{mospagebreak}

Sunday would be our last day under the direction of the All Good sign to the east and weary bones were in need of much needed rest. In shock I awoke looking down at my phone only to realize that, like a slob, I completely slept through The Lee Boys’ set.

As a result of this, I made the decision to peruse the site from border to border. It was a long hike through the steep hills of the West Virginian site, but one that I will never forget.

In a moment of pure awe, I found myself on a peak from which the entire grounds could be gazed upon.

ag9.jpgIt was at this moment for the first time of the weekend that I realized that 3G had no longer become a priority.

In fact, there really were no priorities.

I was anxious to get back home to my wife and son, but other than this, the only thought that fleeted was how beautiful it is to see a community form from all walks of life with a solitary focus. All Good had only served as a meeting place and from there, it was all up to its citizens to make it what it had become.

I could have sat on that peak for hours. It was my own personal church on that Sunday afternoon, but duty called and Grace Potter would be up soon followed by Keller Williams and The Added Bonus.

In typical Grace fashion she stole the sunshine’s beauty as she took the stage with her equally beautiful crew of Nocturnals. This was not a typical Grace festival set as it came with segues and an even looser vibe than usual. However, it lost none of its soul as she strolled through fan favorites like "Joey" and "Apologies."

The crowd gathered in front of the Nocturnarls really hit their hallucinogenic stride as Ms. Potter belted out the lyrics to Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit."

ag10.jpgThe typical closer of "Nothing but the Water" came just as suspected and as the band exited the stage, the crowd continued in its chant of "Tried my hand at the Bible, Tried my hand at prayer, but now nothing but the water is gonna bring my soul to bare."

Just as we thought we had found a spiritual communal moment, Keller stepped up to ruin the whole thing. That was a joke, because what Keller provided was the perfect transition from intrinsic examination into exuberant fun and there could have been no better way to end a weekend for the ages.

With this, the weekend celebration had come to a close, but it is certain to live on in the minds of those who were there to absorb it for the foreseeable future. What All Good provided was a place to leave all worries behind – a means to safely escape from the world of suits, ties, and "may I take your order."

It was a place where one could rest, rage, party, or sleep. Nothing really mattered. It was All Good.

Click the thumbnail for the photo gallery


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