This July 14th to 18th celebrated the 15th anniversary of the All Good Music Festival and Campoutheld on Marvin’s Mountaintop in Masontown, West Virginia. Yes, that is in the middle of nowhere and does mean hiking up and down a mountain. Not a hill, but a mountain. After that weekend I felt fitter, more musically fulfilled, and with a much larger group of friends than I have all summer.
Once I got to the festival, the artists on stage kept referring to what a beautiful family we were, how the love was just resonating out from the crowds. To their credit, the feeling on Marvin’s Mountaintop was something to be remembered. As with most music festivals, the people are very friendly, and after All Good’s somewhat troubled history (problems with drugs, illegal vending, some deaths), to have a year as bright and bubbly as this one was a true joy.
While it’s my opinion that Hot Buttered Rumgot a little shafted with playing the first set of the festival, they still managed to get the small crowd dancing early in the day.Sound Tribe Sector 9 blew the late night crowd away with the kind of well-played set that STS9 fans haven’t been treated to in a while. Highlights included a “Circus” set opener, a really ragin’ “Grizzly” and the encore, a delicious “The Unquestionable Supremacy of Nature”/”Inspire Strikes Back” sandwich. The Thursday line-up was short and sweet, allowing people to get in, get settled, and check out the show.
Friday Morning and Afternoon
Friday was when the real festivities began, kicking off early with two bands on the campground stage, aptly called The Grassroots Stage. Dangermuffin came on second, bringing their bluegrass heat in a way that definitely drew people out of their tents, perhaps more so than the hot weather.Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad opened the main stage, followed by stellar sets from The Infamous Stringdusters, Galactic, and Keller Williams.
Beside Toubab Krewe and Big Gigantic, who are both festival staples, the Friday night highlight on the smaller Crane Stage was a new artist called That 1 Guy, who plays songs with a homemade, upright instrument – what he calls his magic pipe. It’s amazing to watch sounds emanate from this seven-foot-tall steel pipe that’s been rigged with low note strings that had different effects. He takes bass-driven music to parts unknown, sounding like a hybrid between Frank Zappa and a dance party.
Furthur, featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead was the headliner Friday night and with the exception of a flat, new Bobby tune (“Spin the Wheel”), they played a well-thought out set both with energy and integrity. The way they cover Dead songs is sometimes questionable but always moving and nostalgic, providing Dead fans both young and old with as close an experience to the real thing as they’re going to get. They also treated the audience to a full “Terrapin Station Suite,” a saga rarely played when Jerry Garcia was alive which has become even more infrequent since his death.
Other Friday appearances that I unfortunately missed included Warren Haynes (of The Allman Brothers Band), Dana Fuchs (from the Beatles movie Across The Universe and the off-Broadway play Love, Janis, where she played Janis Joplin), the Everyone Orchestra (featuring Hot Buttered Rum, That 1 Guy, and others) and an all-star jam on the Grassroots Stage with Keller Williams, members of Toubab and members of Umphrey’s McGee, who played the late night set after Furthur.
Saturday was all about posting up at the concert field, which had turned into a basin for vendors and music. An energetic and groovy Zach Deputy opened the larger Dragon Stage, drawing a pretty sizeable crowd for the first act of the day. His set was calm but danceable – a perfect way to start the day. Then again, the last time I saw Zach, he was raging a 1 am set for 4 straight hours, so I guess he’s good any time of day.
He was followed by up-and-coming jam band The Werks, who did a good job advertising at the festival by posting stickers reading “Werk it!” all over the place to make their presence felt. Marco Benevento tore it up, though we did not see a guest appearance by Joe Russo (the drummer from Furthur), which I think many fans expected considering their extensive playing history together (check out the Benevento Russo Duo).
The Rex Jam was a fun tribute to the Grateful Dead featuring many different artists who were performing throughout the weekend but during that set, I couldn’t contain my excitement for Yonder Mountain String Band. I’ve seen YMSB a few times and I knew there show was going to high energy and impressive, so the anticipation was killing me. Like Hot Buttered Rum, YMSB was slightly undercut with a 7 pm set as opposed to their amazing late night set last year, but they still brought the heat. Adam, Jeff, Ben, and Dave served up the steamiest plate of electrified bluegrass, spoon-feeding us every pulsing bass note and mandolin riff so it dripped sweetly and gently down into our souls. As they said in the All Good program, “If you don’t love bluegrass before the show, you will afterward.” No doubt.
Then there was moe., which in my opinion was just…okay. Don’t get me wrong here, moe. knows how to throw down, but this show was mediocre at best. There was a lack of excitement, a feeling that they were just pushing out the songs. I left their set early to prepare more fully for the headliner of the night, Les Claypool’s highly anticipated come-back project, PRIMUS. When I came back, Claypool came on stage holding a long wooden instrument and donning a pig mask – as he is known to do – but it was a while before they started their set. Yes, much preparation was needed for this show, but once Claypool got going on his bass, I was worried the speakers were going to fall right off the rig. Drummer Jay Lane and guitarist Larry LaLonde were hardly an afterthought, supporting Claypool’s funk with their own wild and crazy mud music. To close out their set, Primus had the second biggest fireworks show I’ve seen all summer (the first being at Phish’s Superball IX). Like the two hours of music that preceded it, the fireworks were explosive, intoxicating and downright awe-inspiring. I didn’t think that the festival would put on a show quite like this one.
The display continued into the beginning of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, which was the greatest example of big band jazz that I had seen all weekend. It was so captivating that I hardly noticed the massive pyramid they were building for Pretty Lights on the Dragon Stage. Alas, a slight turn to the left and you couldn’t miss it. Here’s all I’ll say about Pretty Lights: the cover of “West Virginia” was a nice little tribute to the land, but Pretty Lights is not Schpongle, will never be Schpongle, and should really stop trying. Especially with the rip-off Schpongletron. Still, Saturday was easily the best day of music, with PRIMUS being the unquestionable kings of the festival.
Sunday morning was a very sad scene on the Mountaintop. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Nicole Miller –the 20-year-old was run over by a truck at 8:30 a.m. while she and two friends were sleeping in their tent. When attendees hear of these kinds of incidents, it can be hard to continue with festivities, but there is so little anyone can do. At Gathering of the Vibes in 2009, an attendee was killed with a nitrous tank and festival-goers revolted by sweeping through the campsites and dragging anyone who was selling nitrous to the cops, or worse. That was a situation where attendees could take action, but on that Sunday there was little else to do here but mourn the loss of Ms. Miller and wish her family the best.
The show went on, and because the majority of people didn’t find out about the accident until the drive home Monday morning, festival-goers were still very much in party mode.
The first major act on Sunday was Toots and the Maytals. Now, I know Toots is getting old and he and the Maytals have been playing together since 1962, but he could use a little hop in his step. The show was unfortunately a flat, simple deliverance of tunes, and the whole band seemed a little uninterested in this affair. Granted, I don’t think they were used to playing at a festival but it was still fun to see (somewhat of) a living legend.
Their set was followed by the supposed last show at All Good from The Bridge. This talented group has been playing for over 10 years with minimal success, so they’ve decided to call it quits. It certainly didn’t seem like their last performance as they played with plenty of energy and spirit that made me hope this wouldn’t be the last I’d be seeing of them.
Closing out the music early was Dark Star Orchestra. I guess someone has to play the day sets, but like Hot Buttered Rum and Yonder, this band should have been scheduled after sunset. At last year’s event, the mountains were vibrating from the music Dark Star was making, and they simply couldn’t have that effect at five in the afternoon. Like Furthur, they played mostly Grateful Dead covers, recreating them spot on, note for note, and all-in-all very successfully. It was a poignant end to a musically rich weekend.
Big thanks go out to All Good Presents, Work Exchange Team, Clean Vibes, and everyone else who made the festival possible. I’m sure you know what a gift you have given to us. See ya in 2012!