All Good Music Festival, Marvin’s Mountaintop, Masontown WV- 5/16 & 17
Rain on the weather forecast and the All Good Festival often go together like garlic and grilled cheese. This year looked to be no different. Though Mother Nature managed to provide a bleak gray backdrop to some of the weekend's festivities, it did little to deter the smiles and good vibes being offered by all in attendance. Though some rain was dropped on Tim Walther's seventh annual springtime festival, nothing could top the rain, sleet, and snow of last year's frozen festival, and a running joke all weekend was "not as bad as last year".
I arrived on Friday afternoon and began setting up camp as the swampy sounds of Mofro lilted over from the stage. Though everyone looked skyward all afternoon long, rain never actually fell, and by the time I made it over to the concert grounds North Carolina’s Acoustic Syndicate had taken to the stage and begun spreading their rollicking down home bluegrass hybrid music all over the audience. Guitarist Steve McMurry busted a string on the first song, "a good sign" he remarked to the audience, proving the band wasn’t going to hold anything back. Their sound rides heavily on Jay Sanders thumping upright bass, as banjo and acoustic guitar licks spring back and forth. They cannot be pinned down, however, though the instrumentation leads to the immediate "bluegrass" labeling they are much more diverse. Acoustic Syndicate’s set was chock full of songs off of their new album, Terra Firma and provided a little bit of everything, at times sounding more like jazz, rock, or reggae than bluegrass.
The All Mighty Senators were next, and the pride of Baltimore delivered with foot moving funk and body rocking intensity. Bassist Jack Denny, hair blowing in the chilly wind, "Winger-style", delivered the bounce and Landis Expandis delivered the beat as the Senators got the crowd pumping. Their set featured many AMS standards, "Culture Shock" and "Power Generator" among them, as well as a helping of newer songs which delve in the all out rock and roll side of the charm city warriors. Landis dedicated their cover of "Ring of Fire" to the recently departed Rosanne Carter Cash, the song’s co-author, a down note, but one that couldn’t slow down the Senators. The blend of house party stylings and rock and soul grooves delighted the Marvin’s Mountaintop crowd and the band was urged to play one more. Guitarist Warren Boes heavily teased "Welcome to the Jungle" before dropping into Senators’ staple, "Giant Steps". The invocation of Guns n’ Roses was simply foreshadowing for the searing in-your-face rock and roll that lay ahead.
The North Mississippi Allstars, led by Luther and Cody Dickinson, proceeded to burn the house down. Their blues sound, rich in authenticity and heavy in attitude, electrified and intensified the sonic assault being delivered on all within earshot of the speaker towers. The Allstars deftly wove through a set of tradition laden smoldering southern roadhouse blues. Luther’s slide sound tears through the listener, guitarist Duwayne Burnside providing rhythmic crunch to keep the train moving. All the while, Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew remain locked tightly, providing a steam-rolling beat to get on top of. Their set featured all the North Mississippi favorites, "Sugartown", "Shake em On Down" and "Po’ Black Maddie" stuck out. Drummer Cody Dickinson showed his versatility as he left the drum riser for two songs, Burnside taking over the kit. Cody’s songs, and most of the All Stars catalogue seemed to revel in trains, whisky, loose women, ramblin’, and leaving those women behind. The set came to a feverish climax with a rollicking "Turn On Your Lovelight" and then, like southern juke jointers trying to catch the next freight out, the band was gone.Joules Graves took the stage for a so-called "tweener" set, as the stage crew rapidly began assembling the technological wizardry of Keller Williams beside her. Accompanied by an acoustic guitar, and a times, a hand drum, Grave’s high lilting voice washed over the crowd. The audience was so quiet, that when Graves wasn’t singing, the only sound accompanying her guitar was the sound of the chilly night wind blowing across her microphone like thunder in the distance. Her songs, touching on the ethereal and the political were poetic, at times funny, and at times moving. She beat along on a hand drum as she sang Amazing Grace, before strapping on the guitar once more, for her closer, "People of the Earth Tribe", which left the audience chanting "Earth, wind, fire, air, we are everywhere". Graves then left the stage, but could be found dancing in the front row of every other set the rest of the evening.
The ultimate one-man band was up next, as Keller Williams strode on for his fourth All Good Festival appearence, one which he would declare the "best ever" before exiting. Opening with Bob Marley’s "Trenchtown Rock" KW was off, and everyone agreed, that the one good thing about music, is when it hits, you feel no pain. Though in this case it was, no rain. Keller’s looping and layering never fails to astound, and taking it in live is a treat. There are few out there more fun to watch work. His set featured many of his trademark zany originals, such as "Bob Rules", "Boob Job" and "Freaker by the Speaker". His rendition of the classic Jerry ballad, "Standing on the Moon" was extremely well received, audience screaming in delight as he sang "... on a back porch in West Virginia", the cloud cover over Marvin’s Mountaintop was heavy, the moon still managed to peak through to have a look. He picked up an acoustic four string bass guitar, and implored the audience to not listen to a word he said, but to "focus on the bass". His lyrics were wry and amusing, one fan I talked to the next day lamented on how he wished he’d written the song. Keller encored with his trademark tune, "The Best Felling" and the crowd knew just what he was talking about.
The night’s closing main stage act was Galactic, and the band came with a beat to throttle the audience with. Stanton Moore pounded the skins with reckless abandon and there were a mere few scattered about who could dare to take their eyes off him. Their set consisted of their funkiest instrumentals, bassist Robert Mercurio propelling the group, never missing a beat and, with Moore, proving to be one of the most energetic rhythm sections on the scene today. Vocalist Theryl "Houseman" deClouet brought his growing vocals to the stage only briefly thoughout the set, allowing the band to focus on providing the audience with a mesmerizing and highly danceable funk soul attack. The Houseman reemerged for the encore, Dylan’s "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" the whole audience agreed in unison with the sentiment.
Saturday brought more gray skies. This time though, it seemed that Mother Nature meant business and we wouldn’t be able to skirt by without rain, as we had done the day before. By the time Carbon Leaf’s set began to wind down, the second of the day following Liz Berlin & Jenn Wertz, the sky finally gave up on holding all the water it had been dangling over our heads. The rain really started to come down, and the stage crew began scrambling to cover Umphrey’s McGee’s equipment. The stage speakers were lowered and a wait ensued. Walther Productions really dropped the ball by proceeding to bump Umphrey’s and Jazz Mandolin Project’s sets, due to the rain, which was fairly light, and laughable compared to rain endured by all who attended the year prior. My spirits were seriously dampened, because the only thing worse than standing in the rain watching a band is standing in the rain to watch a band, and having that band not come on.
I returned to the stage area for Big Mountain, who delivered an entertaining set of reggae music to an audience ready to try their hardest to forget about the gloomy weather and widespread mud. Their set was pretty good, and was interspersed with a great deal of talk about politics, philosophy, and the like. The high tempo polyethnic Cajun slamgrass of Leftover Salmon was next, and the audience began to swell as the lure of the music was finally more powerful than the lure of the campgrounds for those hell bent on partying. Salmon’s set proved that they are a force to be reckoned with, and they displayed an incredible tightness and the ability to change it up on a dime. Besides delivering their usually rollicking bluegrass sound, the band also dipped their toe into exploratory jamming on a long and spacey "Poor Wayfaring Stranger". For the song, Vince Herman dropped the guitar and stood at the mic, howling out the lyrics. He then donned a washboard and scrubbed along on an out of this world ending to the tune. New additions to the Salmon lineup shone brightly. Noam Pikelny, was blistering on the banjo and keyboardist Bill McKay provided an explosive organ sound and added soulful vocals to a couple of blues numbers. More than anything though, I came away shaking my head and marveling at the soul and ability of Drew Emmitt. On mandolin or guitar, he provided the horses that pulled the Salmon sound along. Nothing astounds more than his singing voice, and as he almost cries the lyrics, you know that are being delivered straight from the heart. The set closing "Tangled Up in Blue" had everyone dancing and singing along loudly as the energy in the concert area reached a level it had yet to reach so far that day. But there was more to come.
DJ Logic’s equipment and records were rolled into place as he began his "tweener" set. Though not one for electronic music myself, DJ Logic delivered an interesting set, mixing songs many were familiar with, all with a pulsating beat. The highlight came when he spun "Frankenstein", removing the song’s usual drum solo, and replacing it with record scratches. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe then emerged, and proved that they brought their "Bag of Funk". Denson is phenomenal as bandleader and has managed to assemble one of the tightest ensembles out there. Together with trumpet player Chris Littlefield, Denson’s horn parts pop out, and blast out fist pumping and ass shaking grooves. My legs and feet were hurting from the constant hiking back and forth across the festival grounds in the mud, but I still managed to dance hardest to Tiny Universe’s set. The rhythm section is tremendous, providing insatiably danceable beats, as guitarist Brian Jordan and keys man David Vieth exploded on one raging solo after another. Warren Haynes emerged for what would be the highlight of the festival, his two absolutely raging numbers with Denson and company. As Warren launched into a white hot slide solo on his sunburst Les Paul guitar, Denson took the mic and implored the crowd to "Shake Your Tailfeather", and the crowd obliged.
The final main stage act of the evening was the esteemed Mr. Haynes and Gov't Mule. Greg Rzab did a great job holding down the bass duties as this barrelhouse of a band began to tore through a monster of a set. "Blind Man in the Dark" the opener, found Haynes stepping to the mic, harmonizing with his lyrics with his guitar, the man is a treaure. "Lay Your Burden Down" was explosive and featured a distinct "Get Up Stand Up" tease, first by Haynes, and then echoed by Rzab. Blistering versions of "Thorazine Shuffle", "Banks of the Deep End" (my favorite from the recent albums), and "Effigy" followed as the quartet proved to be an explosive closing act to any bill. For "Sco Mule" Haynes called DJ Logic back out from the wings to add his turntables to the tune. Anyone who heard Logic's remix of the song on the bonus disc included with The Deep End Vol. Two, knew it was a good idea. Haynes, Rzab, and keyboard player Danny Louis left the stage, allowing Logic to scratch along with Matt Abts ferocious drumbeat for a while before the front line returned to bring the song to a close. This proved to be an electrifying point in the set, and one the band would capitalize on by building furious momentum. The soulfully moving tandem of "Into the Mystic" and "Beautifully Broken" were next and I just smiled ear to ear. A rocking "Mule" closed the set and the crowd erupted, salivating for one last taste. Haynes and company reemerged, began slowly and quietly slipping into their cover of Radiohead's "Creep". Not a band to stay quiet for long, by the time the first chorus rolled around, distortion was roaring and the Mule was rearing its' head. Haynes' anthem "Soulshine" was next, along with a song I didn't recognize to close the show. As the band exited the stage festival attendees screamed in unison for just a little more. Some people ambled up the hill for Reid Genour's late night set, but I didn't have a drop of energy left after the three mind bending sets I'd just experience. I dragged my weary dancing bones off to sleep I smiled and thought that I need to do this every weekend.