Another Look at All Good
Making friends at any festival is always easy; your introductory line is already paved for you. “Which set are you most excited to see?” And you’re off and running. The ‘music as unity’ vibe makes for a great social microcosm of new friends, acquaintances and brief one-off encounters. This summer’s All Good Music Festival, now in its 16th year, gave fans an even easier route to conversation, and it was the most common question of the weekend: “What do you think of this new venue?”
Indeed, All Good was a fest in transition. After years at Marvin’s Mountaintop in rural West Virginia, this year the mid-sized jam fest was sprawled over Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio, July 19-22. Festival organizers worked diligently to create familiar visuals: the tri-towered entrance, colorfully adorned Dragon and Crane stages, the large hilltop letters spelling All Good. But just like Red Rocks Amphitheatre, All Good had become intrinsically tied to its setting. The move from the serene, secluded Mountaintop to Legend Valley, with the traffic of I-70 visible from the grounds, was a tough one. For many All Good faithful, the weekend felt like moving out of your childhood home.
Thankfully, All Good is as well known for its setting as for its collection of the scene’s best and brightest. By Thursday night, with the one-two punch of a Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis set followed by Phil Lesh & Friends, the topic of conversation began to refocus. With the stage draped in blue light, Weir’s trio drifted slowly from a jazzy breeze into a full rock machine, as Marsalis’ saxophone grew to an E-Street style screamer. While Weir and Hornsby meshed well, it was Marsalis’ crisp, clean sound that pushed the riveting gallop of “Jack Straw” and the elated “Franklin’s Tower” to become something altogether unique and exciting.
Weir’s blazing show cleared the way for the decidedly bouncier Lesh set, helping package the festival’s first night as a delicious Grateful Dead grab bag of varying styles before a late night Shpongle set of elastic, blasting psychedelic trance. Shpongle’s new Masquerade set up was a stripped down stage of bubbling projected lights and visuals maybe best seen inside a smaller club, but mind-bending nonetheless.
The onset of Friday saw a welcome change: “Did you like Bobby or Phil better?” was the topic of the day, overshadowing talk of Legend Valley’s lesser points. The day’s lineup was all about momentum, as The Wood Brothers and ALO launched with mellow jams before SOJA and Yonder Mountain String Band brought the crowd to a near-boil, the latter rolling through a cover of Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend Is Better.”
SOJA’s Jacob Hemphill finally announced what so many had been thinking and discussing on the ground. In the midst of his band’s joyous, thumping reggae rock, he admitted, “We used to camp in General Admission and get faded with all of you, then go watch Gov’t Mule on the Mountaintop. So when we looked at the map this year, we said ‘Oh, shit.’ But it feels the same from here. I hope it feels the same down there.”
From there, Friday night was musically unstoppable: the ever-ecstatic Flaming Lips blew into rising electro-groove masters Papadosio, followed by a truly earth-shaking late night funk set by Galactic, with the New Orleans party-starters causing the weekend’s biggest rave-up.
While All Good’s late night lineup lacked a true electronic superstar (outside of Shpongle, Big Gigantic and Conspirator nabbed daytime sets), dubstep DJ’s kept people’s teeth chattering on the Grassroots side stage until sunrise each night. As the crowd was composed of equal parts Grateful Dead vintage t-shirts and “Sex, Drugs and Dubstep” tanktops, the Grassroots acts ensured no one went unsatisfied.
The heavy beats of Conspirator and Big Gigantic bookended a mostly soothing Saturday with sets from Tea Leaf Green, Railroad Earth and Dark Star Orchestra. But once Big Gigantic took off, the cocktail of the reunited Bridge, followed by The Allman Brothers Band, Lettuce and Lotus didn’t let up. The clashing guitars of Allman’s Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes were exhilarating as they tore up classics like “One Way Out,” “Hot ‘Lanta” and “Whipping Post.”
Capitalizing on their late night reputation from All Good 2009, Lotus’ laser sharp glow-rock kept the crowd moving past 3 a.m. An explosion of light and sound, the set wiped away any remaining hesitation; there was no highway, there was no strict security. There was nothing missing. All Good was in that field, where it had always been.