It's an 'All Good' Review
Jul 26, 2011 09:44PM ● Published by Anonymous
In its 15th year and now cemented as a bona fide institution for music lovers on the East Coast and beyond, Masontown, West Virginia’s All Good Music Festival offered a weekend jam-packed with talented musicians of varying styles from July 14th to 17th. The variety of the festival’s bill, though palpable, does have limits, as it has very much remained centered around the tradition of bands that have continued the musical legacy of the hard touring, musically long winded Grateful Dead.
Since All Good Festival’s humble beginnings at Wilmer’s Park in Brandywine in 1997, several festivals have sprouted up and employed a similar format. However, no other festival has remained as true to its musical roots while retaining as large of a draw. Manchester, Tennessee’s Bonnaroo festival, which began with a lineup similarly focused on bands that extend jams and draw faithful followers, has since ballooned into one of the country’s largest annual gatherings, featuring mainstream artists that ensure the festival’s attendance remain mammoth.
Along with the financial success and large names of acts that festivals like Bonnaroo include with their size, logistical problems seem to come hand in hand. So, while other festivals struggle to keep safety and comfort up to par for packed in fans, All Good’s size and consistency have allowed them to satisfy fans’ basic needs, while keeping security a top priority. According to several of the festival’s employees, last year’s “sold out” festival, was not given as strict of a cap on the number of tickets sold, which showed in the form of packed campgrounds and concert areas.
This year, the festival sold out once again, however, the 25,000 capacity limits seemed to be much more enforced. This ensured ample camping space and even greater access to necessary amenities like bathrooms and drinking water for attendees.
The festival has gained a reputation over the years for treating artists very well and being an extremely fun venue to play. Reflecting on his late night set, Karl Denson, front man for the formidable funk group Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe made it clear that the atmosphere is special.
“It’s a blast”, he said. “Especially coming after Primus. That was fun. We’ve done a few of these [late sets] now and it’s always a blast, especially with the size of everything. It’s an awesome feeling,” Denson said.
All Good has also long served as a way for bands to gain valuable exposure. California reggae rockers Rebelution were given a much later set than last year, and experienced a much larger and more responsive crowd at their second All Good.
“This year we saw that a lot of people knew the words to our music. So I think a lot of people maybe saw us for the first time last year and this year they were a little bit more familiar,” said Erich Rachmany, lead singer and guitarist for Rebelution. “It was just really cool to see the crowd expand and go deeper and have people be more familiar with the music…more people were coming out because the sun was going down. It couldn’t have been better for us,“ he said.
Yonder Mountain String Band performs at the All Good Music Festival.
Similar to last year, the festival featured a Friday headlining spot for Furthur- Grateful Dead band members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir’s most recent musical venture. This year’s lineup, however, was shaken up a bit with the booking of Primus in the event’s Saturday primetime slot. Led by bizarre and eccentric bassist and vocalist Les Claypool, Primus’ dark and twisted sound provided a change of pace from the typically funk or blues influenced jam style acts booked by Tim Walther, the event’s director. A welcome addition for this year to the weekend’s festive and carnival like atmosphere was a large Ferris wheel, giving attendees the chance to check out a spectacular view of the mountainous grounds, and a landmark for which to locate their camping area. While the festival’s lineup is stacked with talent from top to bottom, it would be impossible to recognize every group with due recognition. Below you will find a brief run through of each group that stood out- no easy task in such a packed group of talented performers.
Performing in the late night slot for Thursday, (before many attendees had arrived), Sound Tribe Sector 9 lead an exultant hillside of fans through an engaging set of electronically influenced jamming. The group’s futuristic sound is achieved by mixing computer samples with traditional rock and roll instruments, with the lines between disco, jazz, funk, and electronica blurred until they are hardly recognizable. The band was forced to cancel their winter and spring dates when bassist and fan favorite David Murphy (known to many as Murph) was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his sinus cavity. Murphy’s subsequent recovery has been met with utmost support from the group’s large fan base, and the set served as a special occasion for many seeing the band for the first time since his successful recovery. The set lasted from 1:30 am to 3:40 am.
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad
Having made the move from the festival’s smallest stage to its largest in just a year, Rochester, New York’s Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad belted out their laid back and well crafted dub reggae styling well in the hot West Virginia sun. With a new lead guitarist on board for the gig and family present, (about halfway through the set, one of the band members announced that all of his grandparents were in attendance) the band surely won over plenty of new fans while also visibly enjoying themselves in the process.
With upbeat, funky rhythms and loud, in your face horns, New Orleans natives Galactic treated the still energetic Friday daytime crowd to a party done right- New Orleans style. With former In Living Colour vocalist Corey Glover complimenting the band’s vivacious horn punctuations and groovy rhythm section, the bar for performance for the rest of the afternoon was set high. Standing out among the large group of talented musicians on stage was special guest Corey Henry, trombone player and member of fellow New Orleans outfit Rebirth Brass Band.
With shrieking, wailing vocals, watching Dana Fuchs and her band perform immediately brings to mind comparisons with Janis Joplin. Fuchs’ intense vocals seem to be a direct tribute and mainly influenced by the deceased 1960’s icon. Fuchs’ boisterous stage presence and engaging show kept the audience interested, while her talented backing band held the set together.
Warren Haynes Band
Incredibly visible throughout the “jam band” circuit, Warren Haynes continues to be one of the most prolific modern guitarists and vocalists. Haynes has both made an impression as a late joining member of well-known bands (The Allman Brothers, The Dead), and with a solo catalog that stands on its own as noteworthy. Haynes and his band truly found their stride at All Good with an entertaining cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”. Closing the set with one of his staples, “Soulshine”, Warren and his band seemed to be leaving the crowd wanting more.
Performing two well-played sets under a radiant full moon, Furthur continues to mesh as a band and take the musical tradition of the Grateful Dead in new directions. Without a distinguishable theme for the night, the band explored many of the Grateful Dead’s best loved songs, unleashed a fantastic cover of The Beatles’ “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”, and closed their performance by serenading the crammed hillside with the traditional acapella number “And We Bid You Goodnight”. A massive fireworks display provided a stimulating transition between Furthur’s Americana based music and modern electronic outfit Big Gigantic.
Picking up a furious pace as they took off beginning their late night set, Big Gigantic mixed electronic music, hip hop, jazz and funk in a loud, expressive display of creativity. Dominic Lalli, an energetic stage presence, controls DJ duties with a laptop while also rocking the crowd on the saxophone. Complimenting Lalli and keeping time throughout complex soundscapes and studio crafted beats is drummer Jeremy Salken. Whether performing original songs that allow Lalli to creatively explore daring improvisation on saxophone or spinning their own version of popular rap songs (Wiz Khalifa’s megahit “Black and Yellow” and Notorious BIG’s “Notorious Thugs”), Big Gigantic was a spectacular choice for a late night time slot and an enjoyable performance for those who opted to stay awake.
Ripping furiously through a set that featured both classic Primus (“Jerry Was A Racecar Driver”, “Tommy The Cat”) and new material, an exciting new chapter in All Good history was unfolded. Les Claypool joked with the crowd, saying that while it was dark, there seemed to be an abundance of attractive people. He was quick to add, however, that his recent tour dates in Norway had featured a superior crowd in this department. Primus’ performance showcased what made this quirky group a success for decades- a dark sense of humor, unbelievably talented members, and an over the top, loud sound.
The Rex Jam featuring the Everyone Orchestra
With an all star group of musicans on stage that included guitarist Zach Deputy, moe. guitarist Al Schnier, Greensky Bluegrass dobro player Anders Beck, trumpet player Jennifer Hartswick, and many more, the ever morphing Everyone Orchestra’s “Rex Jam” was a way for fans to give back to the beautiful area they were visiting. By collecting money throughout the set for the Rex Foundation, originated by members of the Grateful Dead, the group helped raise money for the greatly underprivileged music programs of local West Virginia schools. The jam itself was something to behold, with leader Matt Butler gesturing wildly while conducting the various musicians, creating a unique jam that could not be replicated. “You’d think you’d be nervous when you get up there with no idea what you’re going to play, but it’s just so much fun”, Beck said through a grin while recalling the jam.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
While most late night acts at All Good fall into the electronic category, the festival chose to wisely buck that trend by scheduling Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe as a late show after Primus’ primetime billing. The group made some changes to their standard show in order to keep the energy high in their short 45-minute time slot.
“With the brevity of it, you’ve gotta kinda hit it hard”, Denson said.
“The song that we started with, you know we would probably do that like three quarters of the way into the set, but because we were coming after Primus, we decided to drop it first.” The group’s tight funk sound, spearheaded by Denson’s amazing saxophone and vocal abilities make them one of a rare few authentic funk bands still touring regularly today.
Check out this video of Greensky Bluegrass warming up backstage...