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All Good Music Festival Review: ...And it's Still All Good

Jul 22, 2015 05:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds

…And it’s still All Good

Returning to West Virginia with a three-day festival from July 9th to 11th at Berry Hill Farm in Summit Point, All Good Music Festival’s 18th incarnation touted a lineup featuring acts both familiar to the event and hungry for recognition, a formula which made the event’s musical portion a resounding success. The event’s new backdrop harbored a different feel from All Good sites of yesteryear (the event’s more recent past includes a long run in scenic Masontown, West Virginia and two years in less-pastoral Thornville, Ohio). Mostly unremarkable and utilitarian, the venue’s close proximity to its bulk of attendees and lack of frills made it logistically friendly.

Live music promoters All Good Presents, based in Jefferson, Maryland, routinely promote acts on the rise for shows in the Baltimore-DC metro area. With this year’s festival less than an hour from D.C. and less than two hours from Baltimore and Annapolis, the decision to take many of these acts and stuff them into the large-scale festival’s lineup paid off. The following is a run-down of festival features and several categories of acts. It is not meant to be comprehensive. The number of acts with impressive sets seemed unprecedented. Whereas many festivals see hours of time go by with acts attendees wouldn’t mind missing, downtime at this year’s All Good was nearly non-existent.

The familiar

All Good’s signature hanging lanterns, entrance pagodas and Budai statue were all present. Phish lighting director Chris Kuroda was back to dazzle attendees with resplendent lighting accompaniments. Many of the larger acts on the bill were familiar to returning attendees. Several of these acts referenced the festival’s return to West Virginia in their stage banter. None did as poignantly as Primus’ delightfully weird front man Les Claypool, who lovingly dubbed the new venue the “Old Corn Patch.”

STS9’s Thursday late-night set brought to mind their spectacular 2011 run through the same timeslot, with a notable difference. The band’s new bassist and cosmic center Alanna Rocklin has the group performing with renewed vigor and a reaffirmed commitment to instrumental funk. Another familiar jamtronica act, Lotus, closed the festival out in spectacular fashion on Saturday night. Superb versions of Lotus classics “Suitcases,” “Livingston Storm,” and “Spiritualize,” all memorable numbers from the band’s 2004 magnum opus Nomad, made the set a keeper. The band also performed a welcome cover of Tame Imapala’s driving “Elephant,” complete with talk-box vocals.

The Everyone Orchestra, an amorphous, touring act, which features conductor Matt Butler and a revolving door of performers improvising with each other, was back for yet another All Good daytime set. Their performance marked Butler’s best directed All Good slot in years, featuring incredible interplay and off-the-cuff riffing. With the horn section and percussion of Brooklyn funk powerhouse Turkuaz, several members of super-group The Word, The Bridge and solo phenom guitarist Cris Jacobs and Cabinet banjo wizard Pappy Biondio taking cues and inspiration from each other, the set did not lack for enthusiasm. For Cris Jacobs, playing with Everyone Orchestra presents a new journey each time.

“It's always a fun adventure to play with musicians I've never played with before we hit the stage, let alone met,” he said. Though almost wholly unfamiliar with the lineup prior to the show, Jacobs seemed at ease and playful with his riffing and soloing throughout the set.

“The All Good set was awesome because I hadn't played with any of them, except for one, who happened to be my good friend and one of my favorite guitarists to play with, DJ Williams,” he said.

“It's a beautiful thing when musicians of that caliber can get together without any ego or pretense about it being "their" gig, and just open up and listen and search for those magical moments.”

The unfamiliar

The festival has housed a feeling of exile since its unfortunate departure from Marvin’s Mountaintop in 2011. Its two years at Thornville Ohio’s Legend Valley venue were full of great music and fan-friendly, but they also presented a sharp contrast to the natural beauty of Masontown. This year’s stacked lineup and no-frills location directed the event’s focus squarely to the action on stage. The conveniently short travel to the event for many attendees was a new perk. Missing was the event’s signature nightly firework finale, which traditionally took place as a headlining act ended and a late-night set began.

Colorado funk act The Motet led a high-energy dance party on Thursday evening, with uptempo original material and grooved out jaunts through classics like David Bowie’s “Fame” and Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie.” Their set remained unmatched for energy until Friday’s set by all-star Grateful Dead tribute act Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. Former Russo-Benevento Duo and Furthur drummer Joe Russo has assembled a group of musicians who take the Grateful Dead’s expansive catalog to new places.

To call the group a cover band does not do their energy and inventiveness justice. The group’s jams Friday, led by vocalist and lead guitarist Tom Hamilton’s fearless soloing, careened and jolted and exploded in all of the right directions, taking the crowd on a ride through Dead classics like “Reuben and Cherise,” “Feel Like a Stranger,” and “Franklin’s Tower.” On Sunday, when the dust has settled, J.R.A.D.’s set stood alone as the most memorable of the weekend.

Late 90’s/Early 2000’s alternative rockers Cake were a puzzling headliner choice and one unfamiliar to the festival’s traditionally routine choices of headliners. The band’s set seemed highly anticipated, as their selection for a marquee set hinted at a performance fit to supersede more musically virtuosic acts. When the band took the stage however, it become obvious that the act was a poor fit for the event.

The band’s music was solid—nothing special, and played well enough—but lead singer John McCrea’s seemingly never-ending rants rang puzzling and misplaced. McCrea’s aimless speeches, which stretched on for minutes at a time and addressed anything from pent up hostility and living in the moment instead of capturing an experience by phone camera, seemed intended for a less informed audience of music fans. Attendees of festivals like All Good have earned themselves a deserved reputation for dedication to music and detaching from “real life” while enjoying a festival experience. Audience members were notably agitated by McCrea’s antagonistic rants.

The-up-and-comers

The aforementioned rising acts the event’s promoters stuffed their lineup with were the most notable aspect of the event. Daytime sets from Long Island instrumental rockers Tauk (who threw down an incredible “Eleanor Rigby” cover), Baltimore funk rockers Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (whose set may have been the biggest of their career to date) and previously noted funk collective Turkuaz were performances to remember.

Carolina jam-rockers Big Something wowed an early morning crowd with a 10:30 a.m. timeslot on the Believe in Music stage. According to lead guitarist Jesse Hensley, the feeling was mutual. “I think we all were completely blown away by the response,” he said of their early set. “Everyone we encountered were nothing but the most positive, friendly people,” he said.

Many taper copies of the weekend’s sets can be found for streaming or download on Internet Archive:

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead:
https://archive.org/details/jrad2015-07-10.m934b_24bit

Lotus:
https://archive.org/details/lotus2015-07-11

STS9:
https://archive.org/details/sts92015-07-09.m934b_16bit

The Bridge:
https://archive.org/details/thebridge2015-07-10.m934b_16bit

Lettuce:
https://archive.org/details/lettuce2015-07-10.m934b_24bit

John Butler Trio:
https://archive.org/details/JohnButlerTrio2015-07-09

Dark Star Orchestra:
https://archive.org/details/dso2015-07-11.m934b_24bit

Antibalas:
https://archive.org/details/antibalas2015-07-10.m934b_24bit

The Motet:
https://archive.org/details/motet2015-07-09.m934b_16bit

TAUK:
https://archive.org/details/tauk2015-07-11.m934b_16bit

By Stephen Perraud