The All Good Festival Travelblogue: Day One
Words By Andy “HumpDayFunk” DeVilbiss (www.facebook.com/HumpDayFunk)
Photos By Brian DeVilbiss
To put it mildly, the All Good Music Festival has a peculiar hold on me. The festival's co-creator, Tim Walther and his production company are based in my area and have been bringing great live music to local venues since my high school days. It's always kind of been my local festival, and, really, a trailblazer for camp-out events. I was at the first All Good in Brandywine, Maryland, at Wilmer's Park, a name that brings a sparkle to the eye of any local head old enough to remember it. I was at the majority of the next ten as the festival floated through various sites, battling local opposition and the unpredictable weather of May. Yes, May. All Good used to be in May, around Memorial Day. It was the Daytona 500 to kick off festival season.
I was there in Spotsylvania, Virginia, where it rained all weekend and once so hard during lunch that we couldn't eat our chili before the bowls filled with water. I was there at another site in West Virginia (Sunshine Daydream?) where it SNOWED, which ultimately caused the permanent rescheduling of All Good to July. I was there when All Good found its new home on Marvin's Mountaintop outside of Masontown, West Virginia. I was also there for three straight years of random people requiring medical attention somehow ending up in our campsite. It was such a run of bad festival luck that it forced me to call it quits after All Good 10.
Thanks to the beauty of its new home, the ability to book incredible acts and its commitment to non-overlapping sets, I sat and watched as All Good's national reputation grew to the point that Walther Productions is now known as All Good Presents in honor of the company's crown jewel. Every year I checked the line-up. I entered every contest because I figured the bad luck would be exorcised by winning a ticket. I watched the iClips webcasts. I downloaded as many sets as I could find. I obviously still wanted to be part of the All Good experience. Even when I wasn't there, All Good still had me in its groovy grasp.
So I was excited and horrified when my wookie overlords at MusicMarauders offered me the opportunity (and a press pass) to cover All Good 15. It was the final push I needed to head back up to Marvin's Mountaintop for the first time in five years. I don't know that you can strictly call the following a review. Think of it as one man's All Good Travelblogue.
My younger brother Brian and I hit the road later than we planned. Ain't it always how you start? As he had made a hobby of taking incredible nature shots and had the gear, Brian would be serving as my photographer for the weekend. We made the relatively short 215-mile drive to Morgantown, West Virginia, It was nice to have some quality one on one time with my brother. He's a new father so his spare time is truly spare. We chatted while I made iPhone playlists on the fly, playing the "Are they going to All Good, too?" guessing game with the cars we passed. Sadly, there were plenty of All Good patrons on the side of the road. The police presence along the interstates in Maryland was thick. As I summed up to our neighbors later that weekend, "They knew we were coming."
We hit the Ramada in Morgantown to grab our media passes. Then a stop at Sheetz for gas and last minute items (Two hot dogs for one dollar is winning). It was 2:30 PM. Gates had just opened, and we only had 15 miles to backtrack to get to the festival site. Our friend Ethan was ahead of us with the intention of scouting a good spot for our campsite. I thought we we're golden.
About four hours and innumerable expletives later, we finally parked the car. I immediately noticed a huge difference from my last visit. Cars and camping were no longer separate. It was a free-for-all. We were already separated from our advance scout. Luckily we reunited, and Brian and I decided to just huff our gear to Ethan's spot, figuring the one-time effort would be worth ensuring a weekend of camping with friends. Unfortunately, due to the delays in entry combined with camp set-up and dinner-eating, we were unable to catch a single note of Hot Buttered Rum.
The walk was longer than anticipated as we paused along the way to take in All Good's first Ferris wheel. Beats Antique were well into their set when we reached the gates of the concert area. We took a moment to admire the glorious Buddha statue in the distance, the laser-light pagodas that served as the entry, and the Hollywood-style, light-up "WELCOME TO ALL GOOD" sign on the hill above that would slowly transform into "MELT" as the weekend progressed.
* * * *
Random All Good Story #1 or The Author's Kind Of A Jerk
On our way, as usual, there was a golf cart trying to get through throngs of people walking. I yelled real loudly "GET OUT OF THE WAY!!" y'know, to... help, and continued walking. A moment later I was next to a woman, clearly already having overindulged in something from the spun cookie column. She's yelling, "Say excuse me! You don't have to rude and loud and yelling at people!" at the cart driver, who is well on his way and well beyond earshot.
She didn't know it was me who had yelled it, and I'm an instigator, friends. So I looked at my brother, and he gave me that subtle "I'll play along" green-light smile that only brothers can. I asked her what was going on. She railed on about the driver - how he yelled at her then almost ran her over and killed her vibe. I stifled an evil smile and the gist of my reply and our ensuing conversation was, "Really? That guy must be some kind of asshole. I mean who would do such a thing?" (Cue the "This Guy" thumb-point.)
* * * *
One thing was immediately apparent once we got within sight of the stage. Thursday night had never been this big five years ago. I was shocked by the amount of people who showed up for what used to be All Good's JV Night with all acts playing on the sidestage. The decision to book acts big enough for the main "Dragon" stage for the first time on a Thursday like the John Butler Trio and STS9 proved to be a great move. There was a good amount of people in the pit and on the concert hill, and they were ready to rock and/or roll.
A collaboration between producers David Satori and Tommy Cappel and the beautiful belly-dancing Zoe Jakes, Beats Antique is a fusion of heavy bass, worldly tribal drums and dancing spectacle. They provided a perfect rhythm for the pit of fire dancers and had the crowd pumping. Their performance included an assortment of animal-masked backup dancers, which made me think of the future appearance of Primus, as Les Claypool often shows a penchant for weird facial accessories.
DJ Who began spinning on the "Crane" sidestage, and I bobbed my head along the way to the media tent as Brian and I went to find out if there were any papers to be signed for photos. We caught up with our friend Jeff from Cosmic Vibes Live and geared up for the John Butler Trio as we mingled with the other media folks, who proved quite a nice group. I was excited.
Like a lot of acts at All Good, I didn't know much about the John Butler Trio. I read a little about him, and I thought he seemed like a poppier Australian Ben Harper. I didn't listen to any tracks or watch any YouTube videos. I'd made a decision a few weeks before the festival to just go in completely fresh for any act I'd never really heard or seen before.
People... John Butler is the truth. He's got an incredible voice and a crazy, unique guitar style, whether plying some serious pickin' on your standard issue models or laptop dobros. Yes, I would say that he has little of the early Ben Harper vibe to him in that his band is a trio (Nicky Bomba on drums and Byron Luiters on bass. Both solid.) and the ladies seem to really REALLY dig him. Things started out fairly straight-ahead, with a couple popular numbers, judging by the amount of people singing along. As their set progressed, things got significantly trippier with several extended space-jams. I had no clue Mr. Butler and company would be this psychedelic, yet it still felt grounded, earthy, due to the minimalist line-up and Butler's gritty talent and captivating presence. They impressed a lot of people, and, indeed, the John Butler Trio would be one of the blanks in the "Did you see [blank]? They were awesome!" conversations I overheard the remainder of the weekend.
John Butler Trio Live at All Good Music Festival on July 14, 2011.
I suppose, technically, STS9 was also a new act to me. I have pretty much all their albums, and I'd followed their career from its early days, listening to their sound evolve and solidify. Still, I'd never seen them live, ever. I know. Bad Andy. Well, I said I was going to be honest, so here goes. Maybe it was ten years of expectations of what an STS9 show would be. Maybe I was just a little tired after a really long day. Maybe I wasn't as familiar with the intricacies of their music as I thought. Whatever the reason, I was a tad underwhelmed.
The band was tight. They deserve their reputation for a rock-solid ability to lock into a groove. It was a pretty spectacular light show. The crowd was hype. I just found it all a bit flat. I didn't really detect a lot of real progression or changes in the jams. It seemed all the peaks were just about volume. The music just got louder or softer. Did I hate it? No. Would I give STS9 another chance in a live setting? Sure. Perhaps erroneously, I just expected more. Or perhaps my perception of the uniqueness of STS9's approach has dulled a little as livetronica has become such a well-represented genre just about everywhere now.
Afterward we indulged in another new addition since the last time we'd been on the mountain, the Festi-Taxi service. Three bucks a rider with drivers whose skills at dodging the human debris of spun cookies and zombie wooks I would put on par with the cabbies in the gridlock of any major city. Say what you will about laziness or how I should I just walk. My camp was about a mile from the Concert Bowl, I'm not exactly young and spry, and mountains ain't flat. As my brother would remark later, "Ol' Marvin needs to make this a plateau."
Back at camp, I crashed and began calculating how much money I'd have to allocate each day for cab fare while trying to get comfortable on my air mattress. I soaked in the sounds of a festival night - that weird combination of serenity and chaos rolled together, a strangely comforting drone that can stir misty thoughts into your dreams.