All Good Music Festival Review
July 9-11, 2015, Berry Hill Farm, Summit Point, WV
written by Elise Olmstead
photos by Taco Olmstead
We never forget our first festival–that first mind-blowing experience of culture and community that makes you question everything about the “real world” outside. In my always expanding circle of friends, it’s great to hear how many people had their first festival experience at All Good, including myself. I went without knowing any bands on the lineup, but left a new fan of Widespread Panic, Avett Brothers, and Gov’t Mule, amongst many more. Fond memories of All Good are plenty in our musical community, with a widespread mutual agreement of the impact it has had on us and our music scene.
The festival held its last year at everyone’s beloved West Virginia venue, Marvin’s Mountaintop, in 2011, then moved to Ohio’s Legend Valley venue in 2012 and 2013. The venue switch was a little hard to swallow for many longtime fans, but large grounds and a large concert bowl at Legend Valley accommodated the crowds and production expected of All Good. After a mixed response to these years and a commitment to keep the fan base happy, All Good took a year long hiatus in 2014 in order to find a new venue and create a stellar lineup and experience.
The new venue for 2015 at Berry Hill Farm in Summit Point, WV, happened to be only 30 minutes from the Appalachian Jamwich headquarters in Shepherdstown, WV. An explosion of excitement came over my Facebook news feed from my local friends exclaiming, “All Good is only 10 minutes from my house!” Many fans were excited about the return of one of their favorite festivals and its return to West Virginia.
The lineup looked like a truly classic All Good lineup–there was a lot of big name bands in different genres, making sure there was something for everyone to enjoy. Moe. is a favorite of the jam band purists, Primus is perfect when you want to get weird, and Dark Star Orchestra is an All Good staple for the Grateful Dead fans in the crowd. There was plenty of “jam-tronica” bands as well, like STS9, Thievery Corporation, and everyone’s favorite, Lotus. There are few All Good fans who don’t have blissful memories of a Lotus set, and the band very appropriately closed out the fest on Saturday night.
When we came in Thursday, we were as curious as everyone to check out the new venue. Route 340 on the way in was littered with cops, but we expected such. Being from the county, we somewhat knew what to expect. The police presence inside the venue was a bit heavy for everyone’s taste as well, though we heard that they wouldn’t give the festival their required permit without hiring the state troopers and allowing the police to work inside the venue. We didn’t personally get bothered at all, but I agreed with most attendees that it may have been too much. I don’t agree, though, that it was the festival organizer’s idea at all. Having many friends involved in the local politics, I know that there was some pushback from the county and they weren’t going to allow the festival to happen without the police presence.
The wait in line wasn’t especially long and we were ecstatic to camp as RV Companions with our longtime friends in the RV section, which was central between the Believe in Music stage and the main concert bowl. I liked how the street signs helped us find our friends, and we also had phone signal for most of the weekend, which was essential in meeting up with everyone. The land was without too much incline, assuring that everyone could comfortably situate their tent, and I was very happy to see that those arriving early were placed in GA camping closest to the main venue. After a short nap during the rain, we were armed with a camera, notebook, and Spicy Pie, ready to cover the music that started at 6PM.
The main venue was marked by the signature pagodas, and we had our bags searched and pockets patted down before entering. No open water bottles were allowed, or of course beer or liquor. I didn’t realize that umbrellas weren’t allowed either, but a staff member was kind enough to hold onto it for me until I returned to leave. RFID chips had to be scanned before entering, which some people complained about, but I think the bag searching was what caused the long lines waiting to get in, and not necessarily the wristband scan. Once in, you were greeted by official All Good merch and a beer tent directly to your left, and the landmark “Welcome to All Good” sign against the back of the tree line on your right, close to the glowing VIP lounge area in the back. A huge beautiful Buddha statue that featured steps to sit on, and colorful glow pots lighting it up at night, sat a bit left of center. We ended up picking our spot to watch the music between the Buddha and the Spicy Pie vendor, calling it the “Buddha Buddha Pizza Pizza” spot.
While I feel that the concert bowl was smaller than Marvin’s Mountaintop, it was at least more comfortable than Legend Valley, which featured mostly gravel near the stages. This venue was soft and grassy everywhere you went, and fairly easy to navigate. It also didn’t seem so crowded that you had to step on everyone’s toes as you slid through to find your spot. I thought one of the best amenities for VIP was the blocked off area between the stages at the front, where they could get a great view and also get discounted beer. Overall, I enjoyed the setup, though as I’m not used to festivals attended by much more than 5,000 people, so I got lost quite a few times in the crowd in the dark. At least I always managed to at least run into some friendly folks.
Twiddle was the first to play, and was a burst of sunshine as always, sending waves of bliss through the crowd with their reggae inspired jams. They even played my favorite song, “Syncopated Healing”. I was happy to see that Cabinet played not only on the main stage, but two sets during the weekend, delighting bluegrass fans who have come to love this band on the rise. John Butler Trio really impressed me with their musical chops, and The Motet got everyone moving as usual, singing “Shake, shake, shake my booty”. Everyone was saving their energy for Moe., which was when the crowd really started to fill in. A lot of my friends are self-proclaimed “Moe.rons”, who were super impressed by the two part “Brent Black” that they split into a sandwich (with segues into heaters like “Not Coming Down” and “Little Miss Cup” in between the two parts), but I was just ecstatic to sing along to their popular tune “Okay, Alright”. Greensky Bluegrass had everyone dancing a happy jig with their indie bluegrass sound, then jam-tronica powerhouse STS9 closed out the night, showing off their newest member Alana Rocklin on the bass.
We went home to sleep in our own bed Thursday night, which isn’t something we’ve ever been able to do during a festival before. It was a nice change and with some air conditioning and showers, we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the weekend haul. Friday the music got started early and the Believe the Music stage featured some Appalachian Jamwich mid-level favorites, including BIG Something, Fletcher’s Grove, Grand Ole Ditch, B Side Shuffle, ELM, Second Self, Tabasco Bustelo, along with some fun workshops and family jams. ZOOGMA got the Friday main stage started at 11AM, followed by another set of Cabinet, and the Brooklyn funk army known as Turkuaz at 1PM. Their stellar horns, instrumentals, and harmonized vocals put on quite the show, and I feel like their song “Monkey Fingers” says it perfectly when they sing they’re gonna “slap you in the face” and “snap you into place”. Baltimore based band The Bridge celebrated their 13th All Good set, followed by another funk army with an afrobeat twist known as Antibalas. We braved the sun for a short while to catch out the lineup up Everyone Orchestra, conducted by Matt Butler, which I’ve listed below:
Cody Dickenson (The Word) – drums
Chris Chew (The Word) – bass
Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth)- violin
Cris Jacobs (The Bridge) – guitar
Pappy Biondo (Cabinet)- banjo
Michael Carubba (Turkuaz)- percussion
Shira Elias (Turkuaz) – vocals
Josh Schwartz (Turkuaz) – baritone sax
Greg Sanderson (Turkuaz) – tenor sax
Chris Brouwers (Turkuaz)- trumpet
…and a last minute appearance by DJ Williams of DJ Williams Projekt on guitar
We ducked into some shade for a little rest and refreshments before catching blues legends Chris Robinson Brotherhood (who of course played their signature “Hard to Handle”), and crowd favorites Railroad Earth who brought us seamlessly into the sultry evening spirit with their jamming Americana rock. We were excited to see The Word, who was comprised of Grammy nominated members such as John Medeski, Robert Randolph, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, and Chris Chew. It was my first time seeing this band, and their stellar instrumental skills and explosion of Gospel Rock energy and inspiration really impressed everyone in the crowd.
Before I knew it, it was time to nestle back to my blanket at the “Pizza Pizza Buddha Buddha” spot and cuddle into some feel-good tunes with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. As one of my favorite “Grateful Dead Interpretation” bands, he safely secured his spot in my heart by starting his set with the love song “Ruben and Cherise”. I also want to mention how beautiful the light shows were at All Good, serving to be just as mesmerizing as the tunes coming from the stage. My eyes were sparkling all the way over at the other side of the venue. Primus was up next with his predictably weird sounds and visuals, playing his “Primus and the Chocolate Factory” themed set that some of my friends were also calling a sort of “best of” set, since he played so many recognizable tunes like “My name is Mud”, “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”, and “Jilly’s on Smack”.
Lettuce funked our face as usual, I can’t help but get up on my feet and let loose whenever they play, and of course Nigel Hall was there to get us hyped up with the song “Do It Like You Do”. Thievery Corporation was the perfect way to end the night, their innovative dance-able music kept me going until the late night hours, and by the time I hit the air mattress I can honestly say that I danced ’til I dropped. It was time to get some shut-eye with the hubby and prepare for another packed day of music.
Saturday we awoke with TAUK on the brain, so much so that I could barely be bothered with the task of grooming or makeup. Taco rushed ahead to grab pictures, while I frolicked with my friend Leslie to see one of our favorite bands that is absolutely on fire at the moment. I guess everyone at the festival had the same idea as we did, because the line to get in was absolutely massive. Conversations about sunburn and some sharing of coconut water kept us busy while we waited.
A group of STAUKERS had formed at the stage and I arrived just as they were playing “Sweet Revenge” from their new album Collisions, followed by “Friction”, “Mindshift”, and a cover that I haven’t heard them play too much of yet, The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”. Their song “Tumbler” makes me feel downright triumphant, and I raised by hands in pure bliss with the rest of the crowd while Matt Jalbert’s tantalizing guitar riff washed over us. Finishing up with “Have You Seen It?”, I was sure it would be hard to top my first set of music for the day.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was up next, playing favorites like “Melting Lights” for their rabid fan base. The unique folk inspired quintet Elephant Revival was a perfect afternoon set, the female vocals soothed our sunburned shoulders as we sipped lemonade. Before you could feel too relaxed, though, the unique beats of Boombox and the crazy middle-eastern inspired dance music of Balkan Beat Box got everyone in the crowd moving. While our feet did a little bit of wandering during this time, we made sure to be close to the front of the stage for the blues powerhouse band JJ Grey & Mofro. Their songs “Brighter Days” and “Slow, Hot & Sweaty” were my sentiments exactly as I swayed underneath a beautiful blue sky. There was no need to move for the rest of the evening, because the lineup was stacked until 3AM. Hoards of excited music fans started moving in as Yonder Mountain String band played some beautiful tunes from their new album Black Sheep, and newest members Allie Kral and Jake Joliff showed off their skills on fiddle and mandolin, respectively. SOJA rocked our souls with their reggae beats and an epic drum solo, then as the sun set we were greeted by the kind smile and sweet sound of Keller Williams as he played everyone’s favorite sing-a-long “Country Roads”.
Many were excited about Cake’s set, anticipating a blast into the past of their favorite songs. They didn’t disappoint, delivering with “Love You Madly” and “Never There” among others. Some of the lead singer’s speeches made us a little uncomfortable though, ambiguously directing hostility towards everyone from escapists to those who liked to eat pizza. I chose to shrug it off as the band being more of an alternative/punk based sentiment than the fun-loving jam bands we’re used to, but everyone was more than ready for some feel-good music when Dark Star Orchestra came on. The All Good staples played an elective set tonight instead of a specific Grateful Dead set, and I was delighted to hear some favorites like “China Cat Sunflower” and “I Know You Rider”.
I couldn’t believe it was already time for Lotus, the band that would close out the festival, but I was excited that the time was finally here. I haven’t seen Lotus in quite a while, but something about their music whisks me away to my happy place. I milked every moment and every smile with my friends, singing along to the “doo-d-do-d-do” of “Spritualize” out loud and arms outstretched. What a beautiful return to All Good and so many new memories for the books.
I would have never thought that my first festival would be so close to my home, and attending as media was an honor and a privilege. Now that I have my own small festival, I have a tremendous respect for the amount of planning, stress, and courage it takes to put on an event of that size and caliber. It will probably be the largest event I attend this summer, but I’m glad it was this one. I hope everyone arrived safe and got some rest and recovery from one of the most famous parties in West Virginia. I may be burned, blistered, and little bit woozy, but it’s All Good.