Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All Good Music Festival - Marvin's Mountaintop WV - July 8 - 11

The Bird and I have been going to the All Good Festival for many years now, going all the way back to the Wilmer's Park days. Tim Walther and his team have always done a first class job of taking care of the patrons, making sure that there is always great music, and putting together a great festival. This year was no exception, in fact some are saying this was the best All Good ever. There's no doubt that this was the best weather ever and the music was top notch, too.

We headed out to West Virginia on Thursday afternoon and saw Maryland State Police and county troopers pulling over loads of kids and searching their cars all along the way. Crossing into West Virginia only changed the color of the uniforms as Morgantown cops were dragging more festival goers out of their cars and arresting them. Even as we turned into the last road into the festival there was a set of troopers selectively pulling people over and performing what have to be illegal searches and seizures. I was pulled over and ticketed for "speeding" in Masontown, although my friends who were following me said I was going nowhere near the speed the officer claimed. What a waste of misdirected energy to harass these fun loving and peaceful music lovers (who spend a pretty fair sum of tourist dollars in the area). OK, enough of that soapbox on to the music.

After setting up a deluxe camping compound, we headed over to the secondary stage area for some tunes. Boombox was playing, which is a DJ and a guitarist/singer. They were entertaining and had the crowd dancing, they even did their own style of "Shakedown St." and a Beatles tune. Then came the guy that we wanted to see, Keller Williams. We've seen Keller plenty of times, in fact the first time I ever saw him was many years ago at a music festival at the Sunshine Daydream farm not far from Marvin's Mountaintop. When Keller was introduced, it was pointed out from the stage that he has performed at All Good festivals more than any other artist. He put on a fine show, did a version of "Barracuda" by Heart, only he whistled the "vocal" part. I've seen Keller play bluegrass, play with a band, and do acoustic solo. This night he was solo, but in full "DJ" mode, which suited the crowd and the vibe fine. Everyone was in the mood for dancing and kicking off the festival with something with a beat. It got late, so we headed back to the camp to rest up for the next day.

Friday we started off watching Hill Country Revue, who were really rocking hard with some great southern country blues. This band has Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew (of the North Mississippi All Stars) and they playing some great original material. On this day they also had Jackie Greene sitting in the keyboards. Jackie Greene was one of the "must see" artists for me a this festival and he took the stage with his band right after Hill Country Revue. My expectations were exceeded as he did a great show. This is a guy to keep your eye on, I expect that he will become very popular over the next few years. The Mayor of Masontown, a sweet little old lady, came out after that to welcome everyone and tell them how glad she was that we were all having a good time in West Virginia. She even went on to say how if anyone got a ticket, just "stop by the library" and she would make it "go away"! I don't have time to drive back up there, but the offer was nice. So we took a little break, then came back for Robert Randolph and his Family Band. These guys really rock, Randolph is master of the pedal steel guitar and can elicit "Hendrixian" licks out of that thing. He played a couple of Michael Jackson songs and gave him a bit of a tribute, which made me wonder why more artists this weekend weren't playing some MJ music. Next up was Todd Snider, another pleasant surprise for me. I've heard him on XM ("Outlaw Country") but never seen him live. Just Todd and the acoustic guitar and some great, often funny, always entertaining songs. From his latest album he did "America's Greatest Pastime" which is about the no hitter that Dock Ellis pitched in1970 while tripping on LSD. An American folk classic. Todd was followed by Les Claypool, the eccentric and talented bass player from Primus. I respect him as a musician, but this show got a little boring for me. I think Les would be better in a band where he's not the leader. After Les Claypool was the The New Mastersounds, an English soul/groove band. This was filler and not very memorable. Finally, Bob Weir and Ratdog took the stage and the musical bar was definitely raised. I really enjoyed this show from a great jazzy "Truckin'" to open the show, through a neat "Maggie's Farm", "Loose Lucy", and "Eyes of the World". Then they finished strong with a great "Morning Dew", "China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider". Les Claypool sat in for a song and Al Schnier (of moe.) sat in for the last three. Whew! what a great day of music! Even though moe. was starting up at 1 am we had our fill and retired to the campsite.
Saturday kicked off with Cornmeal, a bluegrass band on steroids. Then the Bridge, who I've seen several times before and have always enjoyed. The Bridge led into the Steve Kimock Crazy Engine. We last saw Steve Kimock almost exactly a year ago at the Birchmere playing with Mickey Hart. He's quite a talented and entertaining guitar player. His new band "Crazy Engine" is quite a treat, featuring Melvin Seals on organ. Mr. Seals used to play with Jerry Garcia in the Jerry Garcia Band, so it was nice to see him back out on the jam scene. And jam he did! I've never heard a Hammond played with such ear splitting volume and rocking intensity. After the Crazy Engine we took a break at the campsite. While the rest of our crew was napping I slipped back to the main stage to see Yonder Mountain String Band who I had seen once before at All Good a few years ago. These guys have a classic bluegrass lineup with guitar, banjo, mandolin, and bass, but that's about where the similarity ends. They put on a high energy show with a rock star attitude. They really play to the audience with lots of jokes and whooping it up between songs. It would be nice to see them do a full show, outside of the festival format. Later in the evening we caught Dumpstaphunk (featuring Ivan Neville) and the festival headliner, Ben Harper and the Relentless 7. Ben's apparently reinvented himself with this new band, becoming more of a hard rocker. But most of us felt this was a forgettable performance, certainly not worthy of the prime Saturday night slot. There was nothing especially wrong with the performance but there was just nothing very exciting about it. After Ben, I'd had enough after a long day of music and retired to the camper. Davis stuck around to see moe. a band that I've never been very fond of (jams don't have enough inspiration for me), but he said that they had the crowd dancing enthusiastically.
Sunday, we started with the Recipe at 10 AM on the small stage. This is a band that we used to see frequently but they seem to have been on hiatus for the last few years. They were in fine form on this beautiful morning and they said that they'll start touring and working on a new album soon. The Recipe are a great band to see in a bar at night (or they would have been great on Saturday night instead of Ben Harper) but it was a little hard to get dancing and energetic at that hour of the day. Anyway, we fixed up a nice breakfast after that then made it over to the main stage to see Donna the Buffalo. These guys are one of my favorite bands to see live and they didn't disappoint on Sunday. We were able to watch them from the front of the stage and the sound was great (actually the sound was great all weekend). Later in the afternoon Donna the Buffalo's Tara Nevins joined the BK3/featuring Bill Kreutzmann. They played several Dead tunes and Tara's vocals were strongest that I've heard in a long time. They were followed by Dark Star Orchestra, the well known and popular Dead tribute band. We saw on them on New Year's Eve and I thought that it was a really good show, excellent musicians playing some of our favorite songs. But after hearing the seven Dead shows I have to admit that the DSO sounded a little "thin" and it was clear that they're not the "real thing". Maybe I was also just a little maxed out after a long festival. At any rate we headed home happy and full of music. We heard 19 bands in 4 days, had beautiful weather and enjoyed the company of thousands of fun loving folks. It certainly was ALL GOOD.

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