If you’re ever looking for a place to let your freak flag fly high, the All Good Music Festival takes care of that and so much more. This was immediately apparent when I arrived at Legend Valley, the spacious gathering place nestled in the midst of the Ohio hills near the township of Thornville, a small community that is otherwise normally a quiet footnote in the sprawling landscape of the Buckeye State.
The exercise of people watching began almost immediately, as I witnessed within the space of about a half hour’s time, a man very comfortably clad in a patchwork skirt and separately, a gentleman in flowing robes worthy of a king, accompanied by someone – was that his “queen,” I’m guessing? And then there was the guy who walked by wearing headgear resembling a unicorn’s head.
That was just a slice of my opening moments of All Good, now in its 16th year. At its inception, All Good featured a musical lineup mainly centered around jam band and folk artists, but in the years since their inaugural event, All Good has grown to embrace a wide variety of musical acts and with the degree of diversity on display at the 2012 edition (which ran July 19th through July 22nd), the music certainly defines the festival name well, proving that above everything else, it’s indeed, “all good.”
As one of the headliners on Friday evening, Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips, who previously played All Good in 2005, would take their set in more of an appropriately psychedelic direction, with Coyne surfing out over the crowd in his signature plastic ball. Deemed as one of “50 Bands To See Before You Die” by Q Magazine, the Lips delivered a performance that was still a topic of discussion the next day amidst the circulating members of the crowd, who recapped the music they had seen up until that point.
There was certainly a lot of music to take in, spread out over four days, going hour by hour with rarely a break, thanks to the scheduling on the two main stages, which ensured that all in attendance wouldn’t miss a minute of anybody’s set. With no overlapping, each performance was structured so that as one band finished their set, the next band would begin theirs almost immediately afterward, thereby eliminating the need to choose. With the available camping option offering the convenient ability for concert goers to crash on site, there were certainly some sunburned music aficionados who had very evidently taken in every minute of music there was to be had.
The average jam band certainly owes a good debt of gratitude to the music of the Grateful Dead for inspiration and there were a number of Dead-related projects on the bill, including the Dead-inspired Dark Star Orchestra, a perennial All Good favorite, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, performing with “Friends,” The Mickey Hart Band and on Thursday evening, Dead guitarist Bob Weir, who was joined by former Dead associates Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis for his set.
Hornsby and his regular band, the Noisemakers, were Weir’s backing band for the duration of his set and for Hornsby fans, it was quite an opportunity to get to see him play with Weir outside of the Bay Area. But make no mistake, it played out primarily as a Bob Weir solo set, with Hornsby and Marsalis as guests, as billed.
It was a set that seemed to clash at times with how the two sides operate normally structurally. While Hornsby tends to work without a setlist during his own shows, the printed setlists that were laid down prior to the start of the show indicated that the principal trio would be operating with more of an organized blueprint for that evening’s performance. That seemed to be the idea going into it, but the performance would prove to have more flexibility than advertised by the presence of the setlist.
They eased in gently, with a freestyle version of the Dead’s “Bird Song” which found Weir on acoustic, looking rather laid back in a sleeveless light blue t-shirt, joined by Hornsby and Marsalis for the initial musical meditation on the Garcia/Hunter original, which would stretch out for nearly 15 minutes. With the evening wind blowing gently, Weir sang “if you hear that same sweet song again, will you know why?” So many years later, the words had a very poignant impact on those in attendance, having traveled so many spiritual miles since hearing them for the first time.
With the rest of the Noisemakers joining in on the tail end, the full tilt shift to electric that led into another Dead staple, “The Other One,” would have been enough to raise the roof had there been one. At the onset, Weir quipped “there goes the setlist,” with a wry grin. With Weir and Hornsby seemingly working out their next moves on the spot as the band played on behind them, it was clear that the rest of the evening would be similarly off the cuff.
Spirited versions of “The Great Divide” and “Rainbow’s Cadillac” (complete with a bit of Thelonious Monk on the front side) from Hornsby’s own catalog followed and gave the band a chance to really fire it up with Hornsby’s regular reed man Bobby Read dueling with Marsalis in a friendly instrumental showdown during “Divide.” It was a good example moment of the musical mentality on stage that found all players stepping in and out of the spotlight to share equally in the moment throughout the night.
The set was freewheeling to the point that Weir seemed to get occasionally lost in it all. With Weir immersed in a particularly deep version of “Scarlet Begonias” as the closing moments of the allotted 90 minute set ticked by, Hornsby walked over to Weir, no doubt to give him a heads up that their stage time was nearing the end. They shifted accordingly to wrap with a satisfying version of “Jack Straw” which put a nice cap on the early part of the evening.
One of the centerpiece moments of the weekend without a doubt, was the headlining performance on Saturday night by the Allman Brothers Band, making their debut at All Good. For many, it was a historical chance to see a rare performance by a group of legends, more than 43 years into their long journey together.
Although the personnel has seen many modifications in those 43 years, the surviving unit that calls itself the Allman Brothers Band still packs a considerable punch in the live setting, something that owes a lot to the dynamic duo of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, the guitar pairing carrying forward the work begun so many years prior by originals Duane Allman and Dickey Betts.
Seeing the Allman Brothers these days is a special treat for those who are lucky enough to witness it, because owing a lot to the fragile health of group namesake Gregg Allman, the group play only a select number of dates each year. Each show is a wildcard event, with the great unknown being the question: what kind of shape will Gregg be in on the night?
Thankfully on this Saturday evening at Legend Valley, Allman was in fine form, handling vocals on a sizable portion of the set, displaying a commanding presence from the opening combo of “Don’t Want You No More” and “It’s Not My Cross To Bear,” the launching point for what would be a two hour plus set from the Allmans.
At the midway point of what had been a very full weekend of music already, the Allmans set provided many moments of much needed levity with a very spiritual feeling of history that was thick in the air at All Good, watching legends on-stage. Whether it was your first time seeing the Allmans (as was the case for me, personally), or the latest of many, it was definitely a weekend high.
This was All Good’s first year at Legend Valley and following a number of years at the previous location of Marvin’s Mountain in Masontown, West Virginia, there were a lot of expectations to live up to. And for the majority, it would seem that the new location was “all good.” Legend Valley provided the natural playground area that allowed for even distribution of the concert stages and related equipment, surrounded by a reasonable number of vendors that peppered the hillside surrounding the concert goers (many of whom also chose to camp on-site at the festival).
There was plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the music along with a multitude of additional recreational activities, including frisbee, which I mention, only because there were a few stray frisbees that threatened to lodge themselves in my noggin. What can I say? I attract that kind of thing.
Legend Valley remains a great environment for music, something which has been proven over the decades with many a legendary Grateful Dead show and lots of additional evenings of music from artists ranging from Van Halen and Jimmy Buffett to Peter Gabriel’s traveling WOMAD Festival and Lollapalooza.
The site went through a period of inactivity, so it is nice to see events happening there once again. Nature, music and the resulting feeling of community are a natural recipe for a good time. The 2012 All Good Music Festival provided plenty of that and then some.
Here’s hoping for a repeat performance in the same location next year.
Images from All Good courtesy of Carl Harp / 98.5 WNCX and are used with permission. Check out more of their photos from the festival here.