The All Good, The Bad And The Weird

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This past weekend marked the 2013 All Good Music Festival. It was the second year of being located at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio, and it attracted its usual eclectic crowd of festers.

There were hippies, trustafarians, deadheads, ravers, wookies, weirdos, hipsters and country-folk in addition to families and children.   

It’s not often you see all these people in the same place for the same reason, but that’s the beauty of an event like All Good.

It’s an escape–where people go to be unapologetically weird, absurd and crazy. It’s the place where people wave their freak flag freely and with pride. It’s like an adult playground or fair, except you can bet the only rides were in their minds.

All Good to go

My mind was undoubtedly overstimulated upon entry to the festival on Thursday, July 18. The arena was replete with music, food vendors and brightly colored, glow-in-the-dark everything. All the time. All around you.

Beaming lights projected for miles. Technicolored hula-hoops were reflected in a crowd filled with topless women spinning fire and humans in hippie Halloween costumes holding on to glow sticks.

My fellow festers and I spent time taking in the scenery before watching former Athens band Papadosio perform for a large crowd.

There were two main stages at the festival’s main location: the Dragon Stage and the Crane Stage. Located directly next to each other, it was an easy hop, skip, jump or stumble from Papadosio to see Lettuce, a band that continues to mesmerize me with their ability to funk things up.

Lettuce has several musicians that rotate for live performances, but on that night, Erick Coomes, Adam Smirnoff, Adam Deitch, Ryan Zoidis, Eric Bloom, James Casey and Nigel Hall took the stage. The seven-member band’s mash-up of horns, bass, guitar and overall funk-inspired grooves kept the crowd on their feet. The band’s drummer was impressive. Although no Jabo Starks, he can still keep the rhythm.  

Next up was Beats Antique. If you haven’t heard of the group, look them up. Their instrumental remix of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is at least as enjoyable as the original, if not more. The trio describes their music as an “electro-coustic breakbeats set to a Bollywood bass-circus stage show,” and the main attraction is a woman by the name Zoe Jakes, who entrances the audience with every shake, rattle and roll of her belly-dancing hips.

As Beats Antique wrapped up the night, my friends and I made the half-hour hike back to Gate 1, where most of the crowd camped.

I called it the “freak show on parade.” Everyone had to cross a main road to reach the general campgrounds, and drivers were stuck in traffic as shirtless, shoeless, peace sign-flashing, flag-waving, dirt-covered people crossed the road. I imagined an elderly woman’s expression after being stopped from her drive home from dinner while she awaited the hippie-herd hike to end.     

As we made our way past the porta-potties and onward to our camp site, which was located near the Grassroots Stage, people offered us “doses” on multiple occasions.

I couldn’t write this story without talking about the drug culture at these festivals. I wasn’t around for Woodstock, but I imagine there are similarities, although there are probably more drugs nowadays and they all have different names. At any moment, you could look over and see someone on cat tranquilizers trying to battle their stupor or glance over and hear a fervent talker on speed. There were people trying to get their hands on “hippie crack,” while thousands were smoking dope in plain sight.  

Despite the abundant drug use, there is an unspoken understanding at music festivals that anything goes, as long as you're not stupid, stay hydrated and don’t get caught (fest organizers do not condone such activities and each car was searched along with each person entering the festival).

Then there are the “Pro-festers.” A Pro-fester has been to festival after festival. They follow their favorite rock stars while selling tickets, food, clothes, drugs or whatever they can to support their transient lifestyle. My camping neighbor that first night happened to be a Pro-fester. Jeremey “Blazed” was from Cleveland and had been traveling around the nation from festival to festival, living in a tent and selling whatever he could to get tickets to the next music show.  

After meeting Jeremey, our group went to bed with visions of the John Butler Trio in our heads. He was the main reason my friends wanted to go to the festival. John Butler is an artist from Australia whose guitar skills are simply incredible. Words cannot do his abilities justice.

Friday fun

When Friday morning finally arrived, I loaded up on water and food and meandered to the stage just in time for Leftover Salmon. This jam band from Colorado mixes it all, including bluegrass, rock, country, and Cajun. The Lee Boys’ Roosevelt Collier, who made several guest appearances throughout the weekend, joined them on stage. To simply say Collier plays the guitar would be an understatement and an injustice. His slide and pedal-steel accompaniment made for a nice addition.  

Following Leftover Salmon was Nahko and Medicine For The People. The emcee introduced the band as “your next favorite group,” and he was right. My only complaint is that the performance was way too short.

Then came Mr. John Butler. The performance started just as the sun was setting and the moon was rising, and all was right in the world. He played for over an hour and half, switching from guitar to banjo, to guitar again and the crowd became instantly enamored. Everything was perfect, until Digital Tape Machine performed a sound check while he was still playing.

“I’d like to introduce the band next to me,” Butler joked with the crowd while trying to tune his guitar. “How’s everything sounding over there?”

Despite the rude interruption, it was a purely amorous performance and I suspect my friends will still be talking about it 30 years from now.  

Primus followed, whose show was, well, bizarre. I’d never heard of Primus before so I didn’t know what to expect. The lead singer, Les Claypool, has a distinct voice that demands attention and their use of costumes added to the overall weirdness of the weekend’s festivities. At one point he was wearing a pig mask and laughing diabolically. That was enough for me for the night.

Later that night my sleep was cut short because the music at the Grassroots Stage went on from dusk until dawn. I didn’t complain; there’s nothing like falling asleep to live music.

When it rains, it pours

Then the rain came, and it didn’t stop. The group and I awoke the next morning to rolling clouds and thunder echoing throughout the campsite.

Flooded, soaked and covered in mud, our group looked on the bright side by watching festers indulge in the free shower. Eventually the rain let up and my friends and I made the traumatizing attempt at using the porta-potties near our camp site. Sloshing through the mud and muck, we entered with caution and quickly decided we didn’t have it in us.

Just as we were ready to head back to camp, one of the facilities started to shake. Apparently a person was stuck inside. We didn’t know what to think so we yelled “you have the power” and hoped he would find his way out. Eventually he did. This man was definitely a Pro-fester. He was covered in what we could only hope was mud. He stumbled into people left and right and before we knew it, he was following us. One role of festing is to not make eye contact with those who are simply out of their minds, unless you want to be followed.

He had captured our scent and we did our best to leave the Pro-fester behind but as soon as we made it back to our camp site, we saw his silhouette in the distance. We waited with bated breath as he made his way toward us. Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, he stumbled into our neighbor’s tent area and passed out in the middle of their compound.

Eventually, help showed up and he was taken for medical attention. I nicknamed him Port-a-Johnny. Don’t be a Port-A-Johnny.

By that time the rain had officially stopped and we were ready for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. On their web site, Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews) describes their sound as “Supafunkrock,” a term that’s rather fitting. Their electrifying and energetic jams were the perfect relief for those of us in wet socks.

Shortly after, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals came on stage. Admittedly, I hadn’t really heard too much about this band, but I left the All Good Festival as a fan. Grace Potter is a stage goddess and her ethereal beauty and powerful vocal cords are gripping. She has a certain presence that reminds me of a modern-day Stevie Nicks.

The best part of the show was when Bob Weir of Further (and original member of the Grateful Dead) joined the band on stage to sing The Dead's “Friend of the Devil.” Unfortunately, Weir’s mic wasn’t working for the beginning of the song, but Potter kept the beat and I don’t think the crowd noticed.

After a long set, The Infamous Stringdusters changed the pace of things with their jam-band bluegrass licks. During an interview with WOUB, The Stringdusters explained that their style comes from a “real organic place” and they “love to improvise during shows.”

What’s unique about The Stringdusters is their ability to appeal to the younger, “rave” crowd that likes dance-style music. Andy Hall, who plays dobro, and Travis Book, who plays standup bass, said that’s all intentional. They realized after performing at different shows that many crowds are attracted to dance music, and said their style seemed to evolve in such a way that it appeals to that type of crowd while still holding true to their bluegrass roots.  

After some fingerpicking, The Stringdusters left the stage and the crowd left to watch the four hour-long performance by the beloved Further, which was nothing short of amazing.

Afterwards, The Werks performed and rocked the arena, and by 1 a.m., thousands–and I mean thousands–of glow stick-toting funkateers were ready for electronic music artist Pretty Lights.

I’m not one for dance music. I will always be a fan of musicians, first and foremost, so the dance/techno scene never appealed to me. That is, until I saw Pretty Lights, a Colorado-based DJ who interacts with audiences through music and lights.

There were plenty of good light shows this weekend, but Pretty Lights tops them all. You don’t need hallucinogens or drugs to enjoy this show. Review my photographs in the slideshow below–you’ll see what I mean.

ALL GOOD things must come to an end

So after a long-day of non-stop dancing, singing and laughing, Pretty Lights ended and so did my time at All Good. As I made my way back up the hill from the valley, underneath the full moon and with all my weird fellow festers, I felt an overwhelming desire to try to put the weekend in words.

Who are all these people? Where did they come from? Why are they here? What are they looking for? It’s as if Woodstock happened and this is what’s left of it: A smorgasbord of young and old rock 'n' roll fans and dance music diehards, looking for a place to call home for a weekend.

Most people didn’t want to go home, but like the saying goes, ALL GOOD things must come to an end.