All Good Music Festival | Marvin's Mountaintop | Masontown, WV | 5.15.03 - 5.18.03
This year’s All Good Festival proved to be one of the better ones, and certainly reigned supreme as one of the more intimately appreciable festivals this year. With the titanic squeeze being put on by the corporate anacondas sponsoring festivals this year, Walther Productions managed to wriggle away with a mongoose’s snicker. Tim and Junipa put together quite a powerful lineup this year and their balancing touch almost kept the rains at bay... almost.
What must be said at the outset is that, although Tim is the low key promoter of good vibes, Junipa is the tirelessly working “Vibe Coordinator” behind the scenes ensuring that everyone has a great adventure, from the youngest to the eldest festivalien. Their mom and pop business brought together thousands of kind folks, Peacekeepers to do just that, the Clean Vibes crew to help manage the land, and the creatively inspiring traveling harlequins of Wookie Foot to add to the insanity of an already very heady mix. What has euphemistically come to be known as the All Wet Festival did not start out that way.
I managed to show up in time for the Seth Yacovone Band's set on Friday, having been unavoidably detained the previous night, thereby missing Dark Star Orchestra's lofty beginning under the Lunar Eclipse. From what I understand the second set was way out there. Seth’s music was a rockin’ way to start under the sun, though. However, it was when they broke out the “Faeries Wear Boots” by Saint Sabbath that I fully understood how colossally weird this event was soon to become. The portents of heaviness were finally underfoot.
Now MOFRO is one of the best things out there. Those men from the swamplands of North Florida have a message and fine mix of distorted blues-driven funk that will fry up your inner hush puppy, and set you a flight in a torrent of good grease and great goddamned soulful music. There is nothing quite like seein’ a one-legged man getting down to MOFRO, and that says it all right there. They treated us with “Florida,” the message of which is the only song for which they reproduce the lyrics in the liner notes of their debut album. Respect is what this band is about, and they give back to the great life by playing with heart for us all. They threw down a blistering “Ho Cake” and then they invited Jeff Raines of Galactic up on the altar to finish off that rousing version of somethin’ real nasty, sendin’ the West Virginia mountains reelin’. His N’awlins crawdad funk mixes in the MOFRO pot real dadgum well.
Acoustic Syndicate came out and twisted up our minds with bluegracid-driven insanity. They played a feverish set of tunes, both old timey style and fusion induced high country. However, what really kicked the crowd into high gear was the All Mighty Senators set. As soon as they started rockin’ their special Super Friends blend of rock and soul, the crowd descended the hills for an all-out freak fest. They paid homage to June Carter Cash (who recently passed) by playing a song she co-wrote with Johnny, “Ring of Fire,” and the crowd jumped through the hoop with spastic glee. They got the crowd workin’ with “Soul” and the horns were blastin’ out the truth. One of the more humorous moments came when they broke out a false intro of “Paradise City” then launched into “Giant Steps,” the teeming throng going wild, kickin’ up the dirt in praise of the Transmission. Good stuff indeed.
Now I am a big fan of North Mississippi Allstars, but I just have to say that without the guiding influence of Junior Kimbrough reaching out from the Darkening Lands, they would not exist. They broke out the real blues and lent a heavy vibe to an already swirling dose of hard-hittin’ music. Joules Graves came out and soothed things a lil’ with her healing blend of music before Keller Williams hit the stage for what would turn out to be a rather mellow performance on his part. “Alligator Alley” added to the wake of MOFRO, but when he proclaimed “Bob Rules” we all went for a spin. “Freeker By The Speaker” was true to form with all the heads spinnin’ round, twisting and gallivanting to the troubadour’s whistle. “Earl” was laidback and somewhat reggae influenced and it flowed right into “Boob Job” with a trumpet leading the charge through its real slow burnin’ funkoplex. He left us with really sweet advice, though. No matter what happens, or what you hear, inane or profound, “Just Focus on the Bass.” However, his Theramin was about as scary as it gets, and it was really difficult to follow his advice through that nightmarish terrain. He ended things on a sweet series of notes feeling like a fish.
Galactic is the most sinister band from beyond the stars, and on that night they owned the earth under the full muthafuckin’ moon. They started off for about half an hour without the Houseman and they just cruised through a bumpin’ funkfest of murky soul and madness. In the voodoo tradition it is said that the practitioners do not worship deities, they become them. On that night, Galactic became something otherworldly and we danced in a conjuring throng of heaving energy and terror. No one does it like they do, and there are many who try. If you let them, they will play you into the fire and you will not burn. When they all lock it wrenches your spirit out of your body and carries it about the dancing crowd like a sacrificial trophy.
Often when bands play festivals they half-ass the show, playing to the crowd for a brief time, but Galactic played because it meant something. Something had to happen to the people that night, and they ushered us all through the fires of transformation, vaulting our collective consciousness into realms seldom visited by anything other than a community. To go solo through such a power would mean certain death. When they broke out the slide and harp, leathery winged beings joined in the orgiastic fray, coolin’ us off with their beatin’ of the chilly moonlit air in the hills of Appalachia.
“Two Clowns” was a great thing to hear and it really cooked things up. “Hamps Hump” had moments very reminiscent of The Meters and it was perhaps the best song that exemplified that honoring vibe. “Baker’s Dozen,” another send-up to a great band from the mouth of the Mississippi, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, was just sweetness to the ears. “All Behind You Now” was simply the gritty underbelly of the world exposed beneath the white cycloptic eye of the ever watchful moon; so dark, so damn good. They ended the night with Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35.” When the smoke cleared they had torn through two hours of torturously twisted terrain, leaving everyone thirsting for more of their séance.
However, the night was far from over for me because one of my most favored bands, The Slip, was up on the hill in a half barn waitin’ to sear into memory one of their great experiences. The humble trio started things off in a haunting way with a sitar feeling “Cumulus” that just returned upon itself beautifully with the harrowing wind. They have this way of communicating with each other that is simply uncanny. I don’t believe there are many folks walkin’ the earth that can so effortlessly express their souls on their instruments as The Slip does. They journeyed through the backdrop of the “Eye of Horus” into this funky break beat with outlandishly mechanical percussive trimming that got everyone else on their feet to weather the storm. At some point it reflected “Get Me With Fuji,” but for how long I could not even begin to say. After that sojourn they blessed our sleepy minds with the ethereal “Nellie Jean.” You could see tear-stained faces, frozen in time on the windswept hill. They even cracked into “Beetle To The Badlands” which was exemplary of the meandering nature of great music. It just wandered right into the center of your soul. The “Sesame Street Theme” even made a brief appearance during “The Weight of Solomon,” and they doused us with goodness and grace as they ended the morning with Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.” I cannot think of a better way to end the first day than dancin’ with The Slip.
Saturday morning began with a sweet combo platter from The Sugar Shack and a good conversation with Lee from the Homegrown Music Network while a children’s parade to “Jump In Line” by Harry Bellefonte crossed the stage. My friend Dave showed up around that time to shoot the day, just in time for Liz Berlin and Jenn Wertz of Rusted Root to kick things off with a howling harp tune to wake the masses for a new day. They played “Too Much” off the last Root album that sounded sweet lilting over the overcast hills. Liz played a song about secrets and monsters we keep hidden that really had an eerie feel to it, especially under the bleary sky. However, “Souvenir” was really moving and for those that were asleep at the wheel, tsk tsk, you missed out. Jenn followed that up with a hard driving blues tune off her latest solo disc that she produced herself that really smokes. Y’all should make a point to see ‘em live when they come around. Without the effects of bitterly cold morning air, their show would be even more dynamic and powerful than it was.
After their set The Wiggles really got the best of me. Their bizarre children’s music was playing in the backdrop as they were getting the stage ready for Carbon Leaf, and I can only imagine that some folks will still have nightmares over that. The line “Henry the Octopus puts on his pants and does the tentacle dance” still sends shivers down my crystallized spine.
The traditional namesake of the festival finally took hold and washed out Umphrey's McGee and Jazz Mandolin Project. I was particularly bummed about JMP after having spent quite some time with the disc over the past couple of months, and was eager to catch a dose of their live show again. Expectations hardly ever turn out the way one expects and such changes in lineup often are just part of the dream we call life.
The Recipe came out and drenched the mud dogs in a beautifully new sound that included “Bonemeal,” which if it don’t make ya smile, hell ya prolly have no dadgum soul! “Little Maggie” was sweet to hear, adding to the traditional bluegrass vibe that was coursing through the veins of the weekend’s mystique. “Playing In My Dreams” is a new tune for The Recipe and it was meant for the stage, but it will be on their new disc that will be coming out real soon. The band has relocated to North Carolina from West Virginia and the move has afforded them a new found sense of creativity and purpose, culminating in a vibrant new direction of their sound. No one can sing like Julie Edlow and no one can pick like Joe Prichard. They greased the pig with “Rise” and got everyone’s stomp on, hay aflyin’.
They played one of my favorite songs for their return to the All Good Nation, “The Seed,” and my belly was warm and happy, covered in mud and full of notes. It was during their set that I set off chasing Chase, a lil’ four year old pup who got separated from his folks, but he turned up later on in the set displaying mad survival skills. In the distance I could hear Fuzz from Deep Banana Blackout playin’ with them on “Luna Parade” but when they cut into “World Swirl” I jes had to kick the hay way up. They ended the set with “Witch Hazel” fully inaugurating Julie as the best female vocalist since Janis. And since I never saw Janis, Julie is the best to me. It was damn good to see them again in such fine form.
Now before Leftover Salmon hit the stage, I got the chance to hear Vince gearing up for their show while Big Mountain played on the main stage. For me it was all happening right next to my tent and it was a sweet treat. By the time they hit the stage I new it was going to be way out there, and when they played “Up On The Hill Where We Do The Boogie” everything freaked. Their trek through “The Bluegrass Morning” was a gift for my ears. At one point a big ass mud fight broke out when Vince shouted, “Old Sloppy Hippie Joe wants you to get covered in mud head to toe!” What really made their set for me was Drew Emmitt singing “Tangled Up In Blue.” It was simply was unreal.
DJ Logic spun between the Leftovers and Karl Denson’s Big Ass Funky Universe, and it was a seamless transition of trance dance. “Aiko Aiko > Elements of Run DMC > Rapper’s Delight > Frankenstein”?! Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe just came in like a tornado and bled the groove out of the cosmic tide of the mind. The Meters were being summoned all over the place with the funk-driven groove spinning around the underpinnings of extreme urban jazz. “Bag Of Funk” was ill, pounding out a vibe that just would not quit. As Karl said at one point, “This goes out to all the ladies. Because without the ladies here, it would just be a meeting.” He then led the train into “Chance With You.” The bumpin’ bodies were just going into overdrive at that point. Warren Haynes came out and joined them onstage for a couple of deliriously powerful songs, the first of which was “Goldmine” which got all the ladies shakin’ those tail feathers. Things were heatin’ up and Warren’s solo was a blistering demonstration of what was to come later on down the line. They launched us into the deep blue night with “Reality” and it just had this creepy beat to it, with the piano lurking around with horns on top of it all. Karl’s flute really held us aloft during that song. Again Warren’s solo just smashed right through the heart of the matter and stuck in there, twisting around till you popped. They played on through getting everyone up to move it. No one does it quite like them.
DJ Logic again hit the stage and spun for us all, keeping us moving and warm. What he does is woefully under appreciated by the culture at large. He spun “Fugue For Tinhorns”?! No way!
Gov't Mule roared onto the stage with a vengeance. For all of the people who have no idea how to pace themselves, they missed the point, the culmination of sound. For those weary souls still standing, we were getting exposed to something very unique, and heavy. Never have I ever heard them not play to their fullest. The Mule made the trek through the mountains to deliver a message, to snatch you up by the back of your skull and pound your face through the mud, choking the life out of you so that you could remember how badly you need the breath of life. The moon crept through the clouds for this ceremony, and the creatures of the night were on parade.
They began the sermon at the foot of the mount with “Blind Man In The Dark.” The time changes alone in the song were enough to scare the shit out of any strong willed two-legged. Thunderous does not even begin to describe their power and their gargantuan, molten energy. “Thorazine Shuffle” was something I am certain some folks needed a takin’ to on that night, and as the Mule crunched through it on cast iron hoofs the crowd bobbed and weaved to the bouncing, maniacal shufflin’ beat. Folks were possessed. The Mule’s version of “Banks Of The Deep End” was a powerful song, the meaning of which I hope burned into the vaguely whispering souls of the lost and found in the foothills of Marvin’s Mountaintop.
They followed that up with “Effigy” and I about lost my spirit in a quickly passing tornado that emerged from an opening gateway overhead. With every overheated sustain from Warren Haynes’s humbuckin’ Les Paul, I could feel an overwhelming fade comin’ on, sweeping me up into an embrace from beyond the grave. Apocalyptic zombies were afoot that night, and their shambling forms were marching amongst the living in a cavalcade of delight at the preponderance of the feast. The spirit of that song rode the Mule like a skull-faced locomotive and at one point that ragged team tore a gully through the mountains, shrieking callin’ out the ghost of a memory for that “Orange Blossom Special.” When that slowed, the piano drifted us back to sanity for a brief respite. Then the hammer of the gods cracked the sky again, wailing as it ignited the air with fire from an energy well pleased at the offering of freshly burnt psyches.
“Sco-Mule” gave us a dose of funked-up rhythmic jazz and eased our wearied minds. DJ Logic hit the stage with them during that adventure and scratched a scar through my healin’ heart. They followed that up by taking our hands and walking us “Into the Mystic” which was so remarkably beautiful it helped ease us into the light of the mind’s eye. “Banks Of The Deep End” was overwhelming in its purity. It hits hard where you learn the most in life, your heart. “Mule” was churning like a river at flood stage and the slide split the sky wide open.
For the encore I hit the photo pit; I had to get close for this rare experience I have only cherished once in my own life. Warren picked out the serenity and pain of Radiohead’s “Creep” and in a wave of incalculable energy the hills were alive with the sound of epic greatness. They quickly turned that into “Soulshine” and everyone was singing and smiling, hearts afire with the most profound sense of wonder. Then the familiar organ of Led Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot” turned the field into a pulsating dream of orgiastic fervor and with that they were gone.
My heart went out to the folks who wandered away from the protective vigil of the nighthawks on stage that night. They missed a great deal if they could not hang on to the Mule. The very next morning on my way to get my fix at the Sugar Shack, I happened upon a young man who looked like a familiar Nazarene staring with starkly glazed eyes in my direction, head tilted toward the clouds with the curled end of a rusty metal hanger in his left hand, and the base of the triangle firmly ensnared in his bearded jaws, gnawing and chewing upon the wire while tugging slowly upon the makeshift handle. I understood with an affirming nod as I passed him by that perhaps by his saying nothing, he was saying everything. It was indeed All Good.
Words by: Laurin Wollan
Images by: Dave Roberts
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