Music festivals come in all shapes, sizes and genres, but, in the end, there are really only two types; the musical buffet, where the patron is free to choose their own experience from the vast and varied menu of bands, and the guided musical menu, where the promoter sets out the courses and the patron selects the ones to partake and those to forego. The All Good Music Festival (and campout) is decidedly the latter and the festival goers flocked to central Ohio and gluttonously devoured the delicious fare set out by “chef” Tim Walther. And with a side-by-side stage setup that allowed for continuous music (stopped only by a couple of brief changeover delays that plague all festivals) the weekend was a non-stop feast.
Thursday’s “pre-party” menu opened with a stellar set from John Scofield’s Uberjam Band who were promoting their recent release “Uberjam Deaux.” Scofield laid down tasty licks as band mates Adam Deitch and Andy Hess laid the foundation and rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick provided that added amount of spice to make the set pop with flavor. As an appetizer, it set a very high bar for the rest of the weekend.
The menu turned more exotic with the too brief, but tasty, set from Toubab Krewe, before a set from festival staple Papadosio was served. It seems like Papadosio is at every festival, every year and this set, while good, lacked that extra punch that has made them festival favorites nationwide. Next up were Lettuce who dosed out ample servings of funk drizzled soul. About halfway through the set, Nigel Hall abandoned his organ to focus on his vocals and to this ear that was a bit of a mistake. It is not that Hall lacks the skills of a font man (he has that in spades), but it is his organ work that gives the band such a full-bodied sound and its absence lessens their sound.
The final mainstage performer of the evening was Yonder Mountain String Band who played their set on the eve of their own Northwest String Summit. The Boulder quartet delivered a trademark set of traditional bluegrass laced with an ample amount of jamgrass that had a multitude of female railrats reward Jeff Austin with topless appreciation and offers of undying love. Their encore of “Two Hits (and the Joint turned Brown)” was most appropriate as the band certainly left the audience in a pleasantly peaceful reverie. The desert course for the evening was a set from Beats Antique, a band that augments their worldly dance beats with the visual treat of dancer extraordinaire Zoe Jakes. While the trio enthralled the late night crowd the after effects of a seven hour drive drew me inexorably to my campsite (which, fortunately, was situated in listening proximity to the stages) for a night cap with friends.
I chose to forego the two course musical breakfast of Fear Nuttin and Reverand Peyton’s Big Damn Band in favor of an actual breakfast at the campsite, but both made a nice accompaniment to our bacon and eggs. Kung Fu were first up on the second stage and the Connecticut quintet, who I first saw at last year’s festival, assaulted the early risers with a raging funkathon that energized the crowd like that extra shot of espresso in your morning coffee. Next up were Bright Light Social Hour who made very little of an impression on me but that could be because of the distraction of the oncoming black streak in the sky. After all, it wouldn’t be a 2013 music festival without some sort of rain delay, this one actually necessitating that all festival goers vacate the concert area and return to their cars for fear of lightning strikes.
The ensuing deluge was intense but brief and served to both keep the dust down and break the previously oppressive heat. Communication to our campsite was spotty so we missed the update as to the set times (no acts were to be cut or shortened) so it took a while for me to realize that the extraordinary sounds that we thought were coming over the PA were actually the sonic musings of Matt Butler and his Everyone Orchestra and that the music had resumed. It is always a treat to see Butler gymnastically coax improvised musical magic from his assemblage of festival musicians but this time I only got to see the final few moments. My disappointment, which was after all my own fault, was soothed by the realization that Butler would lead the Rex Jam the following day.
Next up were Dark Star Orchestra, perhaps the country’s finest Grateful Dead tribute band. With band alum John Kadlicek now playing with Saturday night’s headliner Furthur, DSO offered up an acoustic set which made the two day experience reminiscent of the Dead’s legendary three set shows (an acoustic set followed by two electric sets). The post rain gremlins played some havoc with both the front of house sound and Jeff Mattison’s guitar hookup but in true Deadesque tradition the band soldiered on while the fixes were being made and by the time everything was back to normal vocalist Lisa Mackey had launched into a raucous version of “You Ain’t Woman Enough” that had the distaff crowd in a tizzy and set the party tone for the rest of the evening.
Next up were The Stepkids, a three piece band out of Connecticut with whom I was unfamiliar, but after their performance (and that of Kung Fu) I am now convinced there is something special in the water in the Nutmeg state. With a song catalogue dramatically influenced by the pop-rock of the sixties, most notably their emphatic falsetto harmonies, and included a spot-on cover of Cream’s “I Feel Free” this band was a revelation and left me wanting a longer set.
But all such desires were quickly extinguished when Leftover Salmon took to the mainstage. Festival favorite Vince Herman’s vocals were sandwiched between the fiery picking of Drew Emmet’s mandolin and Andy Thorn’s banjo and made for an ample mid-day musical meal. But it was the band’s beautiful take on the Thorn’s tune, with the atmospherically appropriate title, “Light Behind the Rain” that was one of the weekend’s true moments of absolute magic and left the audience enraptured. The positive vibrations continued with the set from Nahko & Medicine for the People, a band I had heard good things about, but had never seen. With lyrics that evoke Marleyesque themes, an instrumentality that seems to draw from Hank Williams, the Ramones and Paul Simon in equal measures, and a stage energy that is reminiscent of Michael Franti this band was a true revelation and are a perfect addition to the summer festival circuit.
Next up on the main stage was the John Butler Trio, another band that I had never seen but had heard good things about. However, unlike Nahko, this band’s set did not settle well in my ears. Perhaps it was the result of high expectations but this set was the only real disappointment of the weekend. However it should be noted that the response generated from the audience, especially the women when the band played “Zebra”, it would seem that my view of the set was in the distinct minority.
In contrast, the too-brief set offered by Chicago based Digital Tape Machine was one of the best of the weekend. Known by most as an EDM side project for Joel Cummins (keys) and Kris Myers (drums) from Umphrey’s McGee, this band has evolved into a musical force in their own right by creating a lush, layered, almost orchestral take on the dance party but with a distinct rock and roll overtone that is evidenced on their recent album “Be Here Now!”. Their tunes seem to start with a simple hook, often from the keyboard of Joe Hettinga (from