by Jacob DeSmit
Since moving back to Legend Valley last summer, All Good Music Festival — now in its 17th year — has had little problem drawing fun and talented acts to play the four-day-long party. This year’s iteration was no different: in the shadow of headliner Furthur, bands from as diverse a range as '90s weird-rock Primus to EDM up-and-comer/light show virtuoso Pretty Lights rocked the Crane, Dragon, and Grassroots stages of the festival despite less the weekend’s less-than-ideal weather conditions.
The four-day festival kicked off Thursday without a hitch, as throngs of people took to the pastures of the extensive farmland in Thornville, Ohio. The tough summer heat had many peeling off their clothes early in the afternoon, but shirtless seemed to become the standard in the free-spirited environment of the festival. Mind-altering drugs were in no short supply — while a car search did greet those entering the venue, it wasn’t uncommon to hear a call of “Doses?” (of LSD) from a passing dealer at any point throughout the weekend.
For those camped at Gate 1 of the venue, the central area of the festival was far from their home campsites. The main stages sat at the foot of a giant hill. Vendors lined the left side, selling overpriced festival food of all shapes and sizes and all kinds of toys, pins, hammocks, and clothing. At the top, a giant, colorful statue of Buddah overlooked the masses below. By nightfall, the festival’s opening bands took the stage to kick off the weekend’s opening ceremonies: Athens’ own Papadosio played a mind-bending set of electronic tunes before diversifying its set with a smattering of more standard rock jamming, all as the bright LED screens that flanked each end of the two main stages supplemented the music with the weekend’s trippiest videos. Yonder Mountain String Band proved to be one of the more impressive bluegrass bands to play the weekend, riffing quickly through twangy tunes with bombast and proficiency. As the band rounded outs its near two hour set with the slow and steady “Two Hits and Joint Turns Brown,” a billow of smoke could be seen rising through its fluorescent light show, blanketing the hill with a stuffy warmth.
While Friday promised the first full day of music, a heavy rain cut the end of the Bright Light Social Hour’s set short mid-afternoon. Venue officials asked those on the hill to wait it out an hour to see if conditions would clear, and few seemed disappointed as they trudged back to their camps in the pouring rain — while the newly created mud threatened to ruin shoes. The rain was a welcome relief from the heat. The show went on as the Everyone Orchestra, an improvisational act composed of members of most of the other band’s involved in All Good, jammed through a quick set. While it’s hard to pick a “best day” of music at the festival, Saturday was certainly one of the most fun. Honorable mention for the night goes to the bands like Leftover Salmon, the Stepkids, and Nahko & Medicine for the People, all of whom adequately prepped the stage and audience for the night’s bigger names. But it was three of the night’s last acts that would have the most people talking around their halogen lanterns when they got back to camp. John Butler Trio absolutely decimated the stage as they flew through their brand of Australian roots and jam music. A lot of festival goers were surprised that they liked Primus as much as they did, but it was hard not to when Les Claypool plucked and slapped his bass like he did through songs like “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” and “Tommy the Cat.” Last, but not least for those still awake enough to dance, STS9 finished the night with a late blend of electronic, funk, jazz, and hip-hop.
Despite all of the great music through the first through days, Saturday was the day that would define the festival. Furthur, whose lineup includes former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, was aptly the headliner for a festival that was originally started in honor of an iconic Grateful Dead performance at the same spot. The festival advertised a four-hour set by Further. While this was a bit overblown because of the 45-minute wait between the two sets, few seemed to care. Few is an understatement here, too, because Furthur’s presence appeared to bring a host of new guests to the venue, turning what had previously been a densely packed hill into a legitimate sea of people. The band coolly soloed through fan-favorites like “Scarlet Begonias” and “St. Stephen” as those at the front of the stage — a pit that more or less extended the length of the field — let loose to the jam.
Fans of the Grateful Dead, young and old, couldn’t have asked for much more out of the aging rockers, the supporting acts, or the weekend as a whole. Aside from the fact that one guest from Arkansas died at his campsite (reason for death TBD) and a woman reported an instance of sexual assault, the overall free-spirited nature of the festival made for an extremely relaxing and care-free weekend, one that this reporter hopes to revisit in the very near future.