All Good Diary – FestivaLog Saturday: Allman Brothers Band, DSO, Lettuce, Tea Leaf Green, Rex Jam, Railroad Earth
All Good Music Festival – July 21
I awoke Saturday morning feeling like a piece of broccoli in a vegetable steamer, and quickly emerged from my tent to feel a gentle breeze and the warmth of morning sunlight. The intense blue of the mid-morning sky was broken by patches of clouds, akin to the opening credits of The Simpsons. After scarfing down a breakfast burrito courtesy of my campmates, I made my way to the concert field. At the gate I was thoroughly shaken down by security staff, who peered inside every crevice of my camera bag and gear – the only time over the weekend I received such close scrutiny. I managed to catch the second half of Saturday’s opening set by Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, whose down home tunes already had folks dancing and others just smiling in appreciation of the complex instrumentation courtesy of one of the finest guitar players around.
An odd daytime set by jamtronica supergroup Conspirator followed, about which I joked to some fellow photographers, “I just ate a ton of molly – this is my whole night.” Truly, although Conspirator had just played a late night set the previous night at the Gathering of the Vibes festival, and offered a solid performance, the time slot just made no sense at All Good. Next, Ohio indie rock band Red Wanting Blue fronted by vocalist Scott Terry played a half hour set. Their guitar-driven pop sound was reminiscent of ‘90s Counting Crows, and fit well in the more laid back vibe of the mid-day heat. Bay area jam band Tea Leaf Green followed, and played a number of newer tunes off of their last album Radio Tragedy, with guitarist Josh Clark trading licks with All Good artist at large Roosevelt Collier in multiple numbers.
Saturday was considerably hotter than the two previous days, and a large number of fans crowded beneath the pine trees lining the top portion of the concert bowl in search of shade. This was a notable difference from the former site in West Virginia that lacked any such respite from the mid-day sun. Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons brought forceful energy to their half hour set on the Crane stage as the rock power trio performed (as they always seem to) as if this was their last gig ever and their only salvation could come by way of a particularly impassioned performance. Although it could have been an odd transition from Joseph’s wailing guitar to the oft-mellower sounds of Railroad Earth, the latter started out their set with a harder punch from Walk Beside Me > Stillwater Getaway, thanks to drummer Carey Harmon’s driving snare beats. A fitting tribute to the All Good statuary, the song Smile Like a Buddha had the crowd dancing. Buddha transitioned into the newer, harder driving tune Black Elk which features fiddle player Tim Carbone on electric guitar.
Dark Star Orchestra, considered by many to be the premier Grateful Dead tribute band, provided a perfect start to Saturday evening with an original set list for their 90-minutes on the main Dragon Stage. Highlights included a China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider opener, Fire on the Mountain and a big Big River that heavily featured Rob Baracco’s skillful keyboard playing and Jeff Mattson’s eerily Garcia-esque electric guitar. Fans were treated to an unexpected performance of Alligator and provided a taste test of sorts as DSO played both Deal and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad which had been previously played by Bob Weir or Phil Lesh on Thursday. Whereas Bob Weir had performed a jazzier take on Deal with Branford Marsalis, DSO maintained its more traditional sound.
After Dark Star Orchestra was a special edition of Matt Butler’s Everyone Orchestra to raise funds for music education at the local Lakewood High School. Called the Rex Jam, the improvisational and interactive orchestra featured Larry Keel, Tea Leaf Green and Roosevelt Collier. Although many performers, such as Keel, hadn’t ever been part of the Everyone Orchestra before, it was one of the best I’ve heard at multiple festivals, and is worth seeking out in the weeks to come as tapers post those recordings online.
As the sun started to slip behind the concert hill facing the stages, Big Gigantic took the main stage and the crowd went wild for one of the highest energy sets of the weekend. Dominic Lalli’s sax playing and Jeremy Salken’s energetic drumming came from atop their own lighted stage platforms, making a challenge for photographers, but improved visibility for the audience. Next, at the side stage, The Bridge returned to the festival for the first time since the group’s ‘final’ performance at All Good in 2010. Truth be told, their soulful, bluesy blend of horns, guitar, and rhythm provided the perfect, well . . . bridge from Big Gigantic to Saturday headliners the Allman Brothers Band.
Keyboardist, singer, and founding member Gregg Allman has struggled with health issues over the past few years ranging from bulging discs in his back to a liver transplant resulting from Hepatitis C. Although Allman both looked and sounded frailer than I remembered, his keyboard playing was on the mark. I can’t say that it was the best Allman Brothers set that I’ve seen, but from the beginning of Don’t Want You No More > It’s Not My Cross to Bear, it was still one helluva show. A cover of Dr. John’s I Walk on Guilded Splinters was intense with guitar work from both Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, although not to the same level of frenetic energy as when I’ve seen Widespread Panic cover the song. Rather, it had more of Haynes’ and Trucks’ unique styles of slower blues playing that just oozes heat.
Other set highlights included fan favorites Midnight Rider and Hot ‘Lanta, in addition to a One Way Out that featured a sit in by Roosevelt Collier on lap steel. The presence of three musicians so adept at use of slides made that one of the standout songs of the whole weekend. Set closer In Memory of Elizabeth Reed was eclipsed by the Whipping Post encore that again featured the ‘Trucks–Haynes awesomeness face-off that ABB fans have come to appreciate, with good reason.
Following the Allmans was an all too brief 45-minute set by uber-funksters Lettuce. With guitar work by Adam Smirnoff and Eric Krasno, plus Neal Evans on keys backed by Adam Deitch’s drums, Lettuce makes for a funk lover’s fantasy. But before too long, they were off and alliterative dance jam act Lotus took the main stage for an incredible two-hour, late night performance that had the concert bowl packed until the band called it quits a little after 3:15 am. By that point, my head and back were ready for some sleep, but it had been one Saturday jam-packed with impressive performances. I couldn’t wait for the final day of All Good. Check back tomorrow for a review of Sunday and a wrap up of the weekend.