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Noodling, n. ~ [noodle, v. int.; nood-ler, n.; var. nüdl] ~ Affectionate if deprecating slang for the solitary gyrations favored by blissed-out attendees at jam-band concerts.

Bag-checks and responsible alcohol regulations have become more and more standard at the major festivals. An innocuous glass dealer at Bonnaroo, earlier this year, had $4,500 worth of pipes and bongs confiscated by security. At the All Good Festival this past weekend, rumors swirled that security had discovered a truck with a false undercarriage that, when removed, was found to contain tank after tank of nitrous oxygen. The driver had been planning to sell for $200/canister—by all accounts the going rate. Upon entering the festival in a responsible-looking Subaru, I was asked by an obviously stoned security official whether I had any weapons in the car. “You know, any glass bottles, sharp objects, firearms, RPGs.” I did not.

If there’s one place you’re guaranteed not to find rocket-propelled grenades, it’s the All Good Festival, a sprawling destination for besotted pilgrims—the descendants, at least ethically, of those Otis Redding once termed “the love crowd.” The event is characterized more by raggedly goofy goodwill, from the noodlers content to circumscribe themselves for hours within day-glo hula hoops to the pods descending on the drainage pond for a free shower and a séance with the butterflies. Even on Friday, with sporadic downpour and tents blown askew by high-altitude West Virginia winds, the vibe was unflappable.

Here’s what I saw.

Old Crow Medicine Show: A typically crisp hour-plus of minstrelsy from these guys got things rolling on Friday evening. Audience members toting illicit flasks of Old Crow Kentucky bourbon were much sought-out in the crowd and could sometimes be persuaded to exchange a slug for something of equivalent potency. Ketch Secor, who apparently has but one Hawaiian shirt, exuded more spunk than usual. Though I think he smiles more when he’s performing with Dave Rawlings.

**

Umphrey’s McGee: This band, which is liked by a lot of people whom I like, is new to me. On Friday they sounded sort of like Phil Collins, except with Steve Vai getting pedal-happy up front. Mostly the songs just blended together.

**

Furthur: Phil Lesh and Bob Weir had the coveted Friday night spot and played, minus set break, for just under three hours. Jeff Mattson, who apes Jerry Garcia for his day job with the Dark Star Orchestra, shared vocals with Weir and proved an immaculate addition; very few Grateful Dead recordings do as much with harmony as the current lineup. The sound, slightly muffled, was perhaps best absorbed from directly under the stage, where among the scaffolding roadies could be seen smoking solitary joints in makeshift hammocks.

**

Dr. Dog*: This band, with its mission to bring back the middle-eight, has been noted as an outlier at the fest—jammy only in a nominal, breakdown context. Scott McMicken was being diplomatic before the set when he described his view of jam bands as one of “tolerance”; the group he was most voluble about was Furthur, whose live act he called “more implied than performed”—a good encapsulation of the group’s loving but staid set. At the same time, these guys are clearly at home on a festival stage, far from what McMicken calls the “museum-like atmosphere of New York venues.” (The group is from Philly.) “It’s good for bands like us to be here,” McMicken told me.

Onstage, the elation implied on their records bounces and spins into anthem-territory without ever feeling ponderous; the double-7-inch that McMicken & co. will record this week is intended to convey that live energy more fully. Still, the group has an unassuming quality, and you almost believe McMicken when he says that success has been merely a “very pleasant accident.” All Good is a beneficiary of this accident, and Dr. Dog’s live act remains pure fun.

**

Railroad Earth: “October in the Railroad Earth” was a Kerouac prose-poem about serving as a brakeman. Railroad Earth is a magnanimous and non-boring jam band from New Jersey. The mid-afternoon crowd was perhaps too sunstruck to get down properly, and the nappers missed a great set: Well-contoured guitar solos over excellent, heartfelt roots.

**

Parliament Funkadelic: George Clinton‘s wet basslines abide, as does his granddaughter, who still performs with P-Funk and who, according to Clinton, is actually named Sativa.

**

Max Butler and the Everyone Orchestra: I had no idea who these guys were and remain more or less in the dark, but what a set. Flute, electric guitar, and a well-drilled chorus rounded out a chatty performance whose proceeds will buy instruments for students at West Virginia public schools.

**

Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi: The reigning jam-band power couple traded guitar solos and winks as they blew through a methodical set of perhaps the best music of the festival. Having heard Trucks and Tedeschi individually, I hoped the pairing would sound like the Allman Brothers fronted by a soul sister. That’s close but not quite right, and digressions into “Trenchtown Rock” and a collaboration with the lead guitarist from Widespread broadened the palette a bit. There are guitarists at All Good who played more notes than Trucks, but no one who played them better. A highlight.

**

Widespread Panic: Some people find these metallic slow-jams revelatory. I found them sort of lugubrious.

**

Yonder Mountain String Band: Yonder Mountain took the stage for the second of two Saturday “late-night” sets. The hills, surprisingly, were still more or less filled with people; the mandolins rang ’til about 3 a.m. That’s dedication on both sides of the proscenium, folks.

**

Moonshine Breakfast with Keller & the Keels: Goofy finger-picking and a nice Tom Petty medley. (I haven’t used that phrase before.)

**

The Travelin’ McCourys; The Lee Boys: The Lee Boys sound a hell of a lot like Robert Randolph and Family, in a good way. Pair that with non-stodgy bluegrass (and bluegrass with a pedigree!), and you’ve got a nice mix. The Lee Boys call it “Sacred Grass,” a combo between sacred steel and bluegrass; Meetin’ in the Middle, a six-song EP based on the collaboration, would be on my Torrent list if I knew how to use Torrent.

**

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: I saw Grace Potter once before, at the Rte. 29 Review last August. There, she was dressed more or less demurely in a floor-length gold dress, and I was impressed by her voice. Here, she wore a negligé-like thing and seemed a little too ready to bank on her own sex appeal. Her pipes were still there, but she came off a bit like Bonnie Raitt in heat. I left before the end of the set

**

A four-day festival on this scale is an exercise in stamina for everyone involved. Five days would have been difficult; six days a bummer. I get the impression, though, that attendees have a leveler approach to the festival than you might think. Where at Woodstock you’d expect to find cabals of dropouts, or maybe aspiring farmers, at All Good you found a plethora of CamelBaks worn by people who probably spend other weekends involved in wholesome pursuits like hiking. Except for the frequent offers of Molly/Mali (an umbrella term for MDMA, some of it this weekend cut with innocuous sassafrass) and an apparent abundance of opium, things were pretty much on the up-and-up. The psychedelic casualty who soiled himself in the performance area, and a girl who forgot her name—and who we had to escort to the EMT tent while dubbing her, for the purposes of the moment, Caroline—were outliers. People were here to get down with the music, and with each other.

None of which captures the festival’s goofy beauty as does the following exchange, faithfully recorded by my companion:

ATTENDEE #1: [Hugs big fat redhead hippie passionately.] Thanks, dude. All I’ve wanted to do was get here, find the biggest fat redheaded hippie, and give him a hug.

ATTENDEE #2: [Earnestly.] No problem, man. It’s all good.

Pit photographs by Annie Galvin


*An explanation for what some have called an unappealing band name: Twelve years ago, McMicken had a sketchpad with the word DRAWING inscribed across the front. Blocking out the A from the DRAWING label made it DR WING. Toby Leaman suggested substituting “dog” for “wing.” This in part was a nod to their white huskie/German shepherd mix named Hunter S. Dog, whom McMicken describes as “a little fighter, a sprightly little guy, a glorious dog.” The three black dots on the animal’s face lend the group its current logo.