Held on the remote Marvin's Mountaintop near Masontown, in West Virginia, All Good Music Festival, now in its 14th year, might be your best bet this summer to escape Pittsburgh and dive into a full-blown, multi-day music festival without driving for hours. But unlike this year's Bonnaroo, don't expect Jay-Z to show up.
All Good is, as founder and organizer Tim Walther puts it, "the largest small festival going," selling around 20,000 tickets each year. Many of those thousands are the folks that bemoan Bonnaroo's slow transition from jam-band mecca to mainstream music megafest -- All Good has maintained hippie-friendly vibes since its creation.
This year's festival features headliners Furthur (an amalgam of post-Grateful Dead musicians) and scene mainstays Widespread Panic, along with a veritable Who's Who of genre-spanning jammers: Yonder Mountain String Band, Bassnectar, Umphrey's McGee, Keller Williams, Dr. Dog, Old Crow Medicine Show, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic and more.
From the Mountaintop's stargazing, stadium-seating aesthetic to the giant tent cities that pop up nearby, "the crowd as a whole will come together as one living and flowing organism," says Walther.
The first All Good, held in Maryland in 1996, included "only two staff, and the one security guy that came with the rent," says Walther. "We were throwing a big party for our 945 closest friends." The tight-knit feeling hasn't left, though All Good's expanded to 600 staff and "the absolute best bands in this demographic."
That demographic is one reason All Good often feels otherworldly. Expect every assortment of tie-dye, dreadlocks, drum circles and double-take-worthy jam fans. Performances ran well past 4 a.m., at which point the still-conscious crowd is somehow still dancing. Pittsburgh feels much farther than 90 minutes away.
"You arrive to the Mountaintop and the rest of the world goes away," says Walther. "Whether it takes a day or two, at some point everyone comes together within this community and there becomes this universal sense that 'every little thing's gonna be alright.'"
Or, as festival-goers tend to remind each other, "It's all good."
While the festival has hovered around 20,000 tickets sold for a few years, Furthur may be All Good's biggest draw yet.
The band features Bob Weir and Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead (the band that spawned "this demographic" in the first place), playing Dead tunes with a handpicked crew of musicians, most notably John Kadlecik, who spent years playing Jerry Garcia's part in the Grateful Dead recreationists Dark Star Orchestra.
To Walther, Further playing at All Good "completes the circle." The festival founder logged time, like so many Dead devotees, following the band on tour.
"I knew that somehow, I was going to be involved in the continuation of this magical community I had become a part of in the parking lots of Grateful Dead shows," says Walther. "As far as I am concerned, we are presenting what's left of the Grateful Dead. And it's going to be epic."
All Good Music Festival and Campout Thu., July 8-Sun., July 11. Marvin's Mountaintop, Masontown, W.Va. Various ticket and camping packages. 800-594-TIXX or www.allgoodfestival.com