Try a semi-small festival experience

All Good is a concert and camping event in W.Va.


July 14, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,SUN STAFF

When Maryland music promoter Tim Walther threw the first All Good Music Festival in 1997, it was a lot smaller and a bit less organized than it is now. He started Walther Productions in 1995, mostly running street promotions and small festivals for bands on the jam circuit.

"At that point, I can't say we knew what we were doing," Walther said. "It was more about throwing a big party with a lot of good music."

Walther called some of the bands he really liked, booked 15 of them and started pumping a two-day camping festival dubbed the All Good Music Festival. A couple of buddies helped him run the show. About 2,500 people rolled up to Wilmer Park in Brandywine and pitched tents, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones headlined the bill.

Today through Sunday, Walther is expecting 15,000 to 17,000 people at his ninth All Good Music Festival, which involves more than 30 bands and a crew of about 400 at Marvin's Mountaintop in Masontown, W.Va., southeast of Morgantown and about 10 miles south of Interstate 68. Masontown is 224 miles from Baltimore.

The All Good is Walther's flagship festival, the longest-running of any he has promoted. It is also his only festival this year, a move made so he could channel all his energy into four jammin' days of music, he said. Hey, the name's not for nothing.

"We like the term `All Good,' " he said. "I think it has a lot to do with the vibe that we've created over the years. People come to these events expecting everything to be all good, expecting it to be a really friendly camping-out experience."

While other festivals such as Bonnaroo push for more stages, more bands and more people, Walther prefers to keep the All Good Festival semi-small.

"I feel like we're the largest small festival," he said. "The fans definitely want to keep it more intimate. They refer to Bonnaroo as the Wal-Mart of festivals, and for some people that's just way too big. It's not the personal, intimate setting they're looking for."

There aren't any scheduling conflicts at All Good. No choosing between five stages with five bands you want to see but they are all playing at once.

"You don't get that at All Good," said Joshua Schulman, a 21-year-old from New City, N.Y. Schulman went to All Good last year and is going again this weekend. "It's definitely a lot cleaner. It's a better overall festival experience. It's not as overwhelming."

All Good also gives local bands some serious East Coast exposure. The Bridge, a Baltimore-based funk outfit, played a Saturday morning show at last year's All Good and still hears good things about it from fans.

"We had a great reaction," said Kenny Liner, who plays mandolin and beat-box. "People [are] ... always coming up and saying they saw last year's All Good and we did a great job. It went very well."

This year, the Bridge is the main sandwich band, playing just before headliners the String Cheese Incident and during String Cheese's set break. Liner said this will be an extra boost for the band's national touring reputation.

"It's amazing," Liner said. "We're very thrilled about it, for sure."

The Flaming Lips, Lake Trout, Keller Williams and Dark Star Orchestra are among the performers. The festival is one of only three shows the Flaming Lips perform this summer.

More bands, fans and crew mean more stress for Walther, but he said that by now he is used to the nail-biting, which starts six months before the festival. He has done about 30 festivals, weathering the peaks and the valleys.

Walther said the main reason he moved All Good from mid-May to mid-July is the snowstorm of 2002. Some fans remember that one as the hypothermia festival. Two inches of cold rain fell that Friday night, followed by intermittent snow showers Saturday.

"It was like a Survivor episode, basically, except probably more difficult to survive than a Survivor episode," he said.

Several thousand people left, but most stuck it out and watched the band moe. play in the snow. Since then, Walther has said the festival will stay in midsummer. But that doesn't mean things will always go right, he said.

"Life as a promoter is basically life as a full-time gambler," Walther said. "Every year, we let it all ride -- we put it all on the table and hope it comes back."

Besides All Good, Walther also handles promotions for shows at the Funk Box, the Recher Theatre in Towson, the State Theatre in Falls Church, Va., and other venues in the Washington-Baltimore area. Though he makes time for only one festival each year, Walther said he will never give up on his baby.

"I'm a lifer," he said. "I'm doing what I love to do ... and I don't know if you retire from doing what you love to do. There could be a 45th annual All Good Festival for all I know."

The festival starts at 8:30 p.m. today with early arrival performances on the Funk Box stage and finishes at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Weekend passes, starting tomorrow, are $135 at the gate, with an additional camping charge of $15 for today. For directions and ticket information, call 919-563-4936 or visit www.allgoodfestival. com.

For more regional trips, see Page 33.

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