(Photo: Yonder Mountain String Band)
Jarrett Bellini reports from the 13th annual All Good Festival in Masontown, West Virginia
“These guys are good.”
Cornmeal had an early 1pm time slot on Saturday, but those four words were overheard multiple times throughout the hill as the Chicago-based progressive bluegrass band treated the few early risers to a beyond solid set – one that goes down among the best of the fest.
However, Cornmeal wasn’t alone when it came to wowing the audience. Steve Kimock Crazy Engine also shined in the early hours, giving fans an opportunity to see the latest project by the guitar virtuoso. And joining him on this new venture is the legendary Jerry Garcia Band organist, Melvin Seals, providing a real extra special treat.
But it wasn’t either of these sets which will likely leave people still talking long after the festival. That honor belongs to the one and only Buckethead. All I’m going to say is that this set, while not my favorite performance of the weekend, was certainly the most memorable. It’s sort of a long story, so I’ve posted it separately, here.
The trophy for best musical set goes to Yonder Mountain String Band who, as the sun began to set, left it all on the stage for an hour and a half. The pickers from Colorado had the audience dancing and shaking, kicking up a joyful storm of dust into the cool summer sky. Of all the times I’ve seen them, this was the most fun they appeared to have, and their playful vibe carried on perfectly over the hill.
That being said, the evening went a little downhill from there. Ben Harper & RELENTLESS7 were the big Saturday headliner, but I just couldn’t seem to get into the show. Other people said they really enjoyed his new sound, but, for me, having already seen several great sets early in the day, and the night peaking with Yonder, everything else was kind of a let down. It shouldn't have been, but that's just a testament to how great of a day we had out there.
Fortunately, I didn’t feel at all obligated to stick around into the wee hours of the morning; Umphrey’s McGee owned the late night hours, much to the pleasure of their younger audience. However, not being familiar with their music, I was more than happy to call it a (relatively) early night.
All in all, it was a solid day on the mountain.
Fifteen minutes before Buckethead was scheduled to play, my friends and I decided to go backstage to see if we might catch a glimpse of the famed metal guitarist who dons a creepy white mask and, yes, a KFC bucket on his head. It’s not just a clever name.
As we stood there in the back, I suppose I was expecting something completely normal – just some dude with a guitar walking up the stairs, only to be handed his mask and bucket before revealing himself to the crowd. “Here’s your bucket. Have a good show.”
However, the quest for seeing the real Buckethead quickly became the weirdest, and, perhaps, most memorable, part of our entire All Good Festival weekend.
Shortly after we arrived backstage, a non-descript SUV pulled up to the loading ramp, and was met by an All Good stage worker. The driver side window rolled down, and a man who might as well have been your dad, spoke to the stage hand in what seemed like a nervous hush. Had there not been this moment of slight tension, the general presence of the SUV would have more or less gone unnoticed.
Trying not to be too obvious, I uncapped my camera and directed it at the car, readying myself for a few hip shots if things got juicy – it was sort of like being in the paparazzi.
For another five minutes, nothing happened. The car just sat there. Then, as we settled back into our Buckethead holding pattern, either from the far side of the car or from somewhere beyond the stage, a man appeared with a mask over his face. It wasn’t the ghostly mask that Buckethead wears on stage, but, rather, a surgical mask.
Our immediate assessment was that this man was either trying to avoid the dust or, maybe, it was really Buckethead trying to keep himself just slightly hidden before going on stage. Either way, we knew that he was somehow involved with the Buckethead performance when he approached the SUV and, through the driver’s window, was handed a white Gibson Les Paul. Unquestionably, this was Buckethead’s axe.
He fitted the guitar with a wireless transmitter, and then returned it to the man inside the SUV – just a little pre-show prep.
It would be five more minutes before everything changed.
In a slight “this is the moment” fury, the surgically masked man opened up the car’s side door. Then, from a hiding position on the floor, covered by a blanket, Buckethead emerged, clad in Chucks, a one-piece jumpsuit, his mask, and the bucket. The guy had seriously been hiding there in that car all along. And it couldn’t have been comfortable. Buckethead is astonishingly tall and skinny, which ruled out my theory that he’s really Warren Haynes in disguise.
The man in the surgical mask helped Buckethead up the stage, holding his shoulders and directing him with both hands. Once he was situated, standing alone in front of the crowd, Buckethead proceeded to hammer away, slaying his guitar to backing music that came from, perhaps, an iPod, a DJ, or maybe Jupiter. The whole thing was so weird – I stopped asking questions.
In the photo pit in front of the stage, there was more press crammed together than I had seen for any other act all weekend. It was like, Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead? Nah… I’m here for the bucket guy.
Be it a fun gimmick or strange alter-ego, whatever it was that inspired this man – this Buckethead – was working. People were absolutely eating it up.
Now, I’m not into metal, but I stood there truly amazed at the performance I was seeing on stage. In actuality, it wasn’t really even metal. It was just… odd. But good. As I turned to my friend Ryan, he said, “This is like a train wreck. I can’t turn away.” Next to him, my other friend, Andrew, said nothing, only allowing his jaw to drop.
The day’s plan for us was to watch one Buckethead song and then head back to camp to cook a quick dinner. However, fifteen minutes into the set, we were still standing there, dinner be damned.
Finally, Ryan tapped my shoulder and mimed eating with a spoon, the international signal for I’m hungry. Later, he would explain, “I felt like one of us had to make a move. Otherwise we would have been there for an hour.”
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