Preview: A Chat w/ All Good Founder Tim Walther

This year the 16th annual edition of the All Good Music Festival moves from its home of almost a decade in West Virginia to Legend Valley in Ohio. The 2012 All Good Music Festival features headliners Allman Brothers Band, The Flaming Lips, Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby with Branford Marsalis, Phil Lesh and Friends, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Yonder Mountain String Band and Lotus.

[All Photos by Andrew Bender]

Andrew Bender has covered the All Good Music Festival for the past two years for Hidden Track. Earlier this month, Andrew spoke with All Good Music Festival founder and promoter Tim Walther about the festival’s move and what it takes to put on a festival for over 20,000 fans.

Andrew Bender: The idea of a larger outdoor camping and music festival with only one stage of music at a time is pretty unique – what was the inspiration for that, originally?

Tim Walther: We’ve been doing that since the beginning when we had a split stage. It was maybe a 30-foot stage with 15 feet dedicated to 1 band, and when that band would finish and we’d turn it over to the next band. As we grew we realized that the number one complaint for fans at larger festivals was that they just could not see all the music that they paid to see. They would be chasing music. You have 30 minutes of this band at this stage and then you’re running over to this other stage to catch a piece of this other band, and it really takes away from the experience. We worked really hard to keep it all in one place, to bring everyone into one central location and have that energy build all day long. At the All Good Festival you see that energy grow from day to day. By Saturday afternoon everybody is completely moved in to their experience and their surroundings and they are just part of that overwhelming, thrilling energy in the space right in front of the stage. That’s what I really think is the magic of having non-overlapping sets.

AB: I know you’ve also worked with other formats – with such a large crowd and just one set at a time, What have been of the largest unanticipated challenges with that format, as far as artists, staffing, or logistics?

TW: I can’t really say there were any major hurdles. The stages have worked very well for us. It works well for production as far as having the stages next to each other and having the teams coordinate and the timing. One difficulty from a logistic standpoint is that the bands don’t really have any opportunity to do any kind of full sound check. What we tend to do is give them a live check, but it’s prohibitive for them to make any noise while the other band is playing 20 yards from their stage. Other than that, it works like a charm.

AB: You’ve grown All Good into one of the premier camping and music festivals in the country – with attendance of over 20,000 last year. Was it your original vision to grow it to be so large?

TW: Way back in the day with our first event in Brandywine, Maryland we had 800 to 950 people. At that time I had a goal that 10 years from now I’d like All Good to be up to 20,000 people. But my sense is that it doesn’t really need to grow beyond where it’s at now because I feel like we’re at the tipping point of having a larger festival that can still feel intimate. I think we have that, I think we have that charm, where every fan can feel like they’re a part of the event, as opposed to being at an even larger festival where you’re just one of the many thousands of fans.

AB: What proportion of your staff are volunteers?

TW: Last year we had approximately 22,500 paid attendees. Our volunteer program is called WET which stands for Work Exchange Team. Basically, someone pays for their ticket in advance, they work their 15 hours, and they get a refund on their ticket. We typically have 300 to 350 WET folks working with our team of people in 65 or 70 departments throughout the site. It’s a great way to have the fans involved not only in the experience of being a fan at All Good but also participating in what it takes to build and make an event run like it has the last few years.

AB: A lot of college-aged fans are interested in festival and music production and promotion. Do you have any additional ways for people to get involved in that side who are interested beyond the WET experience alone?

TW: We’re only as good as our staff is and we feel very fortunate to have some of the most seasoned and experienced staff in the country. A lot work the largest festivals like Bonnaroo and events year round. Many folks who are interested in production at the entry level do end up on the WET team and they can express that interest to the department heads that they’re working. So they really have an opportunity to show their worth with the work they do for our event and show that they want to take this to another level. Each year we pick up some people who have been WET volunteers in the past and we put them to work on more of an hourly position. So there’s definitely the opportunity to go from the WET perspective to more of a paid team player.

AB: You spent the past 9 years in Masontown on Marvin’s Mountaintop, and the prior years in the Maryland / Cumberland area. There were reports that Masontown was imposing new ordinances and tax hikes that were prohibitive.

TW: We just didn’t feel welcome any longer in West Virginia. The county and community had pushed back and we felt like it was time to move on.

AB: Ohio seems like a long way to move the festival. What are you most excited about in terms of relocating?

TW: We were looking for a new location, and when we visited Legend Valley it just felt really good. I was there in 1989 as a fan of the Grateful Dead and had a great experience. It’s got a rich history, and it’s laid out very well for this type of event. It’s within a mile off Route 70 but it’s still a very rural area with rolling hills, and beautiful scenic views. One of the bigger problems we had at Marvin’s Mountaintop was the traffic. We were bringing all those people up a one lane country road, and as we grew it just became more problematic with the community, and that’s one major benefit of where’re we’re going in Legend Valley. In comparison to Marvin’s Mountaintop it’s much easier to access and manage getting folks in and out.

PAGE TWOPrepping For All Good 2012 and more on the move to Ohio

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