Feature: All Good Music Festival leads to a resurgent Legend Valley

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From the July 18, 2013 edition

It's often said legends never die. Sometimes, as in the case of Legend Valley, they even come roaring back to life.

Following a long period of relative dormancy, action surrounding the outdoor concert venue, which rests on a piece of farmland tucked amid the gently rolling hills of nearby Thornville, has surged in recent months.

In June, the venue hosted concerts by country star Gary Allan and former Staind frontman-turned-outlaw-singer Aaron Lewis. Now, for four days beginning on Thursday, July 18, the long-running All Good Music Festival will take over the grounds for the second consecutive year, attracting an anticipated crowd of 18,000-plus for sets by the likes of Grateful Dead-spinoff Furthur, electronic dance musician Pretty Lights and jam scene staple Yonder Mountain String Band.

Such large-scale events were once common occurrences at the site, which launched as Legend Valley in 1978 before new ownership took over in the mid-1980s and renamed it Buckeye Lake Music Center. During Buckeye Lake's late ’80s/early ’90s heyday, the venue hosted massive concerts by everyone from Jimmy Buffett to the Grateful Dead, who played a handful of now-legendary shows at the space.

Ironically, these Dead shows — in particular a 1988 tour stop that found the band playing to an audience in excess of 50,000 — helped set the stage for the venue's long-in-the-works comeback.

BABY STEPS

In 2003, Steve Trickle, who has owned the property for nearly two decades, reintroduced the Legend Valley name and started booking small-scale events, beginning with a Harley-Davidson rodeo. In 2004 he branched out into music, staging a concert by 1960s British prog-rockers the Gods. Neither event went off without a hitch.

“It didn't go over too well, but I got my feet wet, so to speak, and I learned a lot,” Trickle said. “I knew as well as everyone else I could get it going again. It just took some time. It took baby steps.”

For years, the venue limited itself to four shows during the outdoor concert season, and its biggest draw each year was the Hookahville Music Festival, a biannual fest curated and headlined by local jam band Ekoostik Hookah.

Things changed drastically after All Good founder Tim Walther approached Trickle in 2011 at the behest of Columbus-based publicist Dave Weissman.

“The festival was going to leave West Virginia (Marvin's Mountaintop in Masontown, West Virginia, served as home base for the event from 2003 through 2011), and they were looking around for locations,” Weissman said. “I mentioned Legend Valley to Tim Walther and he was like, 'Oh, that's a good idea.'”

In September 2011, Walther visited Legend Valley during Hookahville and came away impressed with the facilities. It also helped that he had some history of his own with the venue, having attended a particularly memorable Grateful Dead show there in the summer of ’88.

“It's one of the reasons I came to check out the site, because I remembered it from when 50,000 to 60,000 people came out [to see the Dead],” Walther said. “People parked wherever they wanted and camped wherever they wanted. It was mayhem, but the community accepted it. It gave me the confidence this was a place we could create a new home if we came in with a professional production.”

A BRIGHT FUTURE

Shortly thereafter, Walther and Trickle inked a three-year deal to bring All Good to Legend Valley starting in the summer of 2012 — a move that helped spark the location's return to regional prominence.

“I noticed a huge shift right away,” Trickle said. “I used to have people be like, 'Oh, Legend Valley? I didn't know you were open anymore.' Now they definitely do.”

Over the last year, Trickle has ramped up his bookings (the venue now hosts roughly six events a season rather than four, including non-concert affairs like October's forthcoming Hell Run) and continued to field calls about hosting bigger and glossier concerts, saying, “[All Good] certainly brought me higher caliber shows and talent to choose from.”

The trend is likely to continue. While Trickle was hesitant to discuss potential summer 2014 bookings, he did admit to working on a deal at Crew Stadium in late June around the same time country superstars Kenny Chesney and Eric Church headlined a mammoth concert at the soccer stadium.

Most importantly, however, Walther and All Good have continued to invest in the property, drilling water wells and laying down miles of gravel road on the site's expansive campgrounds with an eye on establishing the venue as a permanent home for the fest.

“We're growing roots there,” said Walther, adding he was open to extending his current deal with the site. “I look at it as a sacred land. When you go out there ... you can really feel the energy that has built there over the years.”