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Dark Star Jubilee
Legend Valley : Thornville, Ohio : May 23-25, 2014
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Festivities came to a wonderful close in the early hours of Memorial Day morning at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio
as things wrapped up at the Third Annual Dark Star Jubilee Music Festival. Dark Star Orchestra played host to three
days of continuous non-overlapping sets of music on the hallowed grounds of Buckeye Lake. The spirit of the Grateful
Dead was alive throughout the weekend, spanning the generations, as people boogied from age zero to the edge of
the grave. The event was finally blessed with perfect weather, as the previous two years had been otherwise blessed
with storms and near tundra chills. Temperatures were in the mid-70s and lower-80s with mostly sunny skies and
evenings were in the mid-50s. All you had to do to get warm at night was find a fire and say hello to those in the circle.
Gates opened at 10 a.m. on Friday morning with music scheduled to start at 6 p.m. It was plenty of time to get
everyone in and situated. Early arrivers claimed prime real estate inside the concert bowl, only a few hundred feet
from the stage, hulling in wagon after wagon of tents and supplies. Lots of people claimed land where they had been
set up the previous years and so it was a blast wandering the grounds and running into last year’s neighbors. A new
neighbor this year named Duck put things this way about Dark Star Jubilee: “Dark Star Jubilee is a place for people
to express their freedom in any way they choose.”
The Werks kicked things off right on the “Dark Star Stage” in the early evening sun with another strong Ohio set of
music. They just recently added Dan Shaw to the band on keys and it really brought a great new dynamic to the way
the band plays and sounds. After their set, I ran into Dan and talked to him about how he was adjusting to being in
The Werks and he said that he really enjoyed the challenge. He loves the communicative aspect that The Werks’
music has. Shaw said he likes when the musicians call and respond and create sentences with their instruments.
Those moments where two musicians solo on top of each other’s really gets Shaw jazzed up as well.
Keller Williams with More Than A Little played a really funky set next on “The Other One” stage. More Than a Little
catered to the spirit of the festival with funky covers of “West LA Fade Away” and “Samson and Delilah.” It was good
to see that he made it to Ohio on time. He was supposed to be on NPR in Columbus before the show to play a few
tunes, but was delayed at an airport. I have never seen a Keller show of any incarnation that I have not enjoyed.
Keller Williams just has that innate ability to get a crowd grooving.
Early evening The Simpsons-like clouds drifted by as Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) took the stage for the first of their
six total sets of music. The first song went off with a “deadication” and was an inspiring “Box of Rain.” DSO took the
reigns for this show and created their own set list. Traditionally DSO performs a previously performed Grateful Dead
set list from past history. The “Sugaree” from the first set was a high point for me. The first set came to a close with
the setting of the sun. Many fans returned to their tents, often a few hundred yards away in the out fields or to their
hammocks in the trees on the hill stage right. Many collected food and more beer or returned to collect warmer clothing
for the chilly evening to come. The second DSO set started with an 80’s style second set opener of “Feels like a
Stranger” and the rest of the evening was rolling. You could close your eyes and be transported to the Dead show of
your imagination. It was a treat for the veteran heads in attendance. “Cumberland Blues” was joined by artist at large,
Nicky Sanders on fiddle from the Steep Canyon Rangers. “Eyes of the World” was a treat as it disintegrated into
“Space” and then “Drums” with a reading of The Jabborwocky by Lewis Carrol. “The Other One” burst out and
transitioned into a blistering “Morning Dew” that people were talking about for the next two days. “Werewolves of
London” was the encore and the evening dispersed. Fifteen minutes later the late night set for the evening started as
The Devil Makes Three took the stage. Their set of music went until around two in the morning.
The next morning many were awakened by the early morning sun hitting their tents. Coleman stove breakfast burritos
fueled me for the coming day. Festivities continued with music starting at 11 a.m.0with Devil’s Lettuce. They woke the
remaining sleepers with their roots rock, reggae, and dub music. Next on the bill were Mattson, Barraco and Friends.
Jeff Mattson is the lead guitar player for DSO with the roll of emulating Jerry Garcia in his playing. It was interesting to
see what he had to offer in this creative endeavor. The crowd was energized and enjoying the tunes. Ultraviolet
Hippopotamus were next followed by The Ragbirds on the Dark Star Stage. Tubab Krew followed and created music
that fused eastern and western music in their jam style rock. They create a truly unique sound. Everyone Orchestra
followed with the collaboration of 11 artists from many of the bands that performed and were going to perform
sometime during the weekend. Jeff Mattson of DSO joined on guitar, as well as the lead singer and fiddle player for
the Radbirds. The fun thing about these performances is you get to see musicians who have never played with each
other improvise and create original music on the spot. Also the Everyone Orchestra was led by conductor, Matt Butler,
who lead the band through different transitions and crowd participation with the use of a dry erase board.
Next, the New Riders of the Purple Sage took the audience back in time. This is the band that Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh,
and Micky Hart played in as a parallel project to the Grateful Dead with David Nelson and John Dawson. Eventually
the Dead members parted ways with the band, but the early records have some really great work from Jerry Garcia
and the others on them. This band has been around for a good long time, dating back to the late Height Asbury scene.
They have recently collaborated with Grateful Dead lyricist and released a new album entitled Where I Came From,
the first CD in twenty years. This was a real treat.
Dark Star Orchestra continued the time travel with their complete rendition of 1977-11-06, Broom County Arena,
Binghamton NY. The first set was a standard cowboy set. It was filled with a lot of Bobby songs. The set included
standard transitional songs like “Mexicalli Blues” into “Me and My Uncle.” The stilt walkers explored the crowd during
set one, entertaining along with DSO. Set one closed with “The Music Never Stopped.” Set two opened with “Samson
and Delilah.” The mid-set “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire On The Mountain” was sharp and crisp and delighted
everyone. The fire spinners took to spinning during “Fire.” The rest of the set was a “Saint Stephen” journey that
transitioned into “Drums” and then into “Not Fade Away” and then “Wharf Rat.” The journey transitioned back to
“Saint Stephen” again and then closed the set with a really rockin’ “Truckin'.” I am always completely impressed with
DSO’s ability to emulate a specific tonality of a show from any era of Grateful Dead history. Sometimes the DSO
rendition comes through a little tighter and cleaner than the original.
Galactic took the first slot of the late night performers. The band came as the standard quintet and threw a New
Orleans funk party that had the audience grooving and ready to continue into the early hours of the next morning.
Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage next and treated the audience with a really special performance.
Guest performing with Yonder Mountain was the legendary dobro player Jerry Douglas. I’m a total sucker for this
guy’s playing and rightly so. Douglas shreds on a dobro. I put Douglas on the same level as Bella Fleck. The set took
us to about 2 a.m. and then released us to continue the party in the campgrounds. The party continued with Rumpke
Mountain String Band who played music in the campgrounds until about 7 a.m. The set featured a rendition of “Shady
Grove” which the band says they have not played in years. There’s nothing quite like bluegrass in the middle of the
night. I believe Cornmeal was involved with the late night campground show as well.
For many, there was no sleep from the night before. Others rose again, to the sun cooking the insides of their tents.
It is amazing how quickly the sun can cook the crowd out of their tents only to continue sleeping five feet from the door.
It was coffee and breakfast burritos again with music to start at 11 a.m. with AJ Ghent. Red eye gravy and biscuits
would have been perfect for breakfast with this band. Southern Soul is what Ghent calls this kind of music and it
offered a lot of it. Lap steel that sizzled like bacon and vocals that sound like orange juice tastes. Aliver Hall from
Akron, Ohio was next on the “Other One” stage followed by the Rumpke Mountain Boys. This was straight forward,
up until dawn; self titled, “trashgrass,” aka raunchy dirt kicking bluegrass. Sometimes I like to think, and it may very
well be, that the goal of this band is to get people to boogie their feet right off. Donna the Buffalo took the stage next.
This was a powerful set of music from the band from 1989 that has been rocking strong ever since. They created jams
that were simplified and rooted in traditional rock. Jeb Puryears’s guitar playing is simplified and yet incredibly effective
among the zydeco, reggae, and jam infused stylings of Donna the Buffalo. Next, Orgone performed an early funk
influenced, high energy set with Cornmeal to follow on the “Other One” stage.
Anders Osbourn was a real treat Sunday afternoon. This set was rooted in southern rock that fits the Neil Young
traditions of music with really raw guitar and rooted writing. Solos that melted into constant distortion and feedback
would snap back to beat and snap the crowd along with it. This was done with some real force and drive. Anders’ set
proved to me and many other first time listeners that an Anders’ show is always something to look for. The Wailers
took to the stage next and performed their Legend tour. They performed many of The Wailers’ iconic tunes like “Stir it
Up,” “Buffalo Soldier,” and an encore of "Exodus." There is something great about reggae on a Sunday afternoon.
After the Wailers, DSO took the stage for the final two sets of the festival. For these final two sets of music, DSO
treated the audience to another original set list. The first set was pretty standard for Grateful Dead music.
They opened with a killer “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider.” Those two songs rarely ever travel
separately. A mid-set “Mr. Charlie” was a real treat for fans of the older era of Dead music. Apparently “Mr. Charlie”
is a technically challenging piece of music and that might be why it didn’t get played to much outside of the earlier
years. The real peach of this evening’s show was the wild way the second set started. They opened with “Help On
The Way” which transitioned into the regular follow-up of “Slipknot.” Then, at this point, people were predicting the
next regular follow-up of “Franklin’s Tower,” but instead we received a killer "Shakedown Street." It was a complete
curve ball for everyone and it got things weird (in a good way). The set rocked on with everyone singing together to
the encore of “Ripple” with Nicky Sanders on fiddle. The music ended and people returned to their tents, with their
friends, to tell stories and share highlights from another amazing Jubilee. “Nothing left to do, but smile, smile, smile.”
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