Written by Bill Whiting
Dark Star Orchestra finally got the chance to put on a three day party of their own in Thornville, Ohio on August 31- September 2 at the Dark Star Orchestra Jubilee Festival and Camp Out. The first night with DSO was a slamming recreation of a Charlotte, North Carolina Coliseum Grateful Dead concert from October 5, 1984. Easing into the beginning with an energized run through of “Bertha,” it seemed the mighty DSO was firing on all cylinders. Jeff Matson provided a sharp and edgy tone to his solos on “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton brought a raw emotional feel to “Little Red Rooster.” “My Brother Esau” proved to be a highlight on August 31, propelling everyone into a dance trance frenzy in front of the stage. Eaton reworked “Feel Like a Stranger,” and Mattson steered the DSO ship to the first set’s conclusion on “Might As Well.” A winning “China Cat Sunflower” opened up the second set, and the band was cruising with free flowing, masterful, improvisational greatness. “I Know You Rider” had the denizens out in front of the stage singing the chorus back and forth with the Dark Star Orchestra. The one two punch of “Estimated Prophet” into “Eyes of the World” led into a trippy “Drums”-”Space,” and the DSO coalesced around a powerful cover of “The Other One.” It was one of the best sets of the weekend.
Hurricane Isaac greeted the Saturday morning revelers with a downpour, rendering the main stage unusable. Quick work went into turning the side stage into the main stage, and the VIP tent became an improvised side stage with marvelous results. The Ragbirds, Cornmeal and Keller Williams added variety and an intuitve, balanced anchor to Saturday’s turnaround. Donna Jean Godchaux amazed those that waited for her set, turning in one of the best performances at the Jubilee as she had done a year earlier at the Werk Out Festival. Dark Star Orchestra chose to play an Ohio State University Mershon Auditorium Grateful Dead concert from September 30, 1976. They started with the sinewy opening lines of “The Music Never Stopped,” and followed with a defining rendition of “Sugaree.” Eaton bursted forth, singing with intensity on “New Minglewood Blues,” and the DSO struck gold with gentle, refined jams on “Ramble On Rose” and “Peggy-O.” “Scarlet Begonias” ended the first set on such a high point, most of the twirlers were glad to enjoy the cozy confines of the second “Main” stage area. A rousing “Lazy Lightnin’”- “Supplication” had the second set starting with a bang, and ”Samson and Delilah,” along with a “St. Stephen”- “Not Fadeaway” combo made it feel like church on Sunday. Mattson fueled a moving “Wharf Rat” with his bruised vocal attack, and Eaton brought the house down with a fiesta flavored launch into the Chuck Berry classic, “Around and Around.” Encoring with the beautiful strains of “Morning Dew” into the bouncing, spinning whirlwind of “Help on the Way”- “Slipknot”- “Franklin’s Tower,” it was evident that Dark Star Orchestra had successfully intiated a first try at mounting their own festival, and the Jubilee was one of the very best festivals of 2012. Even with the soggy conditions, and all of the rain, stand out performances by the headliners, along with Donna the Buffalo, the Mickey Hart Band, Keller Williams and Donna Jean Godchaux made for a perfect weekend of jam worthy rock and roll, and world beat music. I’m already looking forward to making plans for next year’s Jubilee.