With a 90 per cent rate of returning festivalgoers, the eighth annual Dark Star Jubilee became a “family” reunion as much as it was a relaxed, intimate music event over Memorial Day weekend at Legend Valley.
Channeling the Grateful Dead’s 30-year history, Dark Star Orchestra approached that band’s catalog with the devotion of longtime fans but played it with skillful musicianship that challenged the material.
The Dead recreationists performed an elective set on Friday, which included a nod to Bob Dylan’s May 24th birthday (“Visions of Johanna” and “Tangled Up in Blue”) and a guest appearance by Marcus King on “Walkin’ Blues.” Earlier, King ripped through a set that included a new song, “Save Me,” plus scorching versions of “Thespian Espionage,” “Goodbye Carolina” and the Allman Brothers Band “Hot ‘Lanta.”
On the second night, DSO celebrated the 20th anniversary of drummer Rob Koritz’s first show with the band. It performed the setlist from April 19, 1978, Veterans Memorial Auditorium in nearby Columbus, Ohio, which debuted “Werewolves of London.” During “Drums” Koritz and drummer Dino English were joined by nearly two dozen family, friends and associates for a lengthy, ecstatic rhythmic jam.
Sunday featured DSO’s performance of April 30, 1988 Frost Amphitheatre, which debuted “Let the Good Times Roll.”
The Nth Power started the fest with chilled out funk ‘n’ soul that ended with a spot-on cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World.” Dumpstaphunk livened up Sunday with a double-bass funk attack that included the horn section going out in the crowd during “Street Parade.”
Late nights featured bluegrass from The Lil Smokies and Billy Strings who brought the genre to a next level jamming dimension on mind-blowing takes on “Ernest T. Grass” and “Black Mountain Rag,” covers of Doc Watson and the Stanley Brothers and originals. Leftover Salmon’s high-energy jamgrass became the antidote to high heat and humidity and included an (early) birthday cake for Vince Herman plus stiltwalkers during “Carnival Time.”
As Donna the Buffalo marks its 30th Anniversary it’s not getting older it’s getting better. The Trumansburg, New York Americana act had the crowd dancing but also exhibited a Summer of Love vibe that set up nicely for the psychedelic rock of Chris Robinson Brotherhood. With Pete Sears filling in on keyboards, CRB manipulated the influences from the Fillmore East and West to Laurel Canyon for the 21st century with “Roan County Banjo,” “The Chauffer’s Daughter” and “Behold the Seer” among the highlights.
Cris Jacobs Band was forced to take a break after its first song due to a weather advisory. The group came back strong with numbers from its latest album and a sit-in by Grahame Lesh. Earlier, Jacobs as well as DSO’s Rob Barraco joined Lesh’s Midnight North during that band’s set.
While none of the 61 songs played by DSO were repeats, ironically, “Sugaree,” with the line, “I’ll meet you at the jubilee,” was left out. Maybe the Jubilee Family will hear that when it gathers next year. John Patrick Gatta