Dark Star Jubilee Review

May 27-29, 2016, Legend Valley, OH

Written by Elisha Gud

Photos by Brien Vincent

As a first time Jubilee attendee I was well aware that I wasn’t attending what one at this day in age would call, a typical music festival. Dark Star Jubilee has been built from the ground up by dead heads and musicians alike with the same concept in mind, to celebrate and honor the Grateful Dead; and of course, good music. Dark Star Orchestra’s fifth annual Dark Star Jubilee has been held every year during Memorial Day weekend at Legend Valley Campground in Thornville, Ohio. The festival brings people from all over the country as we gather and listen to some of our favorite bands cover iconic Grateful Dead tunes, songs from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s era all with a good mix of original tunes.

The line up promised some incredible performances, but what I soon realized was this special weekend had more to offer besides great music. I set up camp with my friends The Amazing Giants—a stilting crew from Columbus, OH. Next to us we had the bubble man, and the drum circle. Our camp was home to a lot of things…workshops of all kinds; tye dying, endo boarding, and yoga. I found myself along with other people dancing around with bubbles throughout the weekend. As instruments were being played by many people at the campsite, tunes were being created adding to the continuous drum circle during set breaks. There was no doubt that the weekend would be filled with nonstop amounts of laughter coming from that unforgettable row of stripped black and white canopies.

As my busy day at work kept dragging longer than anticipated, I succumbed to the fact that I wasn’t going to make it out until later that evening. I arrived directly from work and immediately heard people talking about the Melvin Seals, Jerry Garcia Band set with DSO. After listening in to the conversation for a hot moment, I rushed down to the stage to catch the last bit of Dark Star Orchestra, songs from their set included some of my personal favorites; Tennessee Jed, Eyes of the World, Johnny B. Goode, and ending with a little bit of Franklins Tower. As I went back to the campsite for a quick break I grabbed a headlamp and prepared myself for a good ole bluegrass get down with Rumpke Mountain Boys. I walked down to the stage and became overwhelmed with happiness as I couldn’t walk more than five feet without running into a familiar face. After Rumpke covered Wharf Rat in one of the most soulful ways I had ever heard it played I retreated back to my campsite to listen to the music from there and get to know my fellow campsite-mates.

Saturday began bright and early as I lay in my tent and listened to Frank Tennyson as he led a guided meditation before Yoga with Ellen Eilers. After Yoga and in between learning how to balance on an Indo Board I enjoyed watching as festival goer’s tye dyed their new favorite clothing items and banged on drums creating a massive drum circle. Somewhere in the middle of the day I helped my friends in The Amazing Giants gear up as they put on their stilts and became the tallest people in the crowd as they danced around the valley with all of the kids at the festival for a parade.

Later in the day Hot Tuna performed their electric set sending chills of excitement up my spine as I prepared for the second set of DSO. The full elective set started off with a killer rendition of White Rabbit with Jack Cassady on bass and and Jorma Kaukonen on electric guitar. With Allie Kral on the fiddle during Catfish John I am nearly certain that I was not the only one with goose bumps running up and down my arms. With set one ending in a fan favorite—Scarlet Begonias, and set two starting with Shakedown Street there was no doubt in my mind that things were about to get weird. As I retreated to the infamous hill to sit and watch as the set neared the end after a twenty minute drums in space solo. I regrouped with my friends to head back to the campsite. I needed to prepare myself for some of the most intense dancing I was going to be doing all weekend before the Yonder Mountain String Band set.

As Sunday started out with more meditation and yoga with Frank and Ellen, Indo boarding with Ashlee and a great big Jubilee family photo—the crowd by the main stage quickly grew as the fierce ladies of Jemntonic took the stage. With sounds of the guitar, accordion, stand-up bass, viola, and harmonic voices of the three ladies echoing through the valley everyone that didn’t quite make it out for the family photo was now wide awake and getting their booty’s groovin for all of their funky, fun tunes. With a daytime set by Jeff Mattson leading the way into another eccentric acoustic set by Hot Tuna, an instrumental cover of Stella Blue by Steve Kimock and friends, and Leftover Salmon. The festival came to a close with yet another beautiful set by Dark Star Orchestra.

I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it many times again and again… The magic of Legend Valley Campground fills the souls of any individual that steps foot onto the soil. It’s the music that echoes through the valley and the people that come to see the musical acts that come to play. I asked a good friend of mine who is also very involved with the Dark Star Orchestra family his favorite moment of the weekend. He responded with “getting to watch my son enjoy, his 5th out of 5 Dark Star Jubilees…and the magic that comes with it.” I couldn’t believe how many children were there, it made me incredibly happy to see the music and traditions of generations before me being passed down to the next generation. If there is one thought that is embedded into my mind after such an experience I’d have to say–“What a true family affair, I can’t wait to go back.”