Written by Lindsey Brickey
The first few days home after a great music festival are always a shock to the system. Coming back to reality and the grind of life outside this enchanting subculture seems bleak and colorless in comparison. This has been especially true of my first Dark Star Jubilee. The music and atmosphere far surpassed my expectations and even from our group’s home base in Car Camping we were able to enjoy the music around the clock. The vendors were always friendly, and the DSJ staff were helpful and courteous to all patrons. Even in the middle of the night walking between different areas of the festival we were met with smiling staff who were always more than happy to help you in whatever way you needed.
The energetic and toe-tapping sound of The Lil Smokies started the weekend off late Friday afternoon. Their fast-paced songs and intricate musical style succeeded in energizing the festival-goers and giving us all a taste of what was to come: A weekend of great music, great people, and great vibes. As the temperature began to cool, and day began to creep toward night, Hot Tuna took the stage to perform their electric set. Their funky style had attendees dancing and jumping, enthralled with the music and the experience of their first night at the Jubilee. Dark Star Orchestra was next, and had a truly special treat in store. They recreated a set that the Grateful Dead had played in that same venue on June 11,1993** almost 25 years before. (At the time, the venue was called Buckeye Lake Music Center.) This was a really special moment, especially for the festival goers that had attended the original Grateful Dead concert in ‘93.
As with all music festival campouts, the weather was a huge part of the experience. This year the combination of heat and rain kept the campers on their toes and the sight of clothes and camping gear hanging out to dry was a scene that could be found throughout the venue. After having attended Mad Tea Party Jam two years ago during a tornado, I was determined that our canopy and tent were going to stay standing. There was a moment on Saturday evening during the weekend’s biggest storm when I nearly acknowledged defeat. As I held the frame of our tent down and the large rain droplets pelted my sunburned shoulders, the whipping winds shook and shifted our canopy and tent and I was sure I was fighting a losing battle. The heavy drops felt like pellets of stinging hail but as I closed my eyes and surrendered to the moment, I reminded myself that this was part of the festival experience that makes these weekends so memorable. It makes them something we will talk about for years to come. Experiencing every moment in a real way, with your friends and neighbors by your side helping you, is a big part of what music festival culture is all about and one of the reasons we hate to leave and can’t wait to go back.
Several of our camping neighbors needed help after the storms to anchor their canopies and tents and although some campsites were beyond our help, the attitude and vibe was still one of optimism and fun. Above all everyone couldn’t wait to get their home base settled down so they could get to the stage, which was a constant buzz of energy and excitement despite the curveballs that Mother Nature was throwing our way. The rain came and went throughout the day, but seemed to really taper off after the early evening storm, allowing the later acts to play some or all of their sets. Saturday’s scheduled bands included Dino English Quintet featuring James Poole & Dave Clark, Holly Bowling, Jeff Mattson & Friends, Hot Tuna (acoustic), Los Lobos, Dark Star Orchestra, and Rumpke Mountain Boys. The bands did their best to play as long as it was safe, but the weather made it impossible at times.
Sunday dawned quiet and cool with a fine mist of fog and humidity hanging over the venue. Sounds of distant drum circles and murmurs of just-waking campers stirred the morning air as everyone prepared themselves for the last full day of Dark Star Jubilee. The annual Kid’s Parade took place at 11:30am, giving the kids a chance to strut their stuff and show their enthusiasm for festival life and to celebrate their inclusion at Dark Star Jubilee. The Jubilee is well known as a family-friendly music festival, and the number of families with children showed that to be true. At one point Sunday evening a not-quite two-year-old girl who had been riding around on her dad’s back chose to come sit with our group, making herself at home in my lap, seeming to enjoy the energy at the festival and comfortable enough to relax with new friends.
Sunday’s lineup made it impossible to choose which times and sets to be at the stage, so many attendees chose to lounge around the stage area throughout the day, soaking up as much festival culture and experience as they could before it was time to head back to their individual realities. Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads played during lunchtime and, despite the heat, put on a memorable show, interacting with the audience and keeping the energy of the crowd at maximum levels. Kitchen Dwellers, California Kind, Melvin Seals & DSO (performing a JGB set), and The Infamous Stringdusters all performed throughout the afternoon and early evening, each offering something incredibly unique for the attendees. Dark Star Orchestra closed the weekend with their final two electric sets. These last moments were bittersweet. Sitting on the grassy knoll surrounded by strangers who had become friends, friends who had become family, and a little girl named Mars who had chosen to watch DSO from my lap, I was overcome with joy and contentment. These were my people, this was my culture. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettable weekend.
Monday morning and early afternoon was spent packing up our things and reminiscing about the amazing experiences we had had at the Jubilee and planning our long trip home. Staff could be seen throughout the day offering help to stragglers and weary festival-goers as well as collecting recycling and garbage. Thanks to their efforts, and the efforts of all the staff and personnel, this has been one of the cleanest, most enjoyable festivals I have ever had the pleasure to attend. Safe to say we all agreed that we will be back as many times as we can manage, and can’t wait for next year when we will be returning with our own families to continue the Deadhead tradition of peace, love, and music, and to pass those lessons and values on to the next generation of festival-goers.
**I: Jack Straw, Foolish Heart, The Same Thing, Lazy River Road, Tom Thumb’s Blues, Masterpiece, So Many Roads, Promised Land
II: Eyes of the World, Playin’ in the Band, Uncle John’s Band, Corina, drums, The Wheel, All Along the Watchtower, Black Peter, Sugar Magnolia
E: Brokedown Palace