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Dark Star Orchestra, Hot Buttered Rum String Band, Kan’nal, Mishawaka Amphitheater, Poudre Canyon, CO- 7/29&30

"If they re-perform original Grateful Dead shows, why
are we here?" This was the response of a veteran
Deadhead that I met at the Fillmore Auditorium in San
Francisco after I asked him what he thought of Dark
Star Orchestra. So, why are we here? It's a great
inquiry and please allow me to answer it by sharing my
thoughts on a two-night stand at the Mishawaka
Amphitheater where DSO, Hot Buttered Rum String Band,
and Kan'nal performed on July 29th and 30th.

A relaxing weekend in the Poudre Canyon is just what
the doctor ordered for a music lover who desires the
crisp mountain air. I camped alongside the Poudre
River and in the evenings visited the Mishawaka
Amphitheater for some great music. I had a good
feeling that this was going to be a great weekend as I
drove the beautiful, winding road up the canyon, with
my windows down and the sunshine bright. The clean,
fresh mountain air was refreshing. And to think a
venue is in these hills, simply amazing.

One could easily mistake the Mishawaka Amphitheater for a small restaurant on the side of this meandering highway. It sits right next to the Poudre River with kayakers and whitewater rafters drifting by now and then. The staff is friendly and passionate about the music they promote. As the night falls, the stars completely fill the sky and the music on the stage makes it a breathtaking experience.

The Hot Buttered Rum String Band continues to amaze
me after each show. They opened the first night of
music with a remarkable set. They swiftly picked
their instruments with ease, gracefully took
well-executed solos and worked together to create
energetic music at the same time. I enjoyed the
variety they presented; each member can comfortably
lead the pickin' and accompany it with strong vocals.
Stand out songs of this set would have to be the
enjoyable 'Take Me Home' and the unique cover of
'Norwegian Wood' to close out the set with a delicate
instrumental conclusion. I was gratified with my
daily dose of bluegrass and anticipated their set the
next day.

Dark Star Orchestra came out excited and ready to
play. They delivered with a show of powerful openers;
'Cold Rain and Snow' for the first set, 'Uncle John's
Band' carried through to a powerful 'China Cat
Sunflower' and 'I Know You Rider' for the second set,
and an unexpected but appropriate 'US Blues' as
encore. The synchronicity of both drummers was
mesmerizing and you could feel the passion behind the
singing of John Kadlecik. As for the tickler of the
ivories, Tom Ryan, he put out a compelling performance
with confidence and a strong stage presence. Tom sat
in on this tour after the sudden death of DSO
keyboardist and co-founder Scott Larned in April, and
will hopefully be seen with DSO in the future. The
Grateful Dead originally performed this show on June
8, 1990, but DSO made it one of their own with
mind-blowing solos and jams.

As I wearily returned to my campground I couldn't
help but think that if something as simple as music
can make people dance and be happy this much, it must
be right. I felt like I wanted to run to the top of
the hills beyond the amphitheater and proclaim to the
rest of the world how great this music is. I spent
the next day with an ideal schedule of sleeping,
cooking salmon over the campfire, and swimming in the
chilly river. I returned to Mishawaka rejuvenated for
another night of music.

HBRSB delivered yet another fine act on Saturday with
a good mix of technical pickin' and entertaining
lyrics. If I had to choose highlights from this
spectacular set, from the first note to the final
applause, they would be 'Idaho Pine' with seamless
trading off of solo work and the absorbing jam of
'Busted in Utah.' John Kadlecik of DSO joined in on
electric guitar for a nice 'Cumberland Blues.' Look
for HBRSB in a town near you as they travel the
country in their vegetable oilpowered tour bus, you
won't be disappointed.

Kan'nal joined in on the festivities on Saturday and
I was pleasantly surprised. I had never seen them
live and let me tell you, I've never heard a sound
like them before. I was completely captivated for the
entire set, even the sound check! This band has got
it going on, from the priestess burning sage to the
ripping guitar work of Tierro to the perma-smile
Rodolfo on bass to the frenzy of the barehanded Gilly
on drums. They brought it to another level with their
performer Akayate, who tantalized the audience with
her sensuous dancing. It's primal, it's mysterious,
it's exotic and it's seductive. They tap into that
raw instinct in all of us to dance. Every aspect of
their performance was right on and the audience was
eating it up. Kan'nal has added yet another piece of
the live music experience; ambiance and performance
and both were thick and essential for their show.
They took the stage with a mission and played their
hearts out until the final intense jam with Akayate
fire dancing. They left with me wanting more.
Definitely look for their upcoming album, Dreamwalker,
in September.

Saturday for DSO was filled with bomb after bomb
followed by rockers. For me, the most magical moments
in music happen when I just stop and I can't believe
or put into words what is happening in front of me.
That happened in the second song of the first set,
'Sugaree.' It was an intense, John Kadlecik-led jam
that took me to new heights of musical experience.
This evening featured Lisa Mackey on vocals, which is
always a treat as she belts out the notes that elevate
the energy in the small venue. On keys, Tom Ryan had
another superb evening highlighted by a gut wrenching
'100,000 Tons of Steel.'

The second set was complete in every way, filled with segues and reprises. They began with a 'Playin in the Band' that went right into a 'Shakedown Street' that had the entire crowd groovin to every note. They took the audience from a brilliant 'Truckin' to 'St. Stephen' and 'Not Fade Away' and brought it around full circle to end the set with a reprise of 'Playin in the Band.' This setlist was original and highlighted the tunes that DSO wanted to rock out to on their tour closer. The encore was a suitable ending with a reflective 'Sing Me Back Home' that spoke to the inner soul. I left the Mishawaka overjoyed with the entire weekend and in awe of DSO's passion for the Grateful Dead and loyalty to re-creating their live scene.

Each of the bands over the weekend are distinct
physical representations of the music they create;
from the bluegrass pickin' mountain boys of Hot
Buttered Rum String Band to the tribe of Kan'nal to
the wise and joyful Dark Star Orchestra. Yet they all
share a deeply rooted passion for creativity and
expression. Their self-expression took the audience
to new musical levels and served as an inspiration for
all. If their concerts entertain fans and allow them
to forget about the real world for a few short hours,
I would say they are doing a fantastic job and are
involved in a meaningful endeavor.

To return to the initial question: why are we here?
DSO shows are an extension of the original
performance, subject to new interpretations and
experiences. The songs and setlists must have new
meanings to the audience since years and years have
passed since the original show. DSO plays as a
tribute to the musicianship of the Grateful Dead, yet
at the same time rightfully earns respect as their own
band. They allow a younger generation to appreciate
the genius of a live Grateful Dead show, while
maintaining that musical outlet for veteran Deadheads. We are here to have fun. We are here to dance. We
are here to meet new friends. But, above all else, we
are here for the music, which never stops.

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