Dark Star Orchestra, Keller Williams & Pete Francis and Barefoot Truth – The Beach at Governor’s Island – New York, NY – 07/11
There are plenty of pros and cons to having concerts outdoors during the summer with the biggest negative being the chance of bad weather. On July 11 at the new Beach at Governor’s Island, the day got off to a fantastic set with energetic sets by Pete Francis & Barefoot Truth and Keller Williams but the headliner, quintessential Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra, made it about halfway through their set when the skies opened up sending concertgoers running for the ferry back to Manhattan.
The sky got dark fairly early that afternoon on the former military installation near Battery Park. Singer/songwriter Pete Francis of Dispatch kicked things off backed by feel-good jam act Barefoot Truth for a quick set of songs from both band’s repertoires that offered a nice warmup for the growing crowd. One man band Keller Williams came out next and delivered a fun performance filled with old favorites, new tunes and a couple of well received covers. A crew of NYPD officers lined the side of the venue and got a big kick out of the story Keller tells during "Doobie In My Pocket" lightening the mood as the ominous weather approached.
In a scene filled with bands who love playing covers, Keller Williams plays more than most. At Governor’s Island Williams segued one of his songs into Dee-Lite’s "Groove Is In The Heart," offered a beautiful cover of the Grateful Dead’s "Attics of My Life" and showed off his multi-instrumental prowess with a take on "Birds of a Feather" by Phish. "Birds" was filled with all sorts of wonderful loops and original progressions that led to a dance party in front of the stage.
Keller and DSO have played a number of festivals together so it wasn’t surprising that both there was some interplay between the two acts. Dark Star Orchestra drummer Rob Koritz joined Williams for a fun romp through the KW classic "Kidney In A Cooler." Koritz used Keller’s electronic drum pad, adding a touch of latin percussion to the mix. Everyone in the front half of the venue, which was paved, was on their feet by the end of the 70 minute set.
As the Dark Star Orchestra crew prepared the stage for the band the first drops of rain fell on the Beach at Governor’s Island. The rain picked up in intensity slowly over the course of the Chicago-based band’s abbreviated set. On most nights the Dark Star Orchestra recreate the original song for song setlist from a show the Grateful Dead played during their 30 year history, but on this night they played an original setlist that jumped between eras leading to some unorthodox moments like vocalist Lisa Mackey as Donna Jean Godchaux singing backup on "Feel Like A Stranger" – a song that The Dead debuted after Donna had left the band.
Every song the DSO touched on this night they turned to gold. "Liberty," performed in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, featured an emotional delivery of Robert Hunter’s lyrics and lightning-like quick strikes up the neck of the guitar by John Kadlecik as Jerry Garcia. "Cassidy" contained a massive jam that explored a number of interesting places and contained a few "Groove Is In The Heart" teases by Kadlecik continuing on the theme Keller Williams had set earlier. Speaking of Keller, the dynamic performer joined the Dark Star Orchestra in the middle of their set for a rollocking version of "Eyes of the World." There are some double bills that work well and others that don’t – DSO and Keller were a fantastic pairing.
Just before a large cell of storm clouds prematurely ended the evening DSO rumbled their way through a "Truckin’‘" that gave way to "Drums." Most of the audience had already run for cover by the time the band returned to close things out with the traditional "We Bid You Goodnight." It was an unfortunate end to a wonderful day of music as many Deadheads were excited for the post-Drums payoff that never came to pass.