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Dark Star Jubilee, Legend Valley, Thornville, OH- 5/23-24

For the hard-touring Dark Star Orchestra hosting the 4th annual Dark Star Jubilee over Memorial Day weekend not only presents an opportunity to stay in one place for a few days, it’s a convenient way to allow the members to stretch out individually and with their peers.

The group continued its regular performing ways, playing full two-set performances Friday through Sunday. Recreating the 6/17/76 setlist on opening night, they moved through the elegance of “They Love Each Other” and on through a ripping “Music Never Stopped” and “Help on the Way>Slipknot>Franklin’s Tower” to a closing “Around and Around.” That was topped the next evening with a visit to Boston’s The Ark for 4/22/69 show, which included a nearly half hour of “Turn On Your Lovelight” and a monstrous post-set filler of “Easy Wind>Viola Lee Blues.”

Finally, an Elective Set ended the weekend. It featured guest spots by Nicky Sanders (Steep Canyon Rangers) and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and gave a nod to Bob Dylan’s birthday by playing the JGB arrangement of “Tangled Up in Blue.”

Throughout the weekend various DSO members made guest appearances during other artists’ sets (Los Lobos and Moonalice) and took part in side projects.

While the band has been known for evoking the spirit of the Grateful Dead through its approach to that band’s catalog, it was just as thrilling to find the musicians interacting onstage with others.

Drummer Dino English performed with his band, Owsley Stanley, while guitarist Rob Eaton ran the soundboard for his son’s band, Drunken Hearts. On the final day keyboardist Rob Barraco and guitarist Jeff Mattson played a loose set that included sit-ins by Sanders and bandmate Lisa Mackey.

Being well-versed in the rock ‘n’ roll songbook and established improvisers, it allowed DSO’s musicians to easily adapt to a multitude of situations, even when encountering a potential problem.

That cropped up immediately when the fest’s first scheduled act, Kung Fu, didn’t show up due to what we were told was a broken down bus.

Rather than have an empty slot, DSO members Rob Eaton, Rob Barraco, Rob Koritz, Dino English and Skip Vangelus plus members of Drunken Hearts (guitarist Rob Eaton Jr. and fiddler Zebulon Bowles) and JGB (drummer Peter Lavezzoli) took part in a jam session that featured material by The Band (“Up on Cripple Creek”), Jimmy Cliff (“The Harder They Come” and the Allman Brothers Band (“Whipping Post”).

While this wasn’t a tribute event, a number of acts did numbers associated with Jerry Garcia and the Dead.

Melvin Seals & JGB offered a soulful set with turns on “How Sweet It Is,” “Stop That Train” and “Money Honey.” They also did “My Sisters and Brothers,” which Jeff Austin Band also covered.

Other highlights included Keller and the Keels bluegrass reworking of “West L.A. Fadeaway,” Moon Alice playing “Stella Blue,” Peter Rowan’s Twang & Groove breaking out “Panama Red” and “Midnight Moonight,” Kyle Hollingsworth giving a brief nod to “Help>Slipknot” and The Weight: Playing the Songs of the Band doing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

Surprisingly, Railroad Earth didn’t play its version of “Terrapin Station,” which was cut from the all-star Dear Jerry concert due to time constraints.

Minus Cesar Rosas, Los Lobos still knocked out a splendid set of classics that included “The Neighborhood,” “Emily” and “Mas y Mas.” Helping out were DSO’s Mattson and Koritz as well as Robert Randolph, who earlier played a fierce nonstop 90 minutes.

Altogether, it was a lineup that proved to be as satisfying for the hosts as it was to the fans. The best advice for next year came from Mattson who sang during “Sugaree,” “I’ll meet you at the Jubilee.”

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