In Praise of the Smaller Festival: Dark Star Jubilee
Dark Star Jubilee, Thornville OH May 23-25, 2014
The third time was definitely the charm for the weather in Thornville Ohio during Dark Star Jubilee’s third annual bash. The crowd during the first year was doused by seven inches of rain over the three day festival. Year two brought record lows and below freezing temperatures. In 2014, Dead fans were blessed with “best festival weather heaven” as stated on the Facebook fan page. The days were seventy-five degrees and sunny with a light breeze and just enough clouds in the sky to make things interesting. Nights were perfect hoodie weather and allowed my wife and I to sleep in our queen sized inflatable bed without any fear of outside entanglements with Mother Nature, hot or cold, rain or snow.
After setting up camp in the VIP area, we walked toward the venue and realized we had not necessarily paid for the best seats in the house. Tents lined the grassy hill as people during this festival were allowed to camp inside the venue, though not with their cars. A sea of happy heads lit scores of allowed campfires, casting a hazy fog over Legend Valley. We walked down to the VIP pavilion that was positioned between the sound tents for the dual stages providing shade, tables and chairs, and a place to keep your beer for the BYO festival. While the pavilion was a good home base, there was never any problem encroaching up to the front few rows if the desire to get lost in the dancing crowd took over.
From here, I could easily spend the rest of this review discussing the bands. How DSO killed it every night with a full two-set show. How this band played that song and threw out a rare one and everyone was screaming. This would all be true – but that’s to be expected at a festival. To list every band and their accomplishments would be a huge undertaking and an unneeded one at that. The bands are all pros and wouldn’t be there if they sucked. Look at the line up and just know that everyone was happy, everyone was enjoying the weather, everyone was on fire, and everyone gave it their best.
What differs most from festival to festival and what should be given the most attention when reviewing one is the culture. This is where a smaller festival has a larger chance of succeeding. It was nice coming back to this location. Back from the previous year’s All Good festival, but also back from a Grateful Dead show in ’92 where a Smokestack Lighting roared out of a killer drum/space while the group of spinners nearby kept me grounded. Back then there were no tents inside and probably ten times the people all spreading good vibes and love in a giant communal gathering where everyone was aware of being part of the whole and willing to do anything to help his neighbor, knowing that even one tiny blessing is a benefit to the entire population.
This was the atmosphere of the Jubilee. You could feel it from the moment you started setting up camp. The nods and the introductions from past friends and strangers-no-longer brought on a welcome vibe that made it feel less like a festival and more like a giant wedding party with more people and much better bands. Everything felt safe and everyone was smiling at each other. We left our chair and our cooler in a spot for an entire set as we walked around the vendors and ran back to the camp to grab a few more beers from our cooler we left outside the tent. When we came back, someone was physically saving our seat and gladly stepped up when we got there. A box of Kind Bars were sitting on a rock one morning with a sign that read “Take one.” It felt more like the old days than I had felt in a good long while. I had this realization during the second night DSO show while the songs rang through my body and took me back for a trip down memory lane.
We went back to the camp during Yonder, due only to fatigue. We struggled to stay up listening to the last few songs over the small campfire I had fought to start. About the time it had really caught, my wife headed to bed and I managed to take in one more beer as I kicked the fire down and shut things up for the night. I said hey to a neighbor who was going out to one of the after party bonfires and slipped into my tent after bidding him safe travels. I threw my pants on the small table across from the bed and was able to throw on some flannel shorts before plopping down on the mattress physically drained in a satisfying way and didn’t bother to brush my teeth.
At six, when I woke up, I regretted my last lack of action. I also regretted that I hadn’t taken a leak before I went to sleep. The VIP restrooms were OK (I’ve seen much nicer ones) but they were also a long way off from the back where we had chosen to camp to gain a little more space. I went to open the tent and thought I must have really been out of it to have not zipped the tent all the way. When I stepped out and saw my jeans on the ground, my heart started racing, but I didn’t know why. I stood stunned for a second and focused in on the trail of items that looked like they had come from my wife’s bag, but I didn’t see the bag.
I called to her in a tone that startled her and harshly asked her where her purse was.
“Why?” she asked, instantly concerned and alarmed. She came out and after hearing her retell the story, we both had the same initial thought – a dog drug them out. I’m not saying it was a rational thought, but nothing else seemed rational given the nature of our community. My phone was there. My wallet was in the tent where I left it. Then she noticed the money was out of her satchel. We paced around in the predawn light taking an inventory like the scavengers after the ’92 show who searched the ground for dropped and left items while “If I only Had a Brain” played over the PA.
“Did you leave your car unlocked?”
“No,” I replied and went over to find the car keys that I had left in my pair of jeans sitting on the driver’s seat. On the passenger seat were the entire contents of the overhead compartment, glove box, and armrest. They took her Bluetooth speaker and the connecting cable but left my Ipod which insulted me before I felt relief. After finding other stash taken we immediately leapt to where we had hidden our larger lump of money and such only to find it undiscovered and undisturbed (f*** you ***hole). Despite the fact that my sentimental wife lost a bag that was valueless gift from her sister, we sighed, feeling thankful. She gathered what was left of our items and crawled back into the tent to try and go back to sleep and I walked up to the bathrooms to finish what I started.
I mentioned something to the security guard, not expecting any action to be taken but to at least let them know there was a thief in our midst. While they were extremely concerned and sympathetic to our situation, there was little they could do and we all parted ways with a disappointed half smile. I got back to the tent and tried to sleep though neither one of us did. We both felt violated and betrayed. It was a horrible disappointment and we didn’t even say much to any but a couple of our neighbors and I even eyeballed them as I did everyone else in the camp.
I heard the matriarch of the camp next to us say to her son, “I don’t know where your wallet is, John.” She shuffled around her camp, not giving it a second thought. The kids had been making and selling items made of duct tape and it was possible for a nine-year-old with three bucks in his florescent green and tiger-striped homemade wallet to have left it anywhere. But I thought I would say something anyway. As soon as we told our tale, everything began to change. She barked a few kind but stern orders to her daughters and showed ultimate compassion for what we had been through. The word started spreading around the camps and everyone was equally kind to us wanting to make sure we were taken care of on any and every level coming around to visit and rebuild the faith in the community.
Then there was Janice.
If you have been to a Tim Walther production, you have seen Janice. If you have ben in VIP at one of these events and don’t know Janice on a personal level yet, you will. She came through on her golf cart saying hi to everyone and I stopped her briefly to let her know that we had also noticed, on top of everything else that had been stolen, that they took the tickets we had printed out that had already been scanned and were virtually useless. Without losing one centimeter of her smile she said she had something to take care of quickly but would be right back.
Another couple of neighbors wandered over to hear us spit out the details again when the biggest turn of events occurred. The two neighbor girls who had been given orders came over with a very elaborate and larger that could have been thought possible handbag for my wife that was in the perfect color palate of duct tape to accompany her Anthropologie taste. Along with this came a carefully recited and genuine offering of their purple and green tape tip basket containing two dollars and ten pennies in offering for our loss of funds.
The ladies in the group all started to smile and tear up and the guys just tried to smile and hide the rest. When Janice came back around and was told what just happened, she teared up. After taking us to parts of the venue we hadn’t seen before to do official stuff and meet people, she told Mr. Walther, and he teared up. Janice came through the camp later that evening and gave us a poster that had been signed by the band for us. “I don’t know how he got in our bubble, but Karma will take care of things,” she told us and gave us a hug that my wife and I both agreed was one of the best.
This was not the last of good tidings. Everywhere we went, people tried to make up for it where they could. One vendor gave us five dollars off of a bag my wife bought to replace hers. Another gave us a crystal to ward off the evil. Everyone gave us back what we had lost most – trust. This was what it felt like to be in a community of likeminded souls who gathered to share likeminded fun while listening to likeminded music.
On Sunday night I went to sleep a little more prepared than the night before, but much more peaceful than that morning. This was what it was all about – community. Everybody did what little they could just to help the whole. Every festival or show has the bad seeds – I saw them even in ’92 looking in the car windows of people who had left their belongings in the faith of the masses. It shouldn’t be looked at as a reflection of the whole. We happened to be the victims this year, but we left feeling more blessed and more loved and more pleased than if we had never been robbed in the first place.
I will be the first in line for tickets next year.