Dark Star Jubilee honors Grateful Dead
Deadheads unite! This year the second annual Dark Star Jubilee music festival is taking place at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio, and as any Deadhead will tell you, Legend Valley is a magical musical refuge where the cosmos always seem to align just right. Although the festival is still young, it’s already becoming the go-to place for fans to let their freak flags fly. The Jubilee is hosted and headlined by none other than Dark Star Orchestra, who is a perfect match for a festival like this.
“It’s a chance for us to play for our audience the way we see fit,” explained Rob Barraco, who plays keyboards in DSO. “With the Jubilee, we’re not constrained by other festivals’ rules and regulations – here we make the rules and regulations.” None of the extra weight is holding the band down, and as they gear up for this year they’re as focused as ever to maintain positive vibrations all the way through. “It’s cool because we got to hand-pick the bands we wanted to have come out, and it’s really cool to play host to all these guys,” said Barraco. “I’ve been playing festivals for 25 years and I’ve always been a guest, but this time I get to dip my hands a little deeper into it.”
The Dark Star Jubilee is the brainchild of Tim Walther, who performs double-duty as both manager of DSO and co-owner of the company All Good Presents, which has been busy with another popular festival for the last 17 years – the All Good Music Festival. “With the Jubilee, I’m promoting both the band and the festival,” said Walther, “but really it’s a time for them to celebrate with their fans and bring everyone into a communal setting and play with their favorite bands.”
“We’d been looking for a place where we could do our own thing,” said Barraco, “and Tim approached us and asked if we wanted to go out to Legend Valley and do a festival out there for three days, and we were all like, ‘well, yeah, duh! Of course!’”
Last year was the Jubilee’s maiden voyage, and things almost got a little rough around the edges. “Yeah, we had a bit of a battle with the weather,” Walther said. “I think we had about 8 to 9 inches of rain throughout the entire weekend.”
“It was a torrential downpour,” said Barraco. “Our main stage got flooded out and it was so bad no one could play on it, so we had to move everything to a secondary stage.” Despite these conditions, everyone made the best out of the hand they were dealt. “We had a tremendous crowd and everyone banded together and had an amazing time under some really adverse conditions.”
This year, the Dark Star Jubilee will host some of the biggest names in the festival circuit, including Yonder Mountain String Band, the Wailers and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. And as for channeling the spirit of the Dead, what better way than to have two key members, Mickey Hart and Donna Jean Godchaux, perform with their respected bands. “It’s a real honor to have them both play,” said Barraco. “It speaks volumes to get that kind of respect from them. It’s like being recognized by your heroes.”
There’s also a good reason for the Jubilee’s sacred location. Legend Valley used to be a summer retreat for both the Grateful Dead and their fans. Now, DSO is using that same energy to fuel their own fire. “Over time it became a legendary venue for a lot of people, and I think for us to do the Jubilee in that same spot is like honoring the past in some way,” said Barraco. “We definitely felt the presence when we were out there last year. It was all around us.”
The music festival circuit has grown exponentially in the last few years, and DSO are determined not to let the Jubilee fade into oblivion. At the same time, they also realize they’re holding something very unique in their hands. “Since it is a smaller festival, it creates a more intimate setting for everyone involved,” said Barraco. “I think that really sets the Jubilee apart from the other big festivals out there.”
In the end, it all comes down to the music, which remains as vital as ever throughout the weekend’s spiritual exploration. “People who enjoy this kind of jam-centric music like to be taken on a journey,” said Barraco, “and a good jam band is a vehicle for these people. It’s very different than any other kind of music.”
“The reason DSO is out there doing what they do is because they love the music and they have the upmost respect for the Dead,” said Walther. “In a sense, they’re carrying the torch from one generation to the next and presenting the music in the best way they possibly can.” Hopefully, years from now, DSO will look back and reflect on what a long strange trip it’s been for their Dark Star Jubilee.
The second annual Dark Star Jubilee takes place on the weekend of May 24-26. Three-day tickets are $119 for general admission and $235 for VIP. For more information on the festival, including how to get the exclusive Dark Star Jubilee/All Good Music Festival package deal, visit darkstarjubilee.com. For more information on Dark Star Orchestra, visit darkstarorchestra.net.
Reach DCP freelance writer Zach Rogers at ZachRogers@daytoncitypaper.com