Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurrs to me What a long, strange trip it's been.
Dark Star Orchestra, named after the Grateful Dead's epic psychedelic tour de force, re-creates the Dead experience. They are seasoned and evolving musicians who have played with the living members of the Dead at one time or another. Dark Star Orchestra's shows are constructed from the prolific body of work of the Dead. On any given night the band will perform a show based on a set list from the Grateful Dead's 30 years of extensive touring or use the catalog of original songs and covers to re-create a unique set list for a show. This allows jam music fans of all ages to share and actually become the experience. Their energy, enthusiasm and precision render them a tighter band than the Dead were on most given nights. Donna Godchaux-McKay, Grateful Dead vocalist and frequent DSO guest has averred that "playing with Dark Star Orchestra is something that feels just exactly like it felt when I was playing with the Grateful Dead."
I got on the bus circa 1969 at a Fillmore East early show at the not so tender age of 14. Tickets for the Grateful Dead were $3.50, $4.50 and $5.50. Much of that experience is a bit fuzzy in my mind's eye and ears, but what I do remember is Ron (Pigpen) McKernan belting out "Next Time You See Me" and Jerry Garcia somehow emitting bubbles from his guitar during China Cat Sunflower. By the time 1972 rolled around, I had about a dozen shows under my belt and was a hard core Dead Head.
Hitchhiking around the country in 70s to see the band was my personal rite of passage a la Jack Kerouac. The boys in tie-dye were my heroes and Jerry was my guru. Fellow dead heads were the first community in which I truly felt one. After a quarter of a century and hundreds of shows , I gave up the obsession in 1995 when my guru Jerry died. But happily the music never stopped...
From February 28 to March 4 of this year, my sister Sheila and I, along with several hundred other heads alit on a stretch of beach in Negril, Jamaica for a festival dubbed "Jam in the Sand." The venue was Grand Lido Hotel Negril, a sprawling adult only all inclusive resort on Seven Mile Beach, one of the world's finest.
Daytime was for scuba, (clothing optional) swimming, yoga, tie-dye classes and just chilling. Luscious food and booze flowed unlimited.
Nighttime, Dark Star Orchestra, the roots reggae band Steel Pulse and the young jam band The Bridge performed on a stage a few meters from the shoreline. The top-shelf light production and the sound of the wind and surf integrated with the joyous crowd. Four nights of four shows a few yards from the lapping waves of the warm Carribbean was our Utopia.
The music played the band.
On the last full day of the trip, Cotter Michaels, the band's precise sound monitor engineer agreed that in one hundred years from now, this ageless music will pass onto further generations of musicians and fans and people young and old will be singing Dead classics around the campfire.
And the fields are full of dancin' Full of singin' and romancin'
The music never stopped.