The gates opened at 6 p.m., and to our slight surprise the show started at a very prompt 6:30 p.m. A bit tardy to the party, we made our way to the front of Pocahontas State Park just outside of Richmond, Virginia for a magnificent night of Dark Star Orchestra. Being the eve of Jerry Garcia’s birthday, the campground was teeming with concert-goers gearing up for the weekend. August 1 marks Garcia’s actual birthday, and in his honor A Very Jerry Birthday Jam will take place, featuring another night of DSO and opening act Jeff Austin Band.
Usually Dark Star plays a set list from a Grateful Dead show that was previously played, but for this show the group put on a special performance composed from the songs of the Dead, while the set list was comprised of the love and energy found from the people and the band all playing together.
After a short bus ride from the front of the park to the Heritage Amphitheater, we caught a smidgen of the “I Know You Rider,” which meant only one thing: “China Cat Sunflower” was the song before. Ironically that morning I had looked at my friend and said, “You know I can’t think of any specific tunes that I would be chasing for tonight, but a “China>Rider” sure would be pleasant on my earholes!” Pleasant it was, but we didn’t seem to be the only ones who were having timing issues that day.
As the band began the second set they reminded the audience how important their staff is to them. Apparently they ran into some problems on the way to Richmond, and their merchandise worker caught wind that they were going to be extremely pressed for time, so she helped set everything up early in hopes that we could all boogie down together through the night to get away from whatever distractions the outside world brings us. After thanking her and everyone in their crew who helped make everything that night possible they grooved straight into “Dancing in the Streets,” bringing everyone to their feet.
DSO smoothly let out of “Cold Rain and Snow” into a beautifully fiery “St. Stephen” that had us all belting, “one man gather what another man spills.” Then we climbed, we crawled, and we reached “Terrapin,” and it sounded like it was right off the album, riff for riff, drum fill for drum fill. I have to really give it up to their percussionists, Rob Koritz, and Dino English, on this “Terrapin.” Every drum fill was in sync and on point. Thus we moved into a “Drums” and “Space” that reminded me to rehydrate and breathe some air. From “Space” on, every song had throttle to it, and DSO drove the songs straight into everyone’s hearts.
“Not Fade Away” has its own significance to everyone, but this song truly rings a bell with me. Being reminded that love doesn’t fade never hurt anybody, and surely makes a great segue into “Uncle John’s Band.” They took us from that smoldering hot “Uncle John’s Band” to a “Morning Dew” that had the lead guitarist, Jeff Mattson, crying out the lyrics and chords.
The encore began with another sincere and huge thank you to the venue and DSO’s entire crew before sailing off into a “Mr. Charlie.” This was my first live “Mr. Charlie” played from anyone, and it reminded me that If you’re ever in doubt about whether to do something or not, just tell them that “Mr. Charlie” told you so! Dark Star Orchestra left us with a double encore into “Box of Rain” that had everyone in the crowd on their feet all singing together, reminded each other to “believe it if you need it, and if you don’t just pass it on.” Naturally, the night ended much with anticipation for the next day’s festivities at A Very Jerry Birthday Jam. See you there!
– Narrative by Chris Fye –