Dark Star Orchestra played on Jerry Garcia’s exact birthdate for the second consecutive year at Heritage Amphitheater in Pocahontas State Park this weekend. After an enlightening setlist from night one, it was time for what everyone was waiting for: A Very Jerry Birthday Jam.
This was the third time I have been to this jamboree, and every time I seem to have a better experience. The afternoon started off with a hot (literally, over 90 degrees!) set from Peter Rowan, followed by Jeff Austin Band. I might’ve been ready for the sun to settle behind the trees once Austin took the stage, but I knew he would pack in nothing less than some mandolin-stomping heat, and that he did. This was the first time I’d seen Austin apart from Yonder Mountain String Band, and as expected, his talent and stage presence shines through just fine as a solo performer.
Dark Star came ready to play, and I knew it was going to be a good night once they started off with “Alabama Getaway.” When the first notes in the set have already got me on my feet jumpin’ around, it’s usually a good sign of things to come. The rest of the set kept the same energy, which was high and fun, including songs “Cumberland Blues,” “Ramble On Rose” and “Hand Jive.”
The second set started just as dusk turned to dark. It was time to get down, and DSO brought the fun with “Shakedown Street.” I boogied all night long amongst good friends, old and new, and even some family, which was a fun, unprecedented experience for me. There were Happy Birthday’s galore from all the band members, and I could feel the love in the air. Between “Dark Star”, “Playing In The Band” and the set closer “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad,” I pondered what they would bring out for an encore. As soon as those first piano notes made it to my ears, I knew there could be no better ending to Jerry’s birthday celebration than “Brokedown Place.” I like to imagine even the trees were swaying along with the crowd for this ballad, and I hope Jerry’s heart was warmed from above.
If you’ve never been to a Birthday Jam at Pocahontas, I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is that you attend one, or any show at Heritage Amphitheater. The stage is beautiful, the sound is incredible no matter where you are, and I have yet to meet an unfriendly soul at that venue.
Hopefully we’ll see this trend continue for a good few years to come, and you can bet you’ll see me there. I hope to see you as well!
– Narrative by Chester Porter –