Friday, May 30, 2014

Our Picks for the Top Five Acts at The Dark Star Jubilee

Dark Star Orchestra might have been the host of the Dark Star Jubilee at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio, but several bands made a huge impression on the 5000 people who showed up. Unaware of most of the bands in the lineup, I was pleasantly surprised time and time again. It was an incredible weekend of music. Here are my Top five favorite acts along with some honorable mentions. (All photos by The Bigfoot Diaries.)

5. Rumpke Mountain Boys

The Rumpke Mountain Boys
These fellas are known throughout the eastern midwest as THE party band. Their exploits are legendary: they are known for tearing it up in festival campgrounds well into the next day. "They're like the devil," one camper told me. "They are usually among the last standing when the sun is coming up in the morning. I don't know how they do it." Their live act on stage is a mystery as well. They play with a fervor and a tightness that is common among the bluegrass genre, but the way they do it is different. They have labled their sound "Trashgrass." The Rumpke Mountain Boys seem to beat to their own drum, and were more than capable of holding down their hour-long afternoon slot on Sunday afternoon. After their set, they became the first non-headlining band that the crowd beckoned to come back out for an encore - a request that was denied due to time restraints. They were clearly the local favorites. 

Interesting factoid: According to Sam Cutler, the Jubilee's Master of Ceremonies, this band who hails from Cincinnati had an interesting back-story in getting their name. "I asked about their name, and reminded them that there were no mountains in Cincinnati," Cutler said to the crowd before he introduced the band. "Then they told me well, the garbage dump is the highest point in their county and the people who handle their garbage are called Rumpke so they decided to call themselves the Rumpke Mountain Boys."

4. The Ragbirds

Erin Zindle of The Ragbirds
The Ragbirds were fantastic. Erin Zindle plays the violin spectacularly, hitting notes well above the typical scale that one associates with normal playing. She played fast, slow and anywhere in between, and she did so effortlessly. Her voice is melodic and warm and perfectly suited for the road-folk style of music that the Ragbirds play. The rest of the band were along for the ride, steering the ship through tidal waves of joy, wonder and sorrow. Imagine driving a car across the United States and the natural soundtrack that would accompany it. That's The Ragbirds.

Interesting Factoid: The Ragbirds have now played in 47 states. The only states they haven't performed in are Utah, Alaska, and Hawaii.

3. The Wailers

Al Anderson of The Wailers. 
It seems that everybody was excited to see the Wailers play. Not only did the crowd in front of the stage triple in size, but musicians from other bands came out of their backstage hiding spots to witness this legendary act. The Wailers did not disappoint. Led by original Wailer and reggae bass pioneer Aston Barrett, the band immediately began to spread the gospel of the Rastafari through music. They were billed as playing the Legend album in it's entirety, but they also found time to put in a few other songs as well, such as "Positive Vibrations", "Punky Reggae Party" and "Trenchtown Rock." They drifted from song to song effortlessly and musically was right on point. The entire crowd, backstage musicians and all, was dancing to the Jamaican rhythms. The vibe was incredible. If one band brought everybody together during this festival, it was the Wailers. Their set lasted an hour and a half, but it seemed to be over as soon as it started.

Interesting Factoid: Despite the billing that said that The Wailers would play the entire Legend album, they did not play "Redemption Song" or "No Woman No Cry" in Legend Valley.

2. Galactic

I had never heard Galactic, but I was expecting great things from this band from New Orleans. Their live show has been talked about in music circles for years, and I was excited to see what the buzz was all about. They were in fact a major reason I chose to attend this festival. Their set started at 11:00 on Saturday night, and it provided a blistering blend of jazz, fusion, electronica, and rock. It was a stark contrast to the other acts that were playing in the Jubilee and the raw combination of horns, bass and guitar made for an incredible jam. Sometimes they delivered a spacey drawn out sound, while other times the sound they were creating reminded me of the soundtrack to a spy movie. It was a set packed with soul, funk and teases of rock. It was ridiculously tight and the absence of vocals during most of the set wasn't a factor. It was one of the most intense live performances I had ever seen live. I can't wait to see them again.

Interesting factoids: Corey Glover of Living Color fame is a touring member of the group and he handles the rare occasions the band uses vocals. Drummer and Galactic founding member Stanton Moore has recorded with bands as diverse as funk keyboardist Robert Walter and heavy metal act Corrosion of Conformity.

1. Anders Osborne

Anders Osborne

Holy shit. Anders Osborne took me completely by surprise. I didn't expect to get my face rocked off at a jam band festival. Anders Osborne came out and after a song or two, many people left the area in front of the stage. Meanwhile, others joined in. It was a different type of music fan - one that resembled more of one that would go to a rock show than a hippie festival. I took that as a good sign! Anders Osborne and his 4 piece band absolutely shredded and those of us who hugged the front row rail loved him for it. The combination of his insane guitar and his melodic folk metal voice made for a very entertaining set. He reminded me more of the MC5 than he did somebody who occasionally plays with Phil Lesh and Friends. 

He seemed so rare... a quality that I haven't experienced in a band in a very long time. Half way through his set I decided that he is now one of my all-time favorite musicians. Then I wondered how come I hadn't heard him before. Two dudes next to me were leaning on the rail that separated the crowd from the stage. They were obviously very much in to Osborne's set and at one point I mentioned that this is by far my favorite act of the festival. The two told me that they were from Battle Creek, Michigan, and they drove all the way down just to see Anders Osborne. Then they mentioned that they could actually care less about the rest of the bands. It struck me odd that they would pay the entire festival price for just one act, but I understood. Anders Osborne was definitely worth it. After the set was finished, the two dudes and I high-fived and then we turned to walk back up the hill into the sea of people. Glancing over, I noticed one was wearing a Municipal Waste t-shirt. Fuckin-A, I thought. Metal heads at a jam-band festival. 

Interesting factoid: Osborne's band is based out of new Orleans but he was actually born in Sweden.

Honorable Mentions:

These bands also deserve mention for their performances. 


There are so many bluegrass bands out there. Kudos to the folks who organized the lineup for this festival, as they did a fantastic job of booking bands that sound different from each other. While there were a few bluegrass style bands in the lineup, none of them sounded like the other, and each one had it's own distinctive sound. Cornmeal was no exception. They held the 4:15 Sunday afternoon slot and right away they made it known that this wasn't your daddy's bluegrass band. Their sound was all over the place, and they showed in leaps and bounds why they are one of the most heavily touted bluegrass acts in the world. Their energy was the perfect segway into the evening's festivities and they provided a much needed acoustic shot of adrenaline. They are another act I am looking forward to seeing again.

The Everyone Orchestra

Matt Butler conducts the Everyone Orchestra
This event was a lot of fun. The concept behind this all-star act is the conductor (Matt Butler) generates a unique sound by using a marker and wax board to suggest styles and tempos to the band and audience. In doing so, he essentially creates a new song, or style, or both. Of course the audience was invited to participate, and of course they did. Lots of fun. The Everyone Orchestra consisted of Erin Zindle (Ragbirds), Jeff Mattson (Dark Star Orchestra), Rob Barraco (Dark Star Orchestra), Drew Heller (Toubab Krewe), Ben Kaufmann (Yonder Mountain String Band), Randall Moore (Ragbirds), and Rob Koritz (Dark Star Orchestra).

The New Riders of the Purple Sage 

Michael Falzarano and David Nelson of New Riders of the Purple Sage
David Nelson is a folk-rock pioneer and brought his unmistakable sound to Legend Valley as they rolled through their lengthy set lists. The highlight might have been "Panama Red," which pretty much epitomized the weekend spirit for most of us concert revelers. He was joined by such legendary musicians as Michael Falzarano (Hot Tuna) on guitar and Buddy Cage (Dylan, Garcia, Rick James) on the steel. 

Ultraviolet Hippopotamus was great as well. With a name like Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, one might expect a tinge of psychedelia, and this band delivered just that. In fact, they were the perfect mix of rock and roll and psychedelia, twisting it beautifully together like a cosmic doobie. On their facebook page they describe themselves as "Hot rocking for galactic freedom." What else does one need to know about these sonic storm troopers?