A Review of Gratefulfest 12, Part I: Dark Star Orchestra

I had the good fortune of celebrating the Fourth of the July holiday at Gratefulfest 12. It was a three day festival celebrating the most American of all rock bands, The Grateful Dead. In its 12th year, the festival drew a sizable weekend crowd to Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, with camping, music, and swimming – in a refreshingly cold quarry lake, from which you can hear and see the stage.

With three days of festivities, it’s too much to cover in one post. So I’m going to start with Dark Star Orchestra, who headlined the festival. Each night, they closed out the evening with hours of foot moving music. Nothing past 11 PM, of course, so the neighbors, the police, and the land owners don’t get upset.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The band kicked it off with “Good Morning Little School Girl”. So it was easy to assume that if DSO was replicating an historical show, it was late sixties, early seventies vintage. When they went into “Doin’ That Rag” next, it confirmed it for a young guy standing nearby. “It’s gotta be a ’69 show,” he said. “I bet we get a Cryptical. Maybe a St. Stephen and a Dark Star.” Not thirty seconds after he said that, the band started playing Cryptical Envelopment! It was a bit stunning, frankly. We all looked up at him for a moment, in awe… and we did indeed get a St. Stephen and a Dark Star later on in the evening. After the show, the band confirmed it was an Avalon ballroom show from a run in April 1969. Here’s the setlist:

Set 1:

  1. Good Morning Little School Girl
  2. Doin’ That Rag
  3. Cryptical Envelopment ->
  4. The Other One ->
  5. Cryptical Envelopment
  6. Death Don’t Have No Mercy

Set 2:

  1. (Turn on Your) Lovelight
  2. Dark Star ->
  3. St. Stephen ->
  4. The Eleven

The entire band was rocking like the Dead would have in 1969. Blues driven, in your face, psychedelic rock n’ roll. For hours. 

The crowd, myself included, had a great time with the band. The audience wasn’t so big that you couldn’t get a good view of the band on stage, but it was large enough – and enthusiastic enough – to generate a level of energy that the band could build on.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

On the second night, it was a show from a run at Winterland in 1977 – March 19, 1977. This is from a legendary year in Grateful Dead lore. It’s a time period I love, not only for the Dead’s playing, and the then current configuration band, but also for the great songs they were playing then. It was the first year they were doing a Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain combo.

This was my favorite of the two nights. A slightly larger crowd than the first night. An unstoppable set list, and the show had everyone moving, cheering. We captured some clips of “Loser” and “Looks Like Rain” and posted them to YouTube.

Here’s the set list:

  1. Bertha
  2. Mama Tried
  3. Loser
  4. Big River
  5. They Love Each Other
  6. Looks Like Rain
  7. Tennessee Jed
  8. Estimated Prophet
  9. Terrapin Station ->
  10. Playing In The Band ->
  11. Samson And Delilah ->
  12. Playing In The Band

Set 2

  1. Eyes Of The World
  2. Dancing In The Street ->
  3. Wharf Rat ->
  4. Franklin’s Tower ->
  5. Sugar Magnolia
  6. One More Saturday Night (encore)
  7. Uncle John’s Band (encore)

The wind started whipping up during “One More Saturday Night”, and it was clear it was going to rain soon. We got soaked that night. Not literally – our tent was air tight – but the rain was coming down hard late that evening, and the site got soaked. I’m sure some people got soaked. Not us.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday was the third and final night, this time with a bit of a twist. After about two, two and a half hours of music, DSO took a break and we had a fantastic fireworks display, with much clapping and cheering and much oohing and aahing. Then they came out and finished the evening with a few more songs

I don’t think they were revisiting an actual show on Sunday, but I could be wrong. I could have just missed the announcement at the end of the second set.

In any event, I don’t have a full set list to share. What I do have, though, is a list of songs that I tweeted about that evening. It’s full of gaps, but lists at least a few of the songs they played:

  • Deep Elem Blues
  • Mission In The Rain
  • Man Smart, Woman Smarter
  • Positively 4th st.
  • Quinn the Eskimo

So I know they played at least those. The rest eludes me… comment if you have a more complete list of what was played that night.

The third night also happened to be Jeff Matson’s birthday. Maybe he had some influence on song selection for the evening? Whoever made the calls, some brilliant choices were made.

I have some photos from the festival over at my Flickr photostream, too. Here are the two clips I mentioned earlier:

Dark Star Orchestra – Looks Like Rain:

Dark Star Orchestra – Loser:

Stay tuned for more on Gratefulfest 12 in the coming days.