Great Music, Family Vibes Abound at Eighth Annual Dark Star Jubilee

A costumed stilt-walker from the troupe The Amazing Giants performs for the crowd at the 2018 Dark Star Jubilee at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio. (Photo by Eric Ayres)

THORNVILLE, Ohio — Music lovers from near and far will flock to East-Central Ohio to kick off the summer concert season in style — dancing to live music in the great outdoors as the Dark Star Jubilee returns to Legend Valley for its eight annual installment.

Host band Dark Star Orchestra invites people of all ages to put on their favorite tie dye shirts and head out to the festival for three days of camping and the some of the best live music the nation has to offer. The Dark Star Jubilee will take place Memorial Day Weekend, May 24-26, at the historic Legend Valley music venue in Thornville, Ohio.

For more than 20 years, Dark Star Orchestra has been carrying the torch first sparked and held high by the Grateful Dead, keeping the spirit of the grassroots era of American flower-power rock’n’roll alive for folks who live it while introducing new generations of fans to the magic of Dead’s music and the scene that followed the band everywhere. Dark Star Orchestra is known not only for performing the songs of the Grateful Dead with precision and zest, but also for their verbatim recreations of the one-of-a-kind set lists from the Dead’s extensive songbook and 30-year touring history of completely unique concerts. The band of veteran musicians performs improvisational jams that take fans on a journey that keeps them dancing up a storm and grinning from ear to ear, much like the Grateful Dead did for its legions of die-hard Deadhead fans.

This year’s Jubilee will once again feature three nights of Dark Star Orchestra — headlining each full day of music and performing two sets each night. Also on the blockbuster bill will be performances by the latest project by the Black Crowes’ founding frontman — the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, red hot young guns the Marcus King Band and Billy Strings, veteran fan favorites Leftover Salmon, Dumpstafunk and Donna the Buffalo, as well as The Lil Smokies, Midnight North, The Nth Power, Chris Jacobs Band, The Mighty Pines and The Sweet Lillies.

Once again, the lineup of artists offers music to suit many good tastes — from bluegrass to funk, zydeco to rock’n’roll and more.

Dark Star Orchestra performs at the 2018 Dark Star Jubilee at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio.

“It’s a fun, family-friendly festival,” said Rob Koritz, percussionist for Dark Star Orchestra, who took time to share thoughts on the upcoming Jubilee while heading out to play a round of golf this week in New Jersey during a day off from the band’s spring tour. “There’s something for everyone there. It’s just the right size — not too big, and not too small. You can camp right there in full view of the stage and have a great time listening to some really good music. It’s something special for Grateful Dead fans, but it’s definitely not just for Grateful Dead fans.”

Koritz noted the world-class acts on the bill at the Dark Star Jubilee are hand-picked specifically to bring a good variety of styles while maintaining consistent vibe that in itself has become an attraction for the festival. The lineup has always included everyone from jam band veterans and Rock and Roll Hall of Famers to exciting young up-and-comers.

“We pick artists we like and music we like. It’s given us a chance to showcase some of our own side project, too,” Koritz said, noting that this year’s Jubilee will feature Dark Star Orchestra lead guitarist Jeff Mattson for a set by Jeff Mattson & Friends and DSO drummer Dino English performing a set with his latest project, Dino English & The Progfusionals. “We really love the Jubilee. It’s special to us. It’s got such a great vibe, and it’s kind of our thing — it’s something we can call our own.”

Dark Star Orchestra’s relentless touring over the decades has taken the band around the world, and in recent years, the band’s growing number of shows performed reached the milestone of actually eclipsing the number performed by the Grateful Dead, which played its final show in 1995 before the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. Between the Dead’s formation in 1965 and the time of its final show, the band performed more than 2,300 concerts. Dark Star Orchestra is approaching the 3,000 mark.

What does that achievement mean to the members of Dark Star Orchestra?

“Really, it just means we tour a lot,” Koritz humbly said.

Dark Star Orchestra has already checked off items that would top many bands’ bucket lists. They will return to legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater later this year and will play host to their own vacation festival in Jamaica — Jam in the Sand — in January. They’ve played alongside surviving members of the Grateful Dead on numerous occasions over the years and have gotten to share the stage perform with great musicians and living legends. (Last year at Legend Valley, longtime Jubilee veterans Hot Tuna — featuring Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane — performed a jaw-dropping verson of “White Rabbit” on stage with DSO, to the delight of classic rock fans on hand.)

Koritz said in the future, the band plans to keep on truckin’ ahead, with possibly a few more breaks to help keep things even more energized.

“We’re trying to work a little less just to avoid the grind,” he said. “It’s important to spend time with our families — our children, and for some of us, our grandchildren. That’s hard to do when you’re out playing 170 shows a year, like we were doing at one time. But with a little more time off, it will be even more exciting for us when it’s time to get back on the road and play music.”

There’s no doubt that Koritz and the other members of Dark Star Orchestra are grateful to go to work performing a labor of love — keeping the spirit of the Grateful Dead and its music out there to be enjoyed the way it was meant to be … live and in concert.

“It’s fantastic music. It’s a huge slice of Americana. It’s part of the great American song book, and there’s not a huge amount of bands out there that play improvisational music that’s so powerful and so impactful,” said Koritz.

The Dark Star Jubilee offers various camping options, family camping areas, RV accommodations and more. There will be an array of vendors on hand offering unique merchandise and festival cuisine.

Legend Valley is located about 30 minutes east of Columbus just off Interstate 70 exit 132 near Thornville, Ohio. For more information about the Dark Star Jubilee, visit darkstarjubilee.com.

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