Grateful Fest: Part I

JGB Band with Melvin Seals

Review and Photos By: Blair Babcock

Nelson Ledges
Fri. July 2, 2010 - Mon. July 5, 2010

read part II here

[editors note: With work in redesigning jambands.ca along with the coverage of Ottawa Bluesfest, this Grateful Fest review got lost in post produciton edit.  It has been faithfully remastered and restored in beautiful 1080p for your viewing pleasure.  Part II to follow...]

Canada Day started off with the normal excitement one works up when one knows their next 4 days will be filled with the sounds dearest to our hearts.  Sounds filled with warm tonality.  Sounds that take you on a journey in and through time.  Sounds of laughter and reminiscing.  Sounds of new voices that become familiar and familiar voices that never grow old.  Sounds that are home to some of us and, for others, sounds that are our home away from home.  

     We arrived Grateful Fest (Nelson Ledges Quarry Park, Garrettsville, OH) on Thursday evening to a community of brothers and sisters bound together by the soundtrack of the of our lives – the Grateful Dead. As we approached the gates, the energy in the air was palpable.  Even the tension from the ridiculous wait at the border melted away as an assembly of smiles, dreadlocks, patchwork pants and patchouli drifted by.   We went and set up camp and enjoyed the shade provided by the surrounding trees and friendly faces. After a while we went for a walk down Shakedown Street.  A number of vendors were set up with everything from engrained art to homemade clothing to paintings to beautifully handcrafted carvings to Dead-inspired tiling to music photographs to a build-your-own-hand-drum stand present.  Shakedown sucked us into its vortex and when it spit us out we found ourselves directly in front of the main stage with the quarry and beach only a coupled hundred feet away and the second stage only a hundred feet or so behind us.  A serene setting for a weekend of peace and harmony…….life seemed pretty good!  If one was so inclined, floating in the quarry while taking in all the weekend’s festivities and music was an achievable goal!

     Though the music was scheduled for Fri, Sat and Sun, headliner Dark Star Orchestra provided earlybirds with what has become their traditional “soundcheck” set on Thursday (only $10 extra).  The band seems to be quite relaxed and having fun in covering songs not normally in their repertoire – the music and the atmosphere were loose and it came across nicely.  With their playbooks and lyrics on stage in front of them the band came out blazing with Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen”.  Cat Steven’s “Peace Train” was a nice feature followed by the Travellin’ Wilbury’s “End of the Line”.  Bassist Kevin Rosen then layed down some monster bass chords as they covered The Band’s “Evangeline” and keyboardist Rob Barraco said, “I’ve been waiting to play that song for 25 years” as the band finished up The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”.  Other notable songs from the set were Blues Image’s “Ride Captain Ride”, Little Feat’s “Skin it Back”, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, Neil Young’s “Mansion on the Hill”, Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”.  The band came back out for an encore and treated the crowd to a first.  They’d announced that they’d gotten together and done something they hadn’t done before which was make their own music.  They’d written music to a song, sent it off to Robert Hunter who loved it and in turn wrote lyrics for it.  What came of it was an energetic “Run Mary” played lived for the first time ever and finished off with the Dead’s “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” that had everybody moving.  

Dark Star Orchestra

     Friday started off with Ohio’s “The Recipe”.  The band had a nice groove revolving around a fiddle, guitar, bass, sax, percussion, drums and male/female vocal.  A dedicated following sang happily along to old songs while taking in a couple of new compositions.  Although there were moments of musical enlightenment, I thought they fell a little flat.  After The Recipe was Moonalice who hit the musical jackpot for me.  This was my first time seeing and hearing this band and they did not disappoint.  Steeped in the rich musical senses of the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, they still managed to convey a unique sound.  The songwriting was great – lyrically the words rang true and deep and were filled with stingingly potent messages.  Guitarist Barry Sless‘s tone was filled with warmth while placing his notes perfectly along the roadmap to the soul.  The jams were deep and spacey with drummer John Molo keeping the groove all the while.  I felt like I was climbing a road with a cliff right beside me - trippy enough to look over the edge but comfortable in knowing we wouldn’t fall.   The crowd took a lot of pleasure in seeing the musical talent and diversity in the band with the musicians often switching instruments with one another between songs.  

     JGB came out and treated the crowd to a great set of music.  With an underlying gospel feel to their set they still managed to fuse the sound with funky upbeat jams and slow emotional songs.  Highlights included an unbelievable and (what seemed like a) never ending “Sittin’ Here in Limbo” and monster “Deal” to close out the set.   Melvin Seals is the real deal on the organ holding out notes for what seems like eternity and backup vocalists Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker singing what may have been the sweetest harmonies of the weekend.  

     Kimock, Melvin and Crazy Engine came on next and much to the enthusiasm of the crowd played many of Kimock’s original tunes including “Africa”.  The set was dreamy and tight with a nice mellow groove.  Kimock is a virtuoso on the guitar and had the crowd following his every move.  It was nice to see Melvin Seals showcasing a different side to his playing than he does with JGB.  In this outfit, Melvin’s spot wasn’t to sustain his sound over the music with the organ but find his spot filling and adding chops around Kimock’s playing.  

     Some more music on the side stage by the Spikedrivers – then time again for Dark Star Orchestra.  We got down the stage and were treated to what turned out to be a show from 9/28/76 – Onandoga County War Memorial – Syracuse, NY.  Opening with Cold Rain and Snow, I turned to a friend and mentioned that as wonderful a day it was in terms of music (and it was!) when it all falls down, this is what it’s about.  DSO play the Grateful Dead’s music and they play it with precision and clarity.  It feels soooooo right!  I hadn’t seen DSO without John Kadlecik and was a bit weary about how it would come across with Jeff Mattson (Donna Jean Band/Zen Tricksters) sitting in on lead guitar/vocals.  Not because Jeff isn’t an accomplished musician and Deadhead himself but because Kadlecik played the part so well. I have to say my fears were quickly set aside as Mattson stepped into the role without missing a beat. His vocals had similar intonation to Jerry’s and his guitar playing had a similarity to Jerry’s phrasing mixed with his own style.  Highlights for the night included Donna Jean coming out to sing with Lisa MacKay (sings the Donna Jean part in DSO), along with a great “Big River”, “Bertha”, “Friend of the Devil”, “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”, “The Wheel” and an unbelievably emotional “Comes A Time”.