Dark Star Orchestra at McDowell Mountain Music Festival

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Here's how it all unfolded:

The band arrives. Donna is on stage. Well, actually Lisa Mackey, who handles the roll of Dead singer Donna Godchaux. That immediately narrows down the time period to a mid- to late-70s show. No '80s "Day Job" excesses. The band begins a lengthy intro jam that turns into "Jack Straw." The band, fresh in from a Los Angeles gig, starts off tight--in the loosest sense--and blazes a welcome trail that gets the fairly full house swaying and shaking.

"Box of Rain," rumbles in next, appropriate given the clouds threatening all day to open up. The band is completely dialed in, right down to the original vocal nuances of Phil Lesh. This narrows the period further, as Lesh didn't perform the song often. Maybe 1972, 73, with a remote 1974 possibility.

"China Cat Sunflower," that rollicking, rolling jam with amazing guitar solos amid multiple canyons and plateaus, brings the guess down, maybe even to 1971. Barreling into "I Know You Rider" like a runaway freight, the familiar paring was now complete and well formed. The Dead often tossed these songs into the middle of the first set in the old days, but was Donna in the band then?

All around kids are tucking into tie-dye blankets as the sweater-sporting parents danced. Bubbles floated in the cold evening air among beach balls and glow sticks, and the party atmosphere was in high gear. Everyone was shaking about in some form.

Next up was the rarely played "Women Enough," by Loretta Lynn and sung by Mackey. This bluesy Janis Joplin-esque number kept the mystery set in early-1970s, but when? "Black Throated Wind" slowed the tempo a touch, but this infrequently performed song carried plenty of intensity and emotion through searing guitar licks from Jeff Mattson and powerful vocals from longtime guitarist and "Bob Weir" of DSO, Rob Eaton. Still thinking 1972 or 73.

But could this set have really happened? Doubt's beginning to creep in.

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver