Dark Star Orchestra & Little Feat | Maryland State Fair | 08.23.01
The plan was hatched while drinking a couple of beers and smoking a joint. One of those moments of inspired madness that always seem to make such perfect sense at 3am when it has become to tough to stand and function normally, let alone put two coherent thoughts together. My buddy would be getting married in a few weeks and this seemed like a great way to send him off into the great unknown. We had been to more than our fair share of shows in the past so it was a natural fit.
Dark Star Orchestra and those survivors of seventies rock Little Feat would be playing at the Maryland State Fair. Dark Star Orchestra, for those who are unfamiliar with them, have taken the idea of being a Dead cover band to the next level. They have evolved past the point where they simply play a couple of Dead tunes mixed in with their own material and call it a night. They play entire shows from the Dead's thirty year career. They take it so far as to set the stage the same way as it was for the show they are recreating. For two still surviving deadheads, we couldn't ask for more. Throw in some of the laid-back smoked-out grooves of Billy Payne and company and that was just what the "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor" ordered. What more classic a combination than this, Grateful Dead Music, the boogie beat of Little Feat, cotton candy, Ferris wheels, screaming kids, and more.
We arrive just in time as they finish up a Brent Mydland song, "Far From Me," which leads nicely into "Cassidy." They round out the set with "Friend of the Devil" & "Promised Land." Keeping in line with Dead, they end the set with nothing more than a, "We are going to take a short break, so you can
Dark Star Orchestra are fantastic musicians in there own right and prove so in the second set as they begin to stretch out and really find a nice groove within the confines of the show they are playing. The second set began with "Sugaree" which included Billy Payne on accordion. (This was a big hint as to the year of the show, as the accordion player was most likely supposed to be Bruce Hornsby, so it helped clue in the crowd that it was a late eighties show when Bruce opened for the dead.) After a nice "Man Smart-Woman Are Smarter" and a crowd favorite "Ship of Fools," the skies that had been threatening with rain all day finally open up and begin to soak the crowd, or at least those not fortunate enough to have bought reserved seats and were stuck on the lawn, for which I was a proud part of. But then this cover band show turned into a Dead show as those under the roof began to call the people out on the lawn to join them so they would not get wet. People squeezed into rows and took to dancing in the aisles. After an encore of "Black Muddy River," they announced what show they had been covering (7/12/98 for those who are keeping score), played a nice filler of "Scarlet Begonias" and exited the stage, clearing the way for Little Feat. This provided the necessary trip to the bathroom and the chance to pick up a couple more beers.
Little Feat took the stage and played a set that mixed many of their classics along with some interesting covers. These covers included "Easy to Slip" a Bob Weir song off of his solo album Heaven Help the Fool, this segued into "I Know U Rider" which is always great to hear how people put this spin on this well tread song. They also played the old Robert Johnson song "Come On in My Kitchen," which led into the most interesting jam of the night as they went straight into "Down On the Farm > Feats Don't Fail Me Now." "Feats" drew some of the biggest cheers of the night for its line about going, "Right on through to Baltimore..."
Little Feat proved that the still have the firepower to get a crowd of and moving with their infectious grooves that seem to force ones body to stand up and boogie. Their two hour set provided an exercise in ass-shaking as the crowd and I found their was no longer any use for are seats. "Willin'" closed out their set, all that was left now was to stumble back out to the car, avoid another argument with the security guard, make it home at a decent hour, and try to get some sleep so that I could be at least half useful at work.
The next day seemed extra long and tedious at work, but the those Little Feat that keep dancing through my head helped put a smile on my face and enabled me to make it through the day.