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Are a band from Illinois, covering Grateful Dead concerts in full (that's their slogan anyway). They're very good at what they do, which is what their slogan suggests: they re-create Grateful Dead concerts changing almost nothing (music-wise). They attract quite a ranged audience, from teens to pensioners (nearly pensioners anyway). They're currently on tour....

I was standing in the rain outside the Asheville Music Zone, trying desperately to hear the Dark Star Orchestra playing inside. As thick, healthy rain drops fell from the brim of my hat, I wondered if I will see the band tonight, and if so, how will I ever get in, considering certain monetary limitations. I was just a young American child, pounding on the gates of Eden. “My socks are soaked,” I said it aloud, arousing the attention of my fellow bystanders, including a middle-aged barefooted man who was striding confidently toward the door. He turned around and introduced himself to me; however, I cannot recall his name at all. I noticed his scruffy chin, as he leaned near to me and offered his assistance in arranging my entrance. Upon our advent into the show, the scruffy-faced-man (which is all I know him by) was not only suspiciously friendly, but also very quick in starting conversation as we navigated the crowd (which was certainly over the fire code occupancy quota). After parting with the scruffy-faced man via an extended hug, I managed to stash my knapsack, containing my soaked sweatshirt, a sketchbook and such paraphernalia as loose pens and pencils, lip balm, and two promotional CD’s. Upon noticing that Dark Star had only recently begun the first set, I began traversing the crowd, in the general direction of the stage. In the jungle that was the crowd, the natural garb was that which leaned toward comfort rather than conformity, and the jargon so thick that one may believe themselves to be in a far foreign, third world country. As for myself, I felt relaxed and at peace (as well as soaked and shivering) as I drifted into the waves of music (my ultimate goal, and the purpose of the evening). I shuffled remarkably close to the band, and decided to end my trek and enjoy the music.

I allowed my mind to drift freely while dancing, without putting effort towards dwelling on certain thoughts or ignoring others. My only discomfort was the rising temperature inside the rather small Music Zone, due to the massive crowd, and my long sleeve flannel shirt, under which I was bare-chested. Next to me, a young woman and a few of her friends were smoking opium from a glass blown chillum. At some point, the uppermost north-facing windows were opened, to advent the flow of air; however, as the first set ended, the crowd loosened its grip upon the stage, and slumped back ward, resting, recovering.

The Dark Star Orchestra plays two sets, like most jam bands, and (as the name implies) pays tribute to the Grateful Dead through remarkable imitation of sound and style (the saying goes “if you close your eyes, you can’t tell the difference”). While the Grateful Dead and Dark Star are not a part of my usual musical repertoire, I was enjoying my evening immensely. For some reason, in my mind punk music and jam bands are closely grouped, perhaps because I am only marginally interested in listening to such styles on recordings; however, I am often eager to see such bands of such styles live. I enjoy the buzz that I get from live music, the crowds, and the connection between the two. It seems that the crowd becomes a singular entity, and the band dissolves into the music that it creates. The interaction and connection between the musicians and their audience is essential during a live performance. Without this relationship, a concert can be dull, and bands seem less talented than they actually are. The Dark Star Orchestra is talented in the ways of crowd manipulation, at times it seemed that they were teasing the crowd by opening up and jamming only for a moment or two, then would back off, as if to give us a taste, then take it away. As the set progressed, the jams culminated to the final song of the set, which was swiftly high-powered and truly ignited the crowd. At certain times, I was under the impression that the crowd was making as much noise as the band.

The second set opened strong with two upbeat songs that wandered and drifted over the fiercely resonating crowd. My neighbors (who had left during the set break to retrieve another round of Sierra Nevada’s) began lighting their glass piece once again; however, after a few moments the rotation was forever killed when a girl in a red tank top dropped the small pipe, shattering it against the concrete floor, and my shoe.

While dancing, I “caught the vibe” (to use the parlance of the times). I felt at peace, more accurately, I felt interconnected with the people around me more so than would occur in a normal days activities. Roughly halfway through the second set, I was forced to leave my spot at the precipice of the stage and appease my growing dehydration with a bottle of water. After struggling to the bar and downing my 16-ounce dose, I felt inclined to step outside for air; however, since I was without a legitimate way to re-enter, I decided against it. Instead, I traveled to the back door and up a flight of dark stairs to the upper balcony level, which was remarkably more comfortable. In addition to a crystal clear overhead view of the band, fewer people, lower temperature, and plenty of room to dance were among the advantages of being above the crowd, rather than a part of it.

With the benefit of hindsight, I feel it necessary to thank the scruffy-faced man (who ever you are, where ever you are), for giving me the wings to fly into the sun, for providing me the means to my ends. Dark Star was amazing, and my bike ride home through the light rain helped soothe the burning that emanated from within me and left my skin sizzling. Pinpricks of rain against my face and fists kept me alert along the mostly downhill ride, and upon reaching the base of the hill atop which my dorm building stands, I prepared for the push ahead that surely would make my legs burn and heart race.

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