The scene at Roaring Camp on Friday.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
The Here & Now

A tie-dye high: Roaring Camp live show brings back the pre-pandemic good vibes

THE HERE & NOW: On Friday at Roaring Camp, Felton Music Hall began its outdoor summer music series, with a sold-out live set from Dark Star Orchestra, one of the country’s top Grateful Dead tribute bands. The return-to-normalcy live music action continues Saturday and Sunday.

If what happened on Friday afternoon at Roaring Camp in Felton is any reliable barometer, the hug is poised to make a huge comeback this year. And the handshake has to like its future, too.

Felton Music Hall began its outdoor summer music series on the historic railroad’s grounds, with a sold-out live set from Dark Star Orchestra, one of the country’s top Grateful Dead tribute bands. And despite some reminders that we’re all still living in the tail end of a pandemic, the experience was tantalizingly close to the sunshine and good vibes of a pre-pandemic California summer.

Across the meadow at Roaring Camp, the show’s producers had set up an arrangement of square, roped-off “pods,” in which family or close friends could enjoy the show on the lawn without masks.

Masks were required outside the pods, but there didn’t appear to be a need for event staff to be vigorously policing the mask rules. This was a pretty go-with-the-flow crowd.

A fan swings to the sounds of Dark Star Orchestra Friday at Roaring Camp.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

And why wouldn’t they be? In the bosom of almost comically perfect weather — sunny and warm with a trace of coolness in the shade — DSO struck up right on time with a 12-minute version of “Truckin’,” followed in short order by a dreamy version of “Sugaree” and, in no time, fans wielding cans of IPA were swaying and jiggling and writhing in joyful abandon.

After more than a year of isolation and social distancing, many fans on the grounds were eager for the human touch again. Friends fell into each other’s arms in greeting, and handshakes and high-fives, in retreat for a year, were popping up everywhere.


Lookout photojournalist Kevin Painchaud captured the scene:


One woman, wearing a sunburst yellow T-shirt advertising that she had been vaccinated told me, “It’s such a relief (to be with people again).” Another woman said, “I want to touch people and get all sweaty.”

There was no mistaking the sense of joy in what for many was their first live-music event in a year in a crowd that was, like the Dead demo, decidedly graying. Visually, the scene was a parade of tie-dye. Electric blues and lime greens competed with purple and fuchsia.

COVID protocols preceded Friday's show.
COVID protocols preceded Friday’s show.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Grateful Dead imagery was, of course, everywhere — except the DSO merch booth which has cultivated its own icons and images outside the Dead’s copyrights. If people hadn’t been to a show in 14 months, neither had their wildest party outfits, and many reveled in aggressively and proudly mismatched clothing, colorful patterned tops with striped harem pants, for example, as if this were the I-got-dressed-in-the-dark Olympics.

Dark Star Orchestra continues its engagement through the weekend at Roaring Camp, followed by Ozomatli next Saturday, May 15, and other dates continuing throughout the summer.

Dark Star Orchestra keyboardist Rob Barraco wore a perpetual smile as the band returned to live action Friday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

For a full slate of shows, and ticket information, go to Felton Music Hall’s schedule of events.

For tie-dye and other visual plumage to wear at the next Roaring Camp show, you’re on your own.