Dark Star Orchestra plays more than tribute
Published: Thursday, July 29, 2010
Updated: Thursday, July 29, 2010 13:07
Fans of the Grateful Dead in the Huntington area will get a special treat Tuesday as the Dark Star Orchestra is scheduled to perform at Harris Riverfront Park.
Founded in Chicago in 1992, Dark Star Orchestra is a group dedicated to re-creating the Grateful Dead concert experience. With more than 1,800 shows since forming, the group has been hailed by both fans and critics alike, with praises appearing in "Rolling Stone" and "The Washington Post." Musicians in the group have caught the attention of members of the Grateful Dead. Some have even gone on to play with them in other groups, such as Dark Star Orchestra founding member John Kadlecik leaving the band to join Grateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Bob Weir in Furthur.
More than just another cover band, Dark Star Orchestra takes re-creating Grateful Dead concerts much further than just playing the songs of a group they deeply admire. "We basically understand the elements of a certain era of the Grateful Dead. So let's say we're doing a show from 1973. We have a blueprint," keyboardist Rob Baracco said. "That blueprint says that we have one drummer in this case.
"It's a certain sound from that era and we try to work within that sound."
However, despite the careful attention the band takes to ensure an authentic experience for Grateful Dead fans, Barraco and the rest of the group understand the fundamental spirit of the Grateful Dead.
"Every note we play is completely improvised. There's no way to play this music unless you play it in the moment," explained the keyboardist. "It goes way beyond just being a cover band because you couldn't in a lifetime re-create a Grateful Dead show note for note. And why would you want to? It would be antithetical to their whole mission, which is to improvise and be in the moment," he said.
That improvisation is built around a set list of songs, but determining which show to re-create is no easy task for the group. Making use of a database with set lists spanning the entirety of the Grateful Dead's career, the group selects a set of songs that keeps things fresh for the audience and the band. "It's a really arduous task, but our guitar player Rob Eaton is really well-versed in their history," Barraco said. Upon occasion, Dark Star Orchestra creates its own original set list to make sure songs are not repeated from one night to the next.
"At this point we are doing about 97 percent of the repertoire. There's only a few songs left for us to do," Baracco bosated.
Considering the amount of songs in the Grateful Dead's catalog, 97 percent translates to upwards of 400 original Dead songs, which doesn't include covers and other songs played by the group. "What a lot of people don't realize is that the (Grateful) Dead were a great cover band. They took, in every era, a slew of covers and made them their own," Baracco explained.
While the jury is still out on an official position from the Grateful Dead, a few members of the group have sat in and performed with the group, such as guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Billy Kreutzmann. Yet, Barraco admits not all members of the Grateful Dead have shown their support. "I've heard through the grapevine that certain guys in the group don't really dig what we're doing because they think we're copping on their thing," Baracco said.
Regardless of any feelings that members of the Grateful Dead may have about Dark Star Orchestra, Barraco makes a strong argument to anyone questioning the group's intentions: "The thing is, music is music to me. If you want to go that route, you have to condemn every symphony orchestra and every jazz group that's ever existed because they all do that," explained the keyboardist. "There are a lot of people who never got the chance to see Jerry Garcia play. So when they come to see us, they get a feel for what it's like to be in that moment."
Dark Star Orchestra performs Tuesday. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 day of show.
Dave Mistich can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.