With 15 years of touring together and more than 2000 tribute shows under their belt, Dark Star Orchestra continues to be an influential force within the live music community, drawing in new fans as frequently as reliving the experience with long-time Deadheads. From Shakedown Street to Terrapin Station, all the music and concepts that comprised the Grateful Dead's more than 30 year musical career are fair game for any Dark Star Orchestra show.
We've been able to turn on a lot of people out there to this music that they otherwise may not have heard. That's pretty much the best thing we could hope for. -Rob Koritz, drummer for DSOAfter a sold out show in September of 2010 at The Valarium, touring Japan and Alaska last year, and reaching their 2,000th live show together as a group in December of last year, DSO members say they aren't losing steam at all. In fact, they have roughly 60 shows booked between now and April, and are on par to surpass the Grateful Dead in number of live shows played in half the time it took the Dead to do it.
"It's great, and from a Grateful Dead fan's perspective, I think it's tremendous," says Rob Koritz, drummer of DSO since 1999. "We've been able to turn on a lot of people out there to this music that they otherwise may not have heard. That's pretty much the best thing we could hope for. We're doing something right if people are feeling that we're worth coming to hear, or check out to learn what the Grateful Dead was about. That's the highest compliment."
Formed in 1997, DSO has constantly evolved as a group of musicians who all share the same passion for the Grateful Dead's music. One way they go further in preserving the spirit of the music is by choosing an actual setlist from an original Grateful Dead show and recreating it for an audience. This is not to say that they copy the original live show note-for-note, but they play each song (and set up their equipment and instruments accordingly) in the same style as the Dead did in the original time and place.
At the end of the show, DSO announces when and where the original performance occurred that they have recreated. For some old Deadheads, it's an amazing experience revisiting a past time in their lives. For the younger fans, enjoying the experience of what the actual live sound and feel of the Grateful Dead concert was is a rare opportunity.
More frequently in recent years, DSO has been known to play what are lovingly called fantasy sets, where they create a fantasy setlist instead of using an authentic one, which allows DSO to show us just how deep their mastery of the sound goes.
Like any good book or movie, the Grateful Dead show is supposed to take you somewhere. It should take you on a journey, like a symphony. -Dino English, drummer for DSO "We try to approach the music as an entire show, not just a list of songs," says Dino English, drummer for DSO. "We use the set list as a framework, and then we do a lot of improvising. Like any good book or movie, the Grateful Dead show is supposed to take you somewhere. It should take you on a journey, like a symphony."
Original members of the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, picked DSO's original guitarist, John Kadlecik, to tour with them in their current band Further. Jeff Mattson, formerly of the Zen Tricksters, joined DSO in his place and has proven to be a huge success among fans as well as band mates.
"First of all, he's such a good player. We knew that going in, because we'd all heard him before and played with him before," Koritz says. "But the best part about it musically is that, even now when he's been with us for a year and a half, two years I guess, and it's still just super fresh. It really just rejuvenated us musically. That's the most important thing right there."
With renewed vigor, DSO has started their Spring tour off and are making their way toward Knoxville. The tour will continue until April, when the band will enjoy a much-needed break before hitting the road again for the summer music festival season. There's no telling what setlist Knoxville might get this time, but either way, DSO will offer superb musicianship in the honest and grateful spirit of the Dead, playing every show with integrity and professionalism.
Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets are $18 in advance at www.thevalarium.com and $20 at the door.