Dark Star Orchestra ready for Jubilee in ThornvilleWritten by Mike Bauman | | email@example.com
To call Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) a cover band would not only be an understatement, but also not entirely true.
Since its inception in Chicago in 1997, DSO has gone beyond just recycling tunes of the Grateful Dead. Instead, DSO re-creates performances of past Grateful Dead shows and plays the set list within the musical style of the time period it came from.
“Contrary to what some people believe, it’s definitely not a note-for-note reinterpretation,” said DSO drummer/percussionist Dino English. “It’s more of [an] arrangement-for-arrangement kind of thing, so there’s still tons of room for improv and our own musical expression.”
DSO’s attention to detail and talented musicians have garnered the group praise from multiple media outlets, the Grateful Dead’s loyal fan base known as the “Deadheads” and even Grateful Dead members.
From Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, DSO will continue to raise the dead with the inaugural “Dark Star Jubilee” at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio. The three-day music festival will feature three different performances from DSO, more than 20 bands and nearly 40 hours of music with no overlapping sets, including three original Grateful Dead members.
“We kind of liked the idea of bringing folks together,” English said. “There’s a lot of different people taking a lot of different approaches out there with the Grateful Dead music, and so we figured it would be a great thing to have a several-day event where we could bring it all together and focus on that kind of music.”
Focusing on the Grateful Dead’s music is just what DSO does. During the past 15 years, DSO has performed more than 2,100 shows. The group still does approximately 135 shows a year and used to play as many as 170 gigs annually at one point.
“Grateful Dead played 30 years and did I think it was about 2,400 shows,” English said of the Grateful Dead. “So we’ve almost passed them up in 15 [years]. We have a database where we keep track of all the shows that we’ve played and what we played in a certain place last time.
“What we try to do is mix it up from each time we play in a certain area. We try not to go in there with the same style of show.”
The current lineup of DSO features Rob Barraco (keys, vocals), Rob Eaton (rhythm guitar, vocals), Rob Koritz (drums, percussion), Lisa Mackey (vocals), Jeff Mattson (lead guitar, vocals), Kevin Rosen (bass, vocals) and English, who joined the group in 1999.
“We had never played [together] before, except for sound check earlier that day,” English said of his first audition with DSO at a gig in Chicago. “Never played together, but I think they were confident enough to give me a whirl through the music that I had sent and knew that I could play it.”
As part of Dark Star Orchestra, English has played with several Grateful Dead members, including Bob Weir, Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay, Bill Kreutzmann, Tom Constanten and Vince Welnick.
“I had been a fan of his and watched him play so many times,” English said of Weir. “And then to be up there on the stage, and then see him going through the same motions that I had seen him do many times before where he’s tuning up his guitar [was exciting].
“And then as soon as he’s done tuning, he looked right up at me and [was] like, ‘Are you ready to go?’ He gave me that kind of look. Then I’m like, ‘Yeah! Let’s do this.’”
While those experiences have been memorable for English, the acceptance of DSO from the “Deadheads” is something he also greatly appreciates.
“That they’ve come and embraced it and come out and have a good time, that’s very thrilling,” English said. “At the same time, it’s still thrilling to play for the young kids. In the long run, that’s why we’re here — to give the kids a taste of what it was like back in the day.”
From Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, Dark Star Orchestra will headline the Dark Star Jubilee at Legend Valley in Thornville, Ohio. Advance three-day festival ticket passes are available for $109, while an advance two-day pass is $89.
For advance tickets and more information, visit the web site darkstarjubilee.com.