Monday, January 22, 2007

Wisconsin Looking Forward to DSO

The Wisconsin State Journal gives love to the Dark Star Orchestra:

Dead ahead: When it comes to Grateful Dead tribute bands, none do it better than Dark Star Orchestra
For the State Journal

Unless the late Jerry Garcia steps on stage at the Barrymore Theatre on Thursday night, Dark Star Orchestra could not recreate Grateful Dead concerts more faithfully than it does.

Dark Star may not look like the Dead, but the group is the ultimate tribute act, putting such attention to recreating the band's notable live show that it borders on obsessive. Yet that is what Dark Star/Grateful Dead fans love.

Since its first show in Chicago in 1998, Dark Star has played worldwide with a mission to perform identical shows of the Grateful Dead.

Paying meticulous attention to details - down to placing microphone stands in the same place onstage as the Dead did in its different eras - Dark Star is embraced by nostalgic Deadheads, young fans who want to experience a Dead show and even former Grateful Dead members.

So what makes several talented musicians decide to spend their careers covering Grateful Dead music?

"Well, there are really two main things," drummer Rob Koritz said from his St. Louis home. "First, the lyrical content and the message of these songs can't be beat. They're uplifting, positive and full of love.

"Second, you can play these songs over and over again, any amount of times and they will never be the same. The level of improvisational opportunities is amazing. As someone who comes from a jazz background, it's a perfect fit. The Grateful Dead were always playing rock music in a jazz idiom."

For Koritz, his place in Dark Star feeds a deep personal connection to the Grateful Dead that can be traced back to his days as a fan that, like many Deadheads, followed the band to dozens of shows.

"During my senior year of high school, I really wasn't that into the tie-dyed, hippie scene," Koritz recalled. "I remember being at a friend's house and I heard some band playing this song (Buddy Holly's 'Not Fade Away') that just had this amazing drum line. I asked what it was and when they said it was the Grateful Dead, I said, 'No way.'

"Well, they happened to be playing in Chicago later that week, so I made my way up there from St. Louis and they played that same song and I guess you could say that was either the beginning or the end for me. After that first time in 1987, I saw 100 shows."

Most of Dark Star's members took a similar performance path, combined with Grateful Dead fanaticism, to join the band.

Koritz plays the part of drummer Mickey Hart, opposite drummer Dino English who takes Bill Kreutzmann's spot. For 1970s shows, Lisa Mackey performs Donna Godchaux's vocal roles and Dan Klepinger fills a host of keyboard roles in the wake of founding DSO member Scott Larned's death in 2005. Bassist Kevin Rosen is the band's Phil Lesh. Guitarist Rob Eaton plays Bob Weir's role. And, John Kadlecik's guitar style and voice are uncannily similar to Garcia.

In the past eight years, the band has performed more than 1,300 shows, and with the exception of a few original set lists, most of them have been culled from the more than 2,300 shows that the Grateful Dead played between 1965 and Garcia's death in 1995.

Dark Star emulates the Dead's live show, but not precisely note-by-note. Instead, they stay stylistically true to each era, while still maintaining the improvisational, free-form atmosphere that fostered the counter culture and an army of nomadic fans. Each show's original date is kept secret until the encore, creating a bit of a challenge for diehard fans to guess what show they are "re-experiencing."

"There's a huge formula to choosing the right show for each night," Koritz said. "First we see how big the stage is, to see how elaborate of a drum set it can hold. Next we see what we did last time we were there and try to find a different time period to choose from. Sometimes we'll match a date; sometimes we'll match a city.

Like the Dead, Dark Star embraces the road, playing more than 100 shows each year. So preparing for the different styles the band experimented, from the roadhouse blues of the 1960s to the more synthesized sounds of the 1990s, has become almost second nature.

"Our preparation is mostly listening to the music and getting our heads into the groove of that particular time," Koritz said. "Most of our rehearsal is done during soundcheck. During the day we'll listen to tapes from the year we are going to be playing that night."

Real Grateful Dead members enjoy Dark Star. Weir, Godchaux, Kreutzmann and others have joined the band onstage - always replacing their respective Dark Star counterpart. Koritz said he has also met and received kudos from Hart numerous times.

"More than anything, it's an honor that those musicians have let us know that they appreciate what we are doing to keep the spirit of the Grateful Dead alive," Koritz said. "That's a testament to what the band has become as we roll along."

If you go

What: Dark Star Orchestra, Grateful Dead tribute band

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave.

Tickets: $20 in advance, $22 day of show. Go to or call 241-8633.

Three members of the Dark Star Orchestra pick their favorite Grateful Dead song.

Drummer Rob Koritz:

"The Music Never Stopped"

Studio Album: 1975's "Blues for Allah"

"There are some songs that I loved when I was going to shows that I still love now and some songs that I didn't think I'd like to play, but I love now. I guess 'The Music Never Stops' is one of the tops for me. I love the jam, the lyrics, the groove - it never gets old."

Keyboardist Dan Klepinger

"Dark Star" and "Bird Song"

Studio Albums: 1969's "Live Dead" ("Dark Star") and Jerry Garcia's 1972 "Garcia"

"I like the songs that stretch out a bit and allow a bit more improvisation. With these particular songs, we get to do our own thing and on any given night get to approach them from the way the Dead would have during that era."

Drummer Dino English

"Scarlet Begonias"

Studio Album: 1974's "From the Mars Hotel."

"'Scarlet Begonias' is always a favorite for me, because it usually comes around in the set when we are all warmed up and the room is all warmed up, too. It's just a great dance number for everyone to move around to."

***Stephen Dorian Miner photo; State Journal photo illustration***

See if DSO is coming to your town at their website


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