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Dark Star brings back the Dead

POSTED AT 06:58 PM ON Jul. 30, 2008 


Bluebird Nightclub took a trip to the past Sunday evening with Grateful Dead cover band the Dark Star Orchestra.

The Dark Star Orchestra, also known as DSO, is a tribute band that specializes in reenacting actual Grateful Dead concerts. At the Bluebird show, for instance, DSO played the set list from the July 27, 1974, Grateful Dead concert at the Roanoke Civic Center in Roanoke, Va.

When the Dark Star Orchestra came to Bloomington, the band’s members knew that even in a college town, the fans at their concert would belong to a much older generation. These fans proudly call themselves Deadheads, and for them, seeing the Dark Star Orchestra is as close as they can come to hearing the Grateful Dead in concert.

Self-identified Deadhead and Bloomington resident Charlie Sinex, 53, saw the Grateful Dead four times before Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. Sinex said watching DSO took him back to his days seeing the Dead live.

“Seeing these guys here is great,” Sinex said. “It really brings back memories.”

Sinex’s nostalgia is easy to understand when you listen to DSO live in concert. A pick-plucked electric bass played by DSO founder Kevin Rosen creates the deep tones that have continued to define the style of original Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. The singing and guitar-playing styles of another DSO founder, John Kadlecik, bear an uncanny resemblance to the San Fransisco sound of Jerry Garcia, the most-recognized face from the Grateful Dead.

The parts for the Dead’s famed female vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux are sung by Lisa Mackey, while blues-rock guitarist Rob Eaton and honky-tonk keyboardist Rob Barraco combine with jazz-drummer Rob Koritz to back a fully coordinated orchestra that simultaneously moves itself and its audience to life in the groovy lane. The connection between musician and audience is what Dark Star Orchestra tour manager Matt “Curfew” Reynolds said DSO is all about.

“Music keeps people together. It’s like a secret code or something,” Reynolds said. “It provides a common ground that people can share with each other, people who otherwise would have no connection.”

A look at the stage and audience authenticates Reynolds’ statement. Throughout the show, people were sharing smiles, choruses and twirling dances in an unadulterated kinship not often seen.

While the Dark Star Orchestra has had more than 15 different band members, and can only expect more change in future years, a fluctuation in constituency not unlike the Grateful Dead, Reynolds describes DSO as a family.

“The band itself is like a family. They know each other inside and out.” said Reynolds, “They have their ... discrepancies, but like I said, they’re a family. What family doesn’t fight from time to time?”

If there was any tension between DSO members at the Bluebird, it didn’t come through on stage.

The Bluebird may have been an “in-between stop” for DSO on its summer tour as they travel from Chicago to Atlantic City, but the crowd got a show fit for an amphitheatre. It was evident through the energy and sounds on stage, plus the movement of the crowd, that the Dark Star Orchestra succeeded in creating a sound that connected with it’s audience and could be felt from the inside-out.

“This place offers a nostalgia that sort of lets us come back to equalization,” Reynolds said. “Playing such a small venue allows us to change our goal from filling up a space to focusing on the execution of our intended sound.”


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