The ever evolving line-up of Dark Star Orchestra will be kicking off their Fall Tour at the Town Ballroom on tonight. Dark Star Orchestra, now in their fifteenth year, has become the most well know Grateful Dead tribute band out there and they have done so with quality musicianship and a great idea. They pick set lists from throughout Dead history and recreate old shows.
Following the song list but not the song precisely allows for the improvisational spirit of the Grateful Dead to shine through in a unique and fresh way. If you like the music of the Dead I suggest you go see them.
Here are a few words from drummer, Dino English on the band, how they came to be, and what is in store in the future.
Who are the members of Dark Star Orchestra?
Rob Barraco – keyboards, vocals
Rob Eaton – rhythm guitar, vocals
Dino English – drums, percussion
Rob Koritz – drums, percussion
Lisa Mackey – vocals
Jeff Mattson – lead guitar, vocals
Skip Vangelas – bass, vocals
How many original members are still in the band?
No one is left from the first show played. Kevin Rosen was the last member who played the first show and he retired from the road recently to take of his ailing mother. Lisa’s first show was around two months after the first gig so she is pretty much it. I’m next in line as my first show was may of 1999 and Rob Koritz came in shortly after me.
When and where did the band begin?
The first show was November 11, 1997 at Martyrs, a music venue in Chicago. The band just turned 16 years old!
Was there an effort to recreate specific set lists form the very beginning or is that something that happened later on?
The concept of playing Grateful Dead setlist came in at the inception. It was a collaborative idea between founding members Scott Larned and John Kadlecik. It wasn’t until about a year and a half in that the band played it’s first “elective setlist” where they chose there in song list.
Not too long ago, original member John Kadlecik went on to play with Furthur; you have a new bass player on board. How does the band change as the members change? Do you take on different songs or choose shows from a different era because of these changes?
Our musical approach doesn’t change much although we have reached further back into the 60’s as of the last four years. It’s really up to the older members to teach the potential new members what’s expected out of them in regards to approach. Our approach is basically this: when doing a GD setlist, we try to keep the song intact. It’s a traditionalist approach rather than a reinterpretation that throws out everything but the chord changes. We keep the chord changes, the harmonies, melodies, and much of the instrumental lines within the chord changes. GD songs may sound improvised but from night to night but there are similarities in the way the song was played. That did morph over time but within each time period these musical parts were largely the same.
However, there is a lot of room for improvisation within the many open jams that are always part of the show as well as the solo sections of each song so it’s far from a note to note interpretation. The players are expected to know their parts and bring their own personality and soul into the playing. To play in this band you have to be familiar enough with the material to play it without thinking about it. It’s only then that a player can be a vessel for this music. It really is a case that the “music plays the band”.
They cool thing that has happened over the years from the bands inception is that because of the band popularity, we are in a position to hire the best players for the job when a position becomes available. Therefore, the band is continually improving. The older members continue to improve and the newer members are typically better than the older members because a nation wide search has deemed them the best of the best. Of course “best” is up to interpretation to the audience. But from a band standpoint each new member has to be voted in by all the current members to be in the band as a full member so each new member is the one deemed the best fit for the band. There are a lot of really hot players of this music out there and if they continue to play well and improve, they have a chance to play with us in the event a position becomes open. Until then it’s the current members who drive this train and will continue to do so as long as they can keep their part of the train on the track.
We are all excited for our newest member, bassists Skip Vangeles. He rocks it hard, plays a mean bass, and sings both lead and harmony really well. And on top of that he’s an awesome guy to hang out with!
How does the process of choosing a show to recreate take place? Is it a group process? Does anyone in particular choose the show? How often do you make your own setlist? Do you prefer one over the other?
The idea is to play different songs and styles than what we played the last time we were in the same area and to play different songs and eras from night to night. It’s quite a rubek’s (sp) cube to figure out and it takes some planning. Rob Eaton plans out the sets before the tour starts and he does a great job. The sets we put together ourselves are decided the day of the performance. Anyone can throw out a suggestion and its all considered however most of the time we all are up for playing anything because its all good.
With Furthur taking 2014 off, are there any plans for John to rejoin the band, or sit in for some shows?
We have a lead guitarist who we are all quite happy with to say the least. It’s Jeff’s gig. He’s a full member of this band. Jeff is the man. As far as John sitting in, I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibilities but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen. I am happy for John’s success in playing with Furthur and I wish him continued success in the future.
Do any members have side projects; other bands that you are involved in?
Yes, we all play with other bands or have musical interest outside of DSO on our time off, too many to mention. Rob Barraco plays with Phil Lesh quite often including a reunion show with the famed Q band at Warren Haynes upcoming Christmas jam. Jeff plays with Donna Jean Godchaux-Mackay of the Grateful Dead. I do music production work as well as playing in a few local bands. Rob Eaton does music production, tape restoration and plays in local area bands. You’d have to check in with our website to see what everyone is up to. Public performances are all listed under our tour dates page.
Plans for the foreseeable future?
We are excited for our second year in Jamaica coming up in March. We hope to see you there! And we look forward to our annual music festival Dark Star Jubilee next summer.
Any favorite Dead shows, songs, or eras?
All of them.
Dark Star Orchestra – Wednesday 11/13/13 at the Town Ballroom | Doors open at 7pm
Dark Star Orchestra photo L to R:
Dino English (drums), Lisa Mackey (vocals), Rob Barraco (keyboards/vocals), Rob Eaton (guitar/vocals), Jeff Mattson (lead guitar/vocals), Rob Koritz (drums), Skip Vangelas (bass/vocals)
For more info please check out this website
$28.00 day of show
Doors Open at: 7:00 PM
All Ages (16+ unless accompanied by a parent or guardian)
Tickets available through Tickets.com and Town Ballroom box office 12pm – 5pm | Monday – Friday and during events. Call to charge by phone 888-223-6000