Stateline, Nevada, will become Shakedown Street, at least for some jam band fans, when Dark Star Orchestra takes the stage at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room on Sunday, Feb. 19.
Dark Star Orchestra specializes in bringing audiences a custom-wrought replica of just about any Grateful Dead show, playing precisely to the set-list, gear and lineup of one of the band’s numerous performances. Given that the Grateful Dead reigned for the better part of four decades, and developed a performance style and a devoted fan following unequaled in popular music, there’s a lot of material from which to choose.
DSO was formed in Chicago in 1997, when former guitarist John Kadlecik mentioned the concept to former keyboard player Scott Larned, who had been thinking of a project along the same lines.
“They had the same idea; ‘hey let’s try to ply a Dead show,’ ” drummer Rob Koritz said. “The first week 40 people showed up, the second week 80 people showed up and the third week about 400 people showed up.”
The band’s lineup has included many players over the years. Koritz joined the band in 1999, taking the roll of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. His fellow Orchestra members are Lisa Mackey (vocals), Rob Eaton (guitar, vocals), Jeff Mattson (lead guitar, vocals), Rob Barraco (keyboards, vocals), Skip Vangelas (bass, vocals), and Dino English (drums, percussion).
“We’ve been real lucky that every time we need to have a change in personnel we’ve actually been able to improve ourselves,” Koritz said.
Dark Star Orchestra tours regularly around the United States, with the occasional overseas appearance. The band has performed in Europe, Japan, and plays a destination event in Jamaica annually, replicating shows from every era of the Grateful Dead’s existence.
Duplicating such a vast array of performances is apparently easier than one might think. Fortunately for DSO, the Grateful Dead were among the pioneering artists that explicitly encouraged bootlegging of their material.
“The Dead were the first band, way back in the sixties even that said ‘hey, come tape our shows,’ ” Koritz said. “ ‘Make sure you share them with everybody,’ which was so against what everyone else was doing.”
DSO has drawn from a website called archive.org, which has a huge selection of Grateful Dead shows. The band is also careful to recreate the Dead’s gear in any given era, as much as is possible.
“Some of the stuff is older, so it’s hard to find it in good shape,” Koritz said. “Some of it we have to approximate. We don’t have every piece of gear by any means, but we have what we need to replicate all the different eras.”
The only parts of the show that the band doesn’t seek to duplicate identically are the Grateful Dead’s renowned improvisational jams.
“It’s us all the way,” Koritz said. “They give us the frameworks, the tempo and the arrangements and all that, but when it’s time to get into the jams and the improv, it’s 100 percent us.”
A number of original members of the Grateful Dead have taken the stage with DSO over the years, including Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and others.
- Concert review: Deadly night at Lake Tahoe. LINK
- Making of thee Grateful Dead “elevator music” at Fare The Well shows. LINK
- Dark Star Orchestra
When: 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 19
Where: South Shore Room, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe