Dead On: Dark Star Orchestra awakens Winterland’s Dead

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Acid Bear and friends are psyched for Dark Star Orchestra, which raised the Grateful Dead at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe recreating a June 8, 1977, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

When you spot the woman spinning in her tie dye dress with a giant, orange Acid Bear on her head you know you’re in the right place; that is if you’ve come to see Dark Star Orchestra creating Grateful Dead magic.

Dark Star Orchestra isn’t your typical cover band. Each show is a recreation of an actual Grateful Dead concert. If you close your eyes and let the music seep into your soul, you are transported from a dark nightclub in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe to the legendary and iconic 1977 Grateful Dead shows at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.

Playing to a sold out crowd in the South Shore Room, Dark Star Orchestra treated South Lake Tahoe to a doozy from the Grateful Dead vaults. The Winterland shows are considered some of the all-time best Greatful Dead runs.

Coming onstage at 7:32 p.m. Dark Star wasted no time tuning their instruments as the crowd whooped and hollered, frantic with anticipation. What would the opener be? Which Grateful Dead show out of 2,600 would they perform?

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Dark Star Orchestra plays for a sold-out South Shore Room at Lake Tahoe.

Opening with a strong “New Minglewood Blues,” a fan-favorite of Bob Weir lovers worldwide, the band, consisting of members, Rob Baraaco, Rob Eaton, Dino English, Rob Kortiz, Lisa Mackey, Jeff Mattson and Skip Vangelas, blasted off into Grateful Dead history taking their exuberant crowd along for one wild ride. The first set lacked in transitions and it was nice to hear each song played to its natural conclusion. Ending the first set with “Lazy Lightening” was an unexpected delight.

The band really came alive in the second set, and oh what a set to work with. Every deadhead knows Winterland from beginning to end, having listened to them more times than can be remembered. While the first set was tight, the second set had a more “jammy” vibe, giving those of us who wished to let go the energy and creative space to do so.

Rob Eaton plays Dead.

Rob Eaton plays Dead.

For some of us this show is a blast from the past, for others a link to history. Grateful Dead fans span decades and generations, and yet we come together under the cover of a dark converted nightclub to pay homage to the band we love. For some it is their 100th Dark Star show, for the older man sitting next to me, with more than 300 plus Dead shows under his belt, it is his first time seeing the magic this tribute band creates. We dance in frenzied ecstasy holding onto every last second of every song. For those of us who cannot “get on the bus” anymore we dance a little harder and sing a little louder for we know this is the last light charge we are going to get for a while.

As the band closes the second set with the feel good, fan favorite “Johnny B Goode,” we exhale happiness and inhale light. Dark Star Orchestra has one more gift for us before the night is through.

After the second set, Rob Eaton takes a moment to say farewell to the devoted fans before launching into the finale. “Brave souls who rock, gotta vamoose outta town before we get stuck for four days,” referring to the weather related closing of Highway 50 and Interstate 80 in the Tahoe area.

And then, the finale of all finales, “Brokedown Palace” brought that nightclub to its knees. The seldomly (at that time) played song was the encore for the June 8, 1977 show. It was received to an abnormally silent crowd. Every time that song is played there is a collective pause. In that moment, we refresh the soul and remind ourselves to cherish the miracle we call life and the music that gives us hope. There are tears in some eyes, and it is strangely quiet, as if making a sound will break the spell.  Dark Star Orchestra played the emotional fan favorite brilliantly, ending a magnificent Winterland show. A tribute shared between band and fan to one of the greatest American rock groups, the Grateful Dead. Once again,  Dark Star Orchestra did not disappoint.

-Meredith Crosby

  • Grateful Dead
    June 8, 1977
    Winterland Arena
  • First Set:
    New Minglewood Blues
    Sugaree
    Mexacali Blues
    Row Jimmy
    Sunrise
    Brown Eyed Woman
    All Over Now
    Jack-A-Roe
    Lazy Lightening
  • Second Set:
    Good Lovin’
    Ramble on Rose
    Estimated Prophet
    Eyes of the World
    Drums
    The Other One
    Wharf Rat
    Not Fade Away
    Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
    Johnny B Goode
    Encore:
    Brokedown Palace

    Tahoe Onstage

    Rob Kortiz, Michigan man.

    Tahoe Onstage

    Yaba daba Dead: Dino English on drums.

    Tahoe Onstage

    Lisa Mackey channels Donna Godchaux.

    Jeff Mattson on the slide.

    Jeff Mattson on the slide.

    Another miracle moment with Rob Baraaco.

    Another miracle moment with Rob Baraaco.

    Click to see all of Larry Sabo’s photos from the Feb. 19, 2017 show.

About Meredith Crosby

Meredith Crosby is a South Carolina native who has called Tahoe home for the better part of a decade. She is a creative non-fiction writer and English literature aficionado who most days can be found out hiking or snow-shoeing with her rescue pup.

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