Dark Star Orchestra brings Dead back to life in Tahoe

Tahoe Onstage

The Dark Star Orchestra does the Dead live before a sold-out South Shore Room at Harrah’s Tahoe.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

As a fresh coating of snow blanketed South Lake Tahoe on Sunday night, lifting spirits, Dark Star Orchestra gave locals and travelers alike a magical evening mirrored by the welcoming white carpet.

Dark Star is a family, a band that encourages reminiscing and reliving the spirit that is the Grateful Dead. On this night, DSO played from a Sept. 14, 1988, Dead concert at Madison Square Garden, which opened with the pre-Y2K mantra of “Let The Good Times Roll.”

By the time the band transitioned into “Queen Jane,” the venue that moonlights as a nightclub was transformed into a concert arena complete with jamming Deadheads from a different era than 2018. It was a time when love was free and energy fueled by music pulsated in the nighttime air. Rob Barraco really shined on keyboards during “Queen Jane” and as the band moved into “Ramble on Rose,” the crowd’s energy was a laid back happiness fueled by funky rifts.

Dark Star picked the pace during “Let it Grow” and the audience matched the ecstasy, dancing harder, giving more to the band, to the music. Lead guitarist Jeff Mattson smoked his rifts as the first set came to an end. Our shoes left marks in the makeshift dance floor, an offering to the music and to the band. As the band circled back to “what shall we say, shall we call it by name,” the light was on every concertgoer’s face. The first set closed with a smile on all our faces.

Throughout the show, the musicians displayed their technical abilities. Dark Star is so much more than a cover band. It is the only band that recreates a Grateful Dead show in its entirety. The second set led with a short and sweet “Box of Rain,” transitioning into “He’s Gone.”

Guests were treated to a spaceilicous set. Yes, I made that word up, but it describes exactly where we all went during that space in time. As the show progressed, my hand caressed the stage and I found myself, along with a sold-out show of audience members, thankful and humbled by what Dark Star creates, keeping the living entity that is the Grateful Dead magical and alive.

As the show came to a close, it was clear not only is Dark Star Orchestra the best at what it does, but its musicians are in a class of their own. Talented, passionate players graced Harrah’s South Shore Room and put down one heck of a show.

“Snowstorm, wind and rain. Thank you for always showing up, Tahoe,” rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton said as he walked offstage for the last time of the evening. No, thank you, Dark Star for always showing up in our little mountain town and treating us to the church of the Grateful Dead.

– Meredith Crosby

  • Grateful Dead, Sept. 14, 1988
    Madison Square Garden

    Set one:
    Let The Good Times Roll
    Alabama Getaway
    Greatest Story Ever Told
    *Stagger Lee (omitted)
    *Walkin’ Blues (omitted)
    It Must Have Been the Roses
    Queen Jane Approximately
    Ramble on Rose
    Let it Grow
  • Set Two:
    Box of Rain
    Victim or the Crime
    Foolish Heart
    Looks Like Rain
    He’s Gone
    I Need a Miracle
    *Gimme Some Lovin’ (omitted)
    *Morning Dew (omitted)
  • Encore:
    Black Muddy River
    *Golden Road (not in original set list)

    Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage
  • Click the link to see all of Larry Sabo’s photos from the 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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