The spirit of the Grateful Dead returns to San Francisco this weekend with Dark Star Orchestra playing at Regency Ballroom on Saturday and ending out Hardly Strictly Bluegrass on Sunday.
Dark Star Orchestra has been confused with a Grateful Dead cover band numerous times, but any Deadhead will know there’s no such thing as a Grateful Dead cover band. How can you play songs the same way repeatedly when the Grateful Dead never did?
“For me there’s no one way to play any of these songs,” explains DSO rhythm guitarist and vocalist Rob Eaton. “It’s not unlike jazz in the respect that when we’re playing it comes out however you feel that day.”
Eaton says one of the typical questions he and other band members receive is “how can you play the same songs over and over?”
Perhaps the questioners aren’t familiar with the Grateful Dead. If they were, they would know that Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh,Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and other members of the Dead were not restricted to playing their songs the same way every performance. They had the freedom to explore on stage and Dark Star Orchestra carries on that tradition.
The members of Dark Star Orchestra are from different parts of the country and with different backgrounds. The love of Grateful Dead music brings Jeff Matson (guitar, vocals), Rob Barraco (keyboards), Dino English (drums), Rob Koritz (drums), Lisa Mackey (vocals), Kevin Rosen (bass, vocals) and Eaton together.
“We’re not trying to be the Grateful Dead. We don’t want to be the Grateful Dead,” Eaton says. “We want to somehow take this music and still turn people on with it.”
Dark Star Orchestra has toured around the world playing the music of the Grateful Dead (well everything except the jazz styled Dead of the 90’s) to crowds of old Deadheads and new listeners. In November, DSO will play their 2,000 show. DSO isn’t just a spirit band playing music they love, they are exposing a new generation to the Grateful Dead experience.
“What Jerry Garcia had, that most people don’t, is the ability to feel his personal expression through sound,” Eaton says. “Music is all about emotion; it’s all about emotion for me. What Jerry was able to do he would play a note and I could feel everything he meant to say in his soul with the expression in that note. That travels through the air.
“The music inheritably has a lot of that in it because the melodies are so strong and it was created in that same context of emotion. When it all came together, it was better than any drug you could take. It was a spiritual thing that moved me deeply, and still does.”
Eaton believes the music of the Grateful Dead is still relevant today because it reflects positivity.
“There’s no angst in the lyrics. They’re not screaming at you. It’s very positive, very uplifting. People get that. There’s really nothing else like it and there never has been in the history of our culture anyway. When you went to a Dead show, your politics didn’t matter, your sexual orientation didn’t matter, the color of your skin didn’t matter. All of that was checked at the door. Everyone was there for the same reason, which was the love of the music and the feeling you got in that environment.”
This weekend that environment takes place in San Francisco. Dark Star Orchestra will play at Regency Ballroom on Saturday night and will be one of the two closing bands on Sunday at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Eaton said playing in San Francisco is always something special for the band.
“The thing about us, at the end of the day all of us in the band are deadheads, just like anyone else we played for. The love that we have, and the passion we have, makes San Francisco a special place obviously.
“It’s really a celebration. We celebrate the music. We celebrate the lifestyle. We celebrate the culture that Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead started many, many years ago. To us it’s important that this music, which we feel is timeless, continues on. We don’t know how to do it any differently. We just get up there and play it with passion and hope that it somehow translates to the people. San Francisco helps with that because the love for what we’re doing is certainly felt on the stage when we get up there.”
If you never heard the Grateful Dead live then Dark Star Orchestra is for you. If you attended over 350+ shows like Eaton did then Dark Star Orchestra is for you. It’s a celebration of the Grateful Dead and it’s happening this weekend.
Saturday Dark Star Orchestra plays at Regency Ballroom with tickets on sale for $28.50. They play Sunday at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass at 5:45 in Golden Gate Park on the Arrow State. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is a free event.
What do you think of Dark Star Orchestra? Leave a comment below or find me on Facebook (Oakland Jam Bands Examiner) and Twitter (@HellaMusic).