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Dark Star reincarnates the Dead

BRECKENRIDGE – There was one day last summer the white tent at the Riverwalk Center looked more like a circus tent than a venue reserved mostly for classical music connoisseurs. People in dreadlocks and dirty dresses twirled and danced, mesmerized by the groove – and by the funny-smelling smoke emanating from the gyration.

Last summer, Dark Star Orchestra drew Deadheads from throughout the region who hungered for drums, space and jams to take them on a journey from fast, mind-numbing grooves to mellow daydreams. Now, the band is back – just in time to trigger a flashback for dedicated fans who experienced the real thing at Red Rocks about a week ago, or to help less fortunate fans get their fix.

Cover bands have mimicked the Grateful Dead for years, but Dark Star Orchestra revives the music of the Dead, playing original set lists with vintage stage arrangements.



Guitarist John Kadlecik came up with the idea of performing complete Grateful Dead shows after perusing the 1990 edition of “DeadBase,” a compilation of the Dead’s setlists. In 1997, he hooked up with keyboardist Scott Larned and put a band together to play a few shows at Martyrs’ in Chicago. The first week, 78 people showed up. That number doubled and quadrupled within two weeks, and the venue sold out by the fourth week. Within months, the band began touring.

“What we set out to do really exploded on us,” Larned said.



The band members, who collectively have been to more than 600 Dead shows, choose a specific show, study tapes of it, mimic the stage setup using instruments from the same decade, play the songs note by note and even duplicate between-song banter.

“We’re trying to recreate the music,” Larned said. “What we offer is a historical perspective on what it might have been like to go to a show in 1985, 1978, or whatever. (Every member is) so obsessed with one of the guys in the Dead that he or she is able to replicate it. I’ve heard so many tapes of Brent playing songs that the best thing I can do when we’re doing this project is get out of the way and let that flow out in his spirit.”

Larned covers all five keyboardists the Dead had throughout its three decades, drummer Dino English pounds out rhythms like Mickey Hart, drummer Rob Koritz replicates the beat of Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Kevin Rosen captures the Phil Lesh zone, guitarist and vocalist Rob Eaton wails like Bob Weir, Lisa Mackley sings Donna Godchaux’s parts, and Kadlecik fills Jerry Garcia’s shoes. Each member strives to incorporate the constantly changing dynamics upon which the Dead built its reputation.

“They incorporated so many styles, and the fact that it could be different night after night made it really exciting,” Larned said. “With the Dead, it was always, “Let’s make it sound this particular way on this particular night in this particular room,’ and I think that was a really cool way to approach it.”

In the last couple of years, the outfit has been playing its own set lists every so often (about 10 to 20 percent of the time, according to English), which gives it a chance to play songs that otherwise wouldn’t come up, or play songs with different instruments the Dead didn’t use.

“It just adds another aspect of surprise to the whole gamut,” English said. “It’s just as fun to figure out if it’s an original setlist or not. This is another thing (fans) can guest at. It’s another way we can branch out our creativity. The long, strange trip continues.”

“You build this big beast and watch it move around, and it goes where it will sometimes, and we all have to follow,” Larned said.

The beast has grown to attract guest appearances by Weir and members of Phish.

“That these guys (of the Grateful Dead) give us their blessing is such a kick,” Larned said. “It’s a warm feeling that those guys are supportive of what we’re doing.”

Tickets are $23 in advance, $25 the day of the show, and may be purchased by calling (970) 547-3100 or visiting http://www.breckenridgemusicfestival.net.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

Dark Star Orchestra

– When: 6 p.m. Sunday, July 20

– Where: Riverwalk Center, Breckenridge


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