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‘All-star’ Grateful Dead tribute heading for Reading

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STORY BY BRIAN BINGAMAN 
bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter

Named after a Grateful Dead song, Dark Star Orchestra have actually performed even more live shows than the Dead themselves did.
Formed in Chicago in 1997, a short time after the death of Jerry Garcia, the seven-piece band continues the unique Grateful Dead concert experience May 19 at the Santander Performing Arts Center.
With the set lists of just about every Dead concert cataloged in print and online (accented by a hoard of band-encouraged audience audio recordings), Dark Star Orchestra has the option of recreating any concert from the Dead’s 30 years of extensive touring, or picking and choosing from that band’s catalog to come up with their own playlist.
DSO’s Bill Kreutzmann counterpart, Dino English, says they keep it “a guessing game” which kind of show they’re playing until it’s over.
“It’s not the same 20 songs over and over again,” said the drummer, whose favorite Dead songs to play, for now, include “Scarlet Begonias,” “Eyes of the World,” “China Cat Sunflower” and the ballads.
With more than 245,000 likes on Facebook and almost 10,000 Twitter followers, the fans don’t seem to mind the guessing.

IF YOU GO
What: Dark Star Orchestra in concert.
When: 7 p.m. May 19.
Where: Santander Performing Arts Center, 136 N. Sixth St., Reading.
Tickets: $29.
Info.: Call (610) 898-7299 or go to www.santander-arena.com.

“It’s a great honor and it’s a lot of fun at the same time,” English said of carrying on the legacy of such a legendary band. “We consider it some of the best music ever written. Robert Hunter is such a genius of a lyricist.”
Over the years, the band has performed across the U.S., in Europe, and at music festivals such as Bonnaroo, All Good Festival, Gathering of the Vibes and Mountain Jam. They’ve even been joined on stage at different times by most of the original Grateful Dead members, including Bob Weir, Kreutzmann, Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay, Vince Welnick and Tom Constanten.
Other notable guests that have also gotten in on the act include Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman of Phish, Keller Williams, Warren Haynes, Peter Rowan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and more.
“I kinda look at the band as the all-star team of Grateful Dead bands. There’s a lot of Grateful Dead tribute bands. Every municipality has their local jam band, and they serve their community,” said English, adding that whenever someone leaves DSO, there’s a careful selection process involved in finding a replacement.

THE DEAD BY DECADES
Dark Star Orchestra knows the Grateful Dead’s repertoire well, but skip the formative years of 1965 to 1968.
1969: “They had something really good going. It’s still really raw at that point, ‘Pigpen’ (the late Ron McKernan) was a big factor in the vocals at that point,” commented DSO drummer Dino English.
1970s: The Dead go from a two-drummer attack to a single drummer. Mickey Hart would return in the mid-’70s. Standout albums include “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead.” English described their sound as “countrified and folky” with emphasis on the songs, instead of the improvisational jams.
1980s: The early ‘80s are distinct for the Hammond organ and singing of Brent Mydland, a “big beast” drum kit setup and drum soloing. Meanwhile the late ‘80s featured non-traditional, midi guitar sounds and the keyboard stylings of Bruce Hornsby, who temporarily replaced Mydland when he passed away.

In addition, Dark Star Orchestra hosts its own festival in Ohio, Dark Star Jubilee, where they headline three consecutive nights. Being held Memorial Day weekend this year, the lineup will feature DSO side project bands, plus Steve Kimock & Friends, Hot Tuna, Melvin Seals from the Jerry Garcia Band and more.
“Looking forward to being in Reading,” English said in closing.

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