- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Grateful Dead fans tend to be serious about their obsession, which is why Dark Star Orchestra, a Dead tribute band, is not one to just play a few old hits.
Instead, the group goes beyond trying to imitate the sound, or even the look, of the Dead by playing entire live sets exactly as they occurred. This includes long, rambling jams (for which the Dead were known), extended drum solos, encores and any other unusual quirks added into songs that may have occurred only once, at one moment in history.
Dark Star Orchestra will bring out the self-proclaimed Deadheads tomorrow, when the band performs at Nation.
The group takes its name from the Grateful Dead song "Dark Star," a tune that gained notoriety for its 23-minute length on the bands first live album "Live/Dead," released in 1969.
Rotating its lineup depending on what concert the musicians decide to replicate, the group is made up of John Kadlecik, lead guitar and vocals (Jerry Garcia); Scott Larned, keyboards and vocals (Brent Mydland); Lisa Mackey Burlingame, vocals (Donna Godchaux); Dino English, drums (Bill Kreutzmann); Rob Koritz, drums (Mickey Hart); Michael Hazdra, bass guitar and vocals (Phil Lesh); and Rob Eaton and Mike Maraat, rhythm guitar and vocals (Bob Weir).
"It was originally an escape from original music," says Mr. Larned, one of the founding members of the group. The band members were all playing with other groups in Chicago in November 1997 but wanted a chance to do cover songs without getting pigeonholed as a band that only plays tribute music.
The once-a-week side project soon blossomed into the main band.
"We didnt try and change what they did as much as just play the songs," Mr. Larned says from his Chicago home. "There was a really positive response right from the beginning."
Guessing which concert they would re-create next has made the group one of the hottest tribute bands around, selling out shows filled with fans in tie-dyed clothing, many of whom can actually recall the shows Dark Star Orchestra covers.
"It has a lot to do with what weve been doing on tour," Mr. Larned says of the show selection. "We look at what weve played in a particular city the last time. If we played a 1985 show for instance, well do something from a different era."
If possible, the band tries to re-create a concert in the same venue in which it took place or on the same date.
"Im not at liberty to say," Mr. Larned says mischievously when asked about what show will be played in Washington. Just seeing the stage setup, though, often is enough for Deadheads to figure out what era the show will be from, he says.
The original Grateful Dead formed in 1965 from the folk jam band the Warlocks, after the band turned electric and played for author Ken Keseys notorious "Acid Test" parties. The early recordings were unsuccessful, but the band quickly grew in notoriety for its live performances, which could stretch single songs into hourlong jam sessions.
The bands lineup changed through the years because of traffic accidents, creative differences and drug overdoses. Despite these losses and some unsuccessful releases in the late 70s and early 80s, the Grateful Dead continued playing through the 90s, thanks largely to the cult following they inspired.
The Dead finally disbanded in 1995 after the death of frontman-guitarist Jerry Garcia.
"I dont think this would be nearly as exciting as a musician if it were a different band," Mr. Larned says. "Theres so much improvisation in their music. We get to have the long jams that a Rolling Stones or Beatles tribute band might not get to do."
For the fans, many of whom stopped going to concerts after the Dead stopped touring, this is a homecoming of sorts.
"Were playing the soundtrack to their youth," Mr. Larned says.


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