Grateful Dead’s live show continues with Dark Star Orchestra
September 28, 2011
“I think we’re in the 1,960s right now,” said Rob Koritz, referring to numerals, not a decade.
Koritz is one of the drummers in the Dark Star Orchestra which plays homage to one of seminal 1960s creations: the Grateful Dead.
Dark Star Orchestra in its 13 years has played more than 1,960 shows, creeping toward the Dead’s total of 2,300. Although the Dead was around for four decades, it only had 13 studio albums. One of the world’s most popular bands became so because of its live show.
The tribute, which loosely replicates specific concerts, performs Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the MontBleu Theatre. Koritz said one band member is assigned picking which concert will be performed.
“It’s a very hard job,” he said. “It takes a lot of hours, a lot of research.”
The Grateful Dead created the jam band scene. Not only did it thrive on improvisation and extended songs, it jammed together many musical styles.
“It’s truly an American art form,” said Koritz, who has been with Dark Star for 12 years. “You might not like everything the Dead does, but there is something in there for everybody. There’s blues, rock, country, jazz; something there for everybody to grab on to.”
After founding member Jerry Garcia died in 1995, several bands rose to national prominence because there was a void for Deadheads, the fans who traveled show to show.
“Chances are, had the Dead still been around,” Koritz said, “Phish may not have exploded the way they did. Widespread Panic may not have exploded the way they did. String Cheese may not have exploded the way they did. It definitely left a void there for some music to come through and it also sparked a lot of other groups because a lot of the members in the Dead filled in other groups. If I had my way, none of it would have happened and we’d still have Jerry and we’d have been going to Dead shows the last 20 years.”
Garcia reportedly came up with the band’s name by thumbing through a dictionary. Its skull logo is know all around the world. But it was new to Melvin Seals years ago when the keyboard player joined the Dead.
“The early days was a little spooky for me,” said Seals, whose JGB (Jerry Garcia Band) also tributes the original jam band. “I remember that first rehearsal I went to in that warehouse and the Grateful Dead have all these logos of these skeletons. So I see skeleton with roses in its head, skeleton with a violin. I wasn’t a Deadhead. I didn’t know much about them. I thought, ‘Is this some kind of cult? What’s going on here?’ I was a little bit afraid for the first few times until I got wind of what was going on here.”
Donna Jean Godchaux is another former Dead member who recently spoke with Lake Tahoe Action.
“From the very first time I saw the Grateful Dead, I knew that it was a very special band,” she said. “Nobody out there was doing what they were doing musically. They created a new philosophy of combining new genres of music and the improvisational. We just put it all together in this great big beautiful blender and it came out with the Grateful Dead music, which is still being enjoyed by millions of people and I am sure will be enjoyed for decades to come.”
Dark Star Orchestra has been endorsed by many of the Dead’s former members who have sat in with the band along with musicians influenced by the Dead, Phish’s Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman, Steve Kimock, Peter Rowan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Keller Williams and Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes.
“Just from a strictly musical standpoint, it endures,” Koritz said, “A: because of the lyrical content. There’s some words to live by in there if you look for them. And B: because of the improvisation. It never got stale. It was always different, even if it was the same song.
“On a nonmusical level, it’s a communal scene. The traveling together, the sharing the experience together. The band and the crowd working together during the concert.”