Courtesy of Bob Minkin
The Chicago-based Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra plans to bring the spirit of the dead back to life in Columbus this weekend.
For the concert, set for 8 p.m. Saturday at the Newport Music Hall, Dark Star Orchestra plans to perform a nearly exact recreation of what it would be like to see the real Grateful Dead in their heyday.
“We play an actual Grateful Dead show, or set list, from the beginning to the end,” said Dino English, one of Dark Star Orchestra’s two drummers. “There’s something magical to a Grateful Dead show.”
Dark Star Orchestra formed in 1997, two years after the death of Grateful Dead’s singer, lead guitarist and main creative force, Jerry Garcia.
“They had this idea of playing a Grateful Dead show in its entirety at a bar called Martyrs’,” said English, who joined the band two years later, in 1999. “The owner, Ray, gave them every Tuesday night for a month, and by the last Tuesday of the month they were selling the place out, so they just kept it going because they were having a good time.”
During the time Dark Star Orchestra’s popularity began growing, English was already in his own Grateful Dead tribute band called The Schwag, which was based out of St. Louis, he said.
English said he first saw Dark Star Orchestra when his band was in Chicago to do a show and Dark Star was performing just down the street.
“I was hearing all this buzz about Dark Star Orchestra this, Dark Star Orchestra that,” English said. “I went out and checked them out and sure enough, they were really good.”
He said seeing Dark Star’s success in what was essentially the exact same act as his own band led him to reevaluate his musical career.
“I saw that Dark Star Orchestra was covering that ground so I quit (The Schwag) and started refocusing on original music,” English said.
He said this lasted for “a couple of weeks,” until he saw a banner on the Dark Star Orchestra’s website saying it was looking for a drummer.
“I applied for the position then I got a tryout,” English said. “My tryout was in front of a sold-out show at Martyrs’ in Chicago, and I’ve been here ever since.”
English said the way Dark Star Orchestra reproduces Grateful Dead’s live aura is by playing the music the way it was written.
“We take a traditional approach to playing Grateful Dead music,” he said. “We play the songs much like the Dead did, keeping intact all the melodies and harmonies and a lot of the rhythms.”
However, he said the individuality of the band members is also a big factor in Dark Star’s sound.
“We can’t get away from playing ourselves, you know. We play from the heart, but it ends up sounding pretty Grateful Dead-like.”
Don Glover, a self-proclaimed “Deadhead” and Dark Star Orchestra fan, agreed.
“The attendance is a lot smaller than Grateful Dead’s,” Glover said, “But if you close your eyes and listen to the music, they do a damn good job. You go there and you feel like you’re transported.”
Glover won two free tickets to Saturday’s show in a giveaway the band held on its Facebook page.
“It said all you had to do was make a comment below to be entered,” Glover said. “So I commented about when they were going to have a jam band festival out at PromoWest several years ago.”
Glover said the show to which he referred in his comment was canceled just as it began due to technical difficulties.
“I got there early, when the gates first opened and it was a hot August day,” he said. “It was out in the back section, not the indoor. They had a power outage and blew some transformers and they were going to have to cancel the show.”
However, Glover said this didn’t stop Dark Star Orchestra from entertaining the audience.
“Dark Star Orchestra came down off the stage out to the grass where we were at,” Glover said. “They gathered us all around and said, ‘Look, you guys came up here to hear music. You got screwed. We came to play music. We got screwed. What do you want to hear?'”
He said they then proceeded to do an acoustic set for about an hour, and then sent the audience back to the ticket booth to get their tickets refunded.
“I thought that was the greatest thing a band could have done,” Glover said.
“That’s what I wrote in the comments section,” he said, “And next thing I know…”
Having been to “many, many” real live Grateful Dead shows, Glover said Dark Star Orchestra effectively captures the energy of the original group.
Zack Tominack, a manager at Newport Music Hall, said he agreed.
“You obviously aren’t going to get the full Grateful Dead experience anywhere,” Tominack said. “But this is about as close as you can get.”
Tickets are $25 in advance through Ticketmaster or $27 at the door. Newport Music Hall is located at 1722 N. High St.