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Grateful Dead cover band coming to Harris Riverfront Park

Jul. 31, 2010 @ 11:25 PM

HUNTINGTON -- On Tuesday, Aug. 3, you can party like it's 1978.

To be specific, April 16, 1978.

That was the last time the Grateful Dead came truckin' its psychedelic-swirled roots rock into Huntington for a concert at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

You can relive some of that Dead magic come Tuesday, Aug 3, at Harris Riverfront Park as the arena presents, "An Evening With Dark Star Orchestra," one of the world's top touring Grateful Dead tribute acts, and one of the most popular jam bands on the festival circuit.

Tickets are $22 in advance or $25 day of the show.

Gates open at 6 p.m. Show time is 7 p.m. You can bring lawn chairs or blankets. Outside food and drink are not allowed.

Fresh off of playing for more than 18,000 as one of the headliners on Thursday, July 8, at All Good Music Festival in Masontown, W.Va., and the massive Gathering of the Vibes festival in Connecticut this weekend, Dark Star Orchestra rolls into Huntington during the height of festival season.

Tabbed by the Chicago Tribune as "sounding more like the Dead than the Dead did sometimes," the long-running jam-band is made up of Jeff Mattson (Jerry Garcia), Lisa Mackey (Donna Jean Godchaux), Dino English (Bill Kreutzmann), Rob Koritz (Mickey Hart), Kevin Rosen (Phil Lesh), Rob Eaton (Bob Weir) and Rob Barraco (multiple keyboardists).

A St. Louis native jazz-trained drummer based in Lexington, Ky., English said they're excited to come to Huntington for the first time and play outdoors on the river, hoping to keep these all good West Virginia vibes rolling.

"Going all the way back to Woodstock the festival and that open outdoor air has been part of the whole thing and we've been doing the All Good Festival for like 9 or 10 years and so this year there in West Virginia was the biggest crowd that we've probably ever played for -- about 18,000 by the time we hit the stage," English said. "We were there the opening day of the festival and we came out with guns slinging."

Indeed, they can sling the musical guns.

Called a "cover band for people who hate cover bands," by The Washington Post, Dark Star Orchestra, has moved well beyond just being a tribute as it has racked up nearly a dozen years as a band, more than 1,800 shows across the country, and has become tightly tangled up with the Dead family.

In fact, the band, which has had Dead member Bob Weir sit in with them three times in California, has lots of ties to the venerable band.

Keyboardist Rob Barraco has also been a member of the Phil Lesh and Friends since 1999 and joined the original members of the Grateful Dead for the Alpine Valley reunion shows and then toured with them in 2002 and 2003.

Barraco also has a solo CD co-written with prolific Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, who also wrote a song, "Run Mary," with DSO, and one of the band's only originals that it plays at shows.

That tight-knit connection includes the fact that DSO's long-time lead singer, John Kadlecik left the band earlier this year to be able to join Dead members, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh's band Furthur.

Amazingly, that has barely slowed the Dark Star Orchestra, which English likened to "kind of an all-star team of the Grateful Dead world."

The group signed up Jeff Mattson, a guitarist in the Donna Jean Godchaux Band which features the Grateful Dead's Donna Jean Godchaux, and who had played several shows with Phil Lesh and Friends as well.

"It's not that all of us are the best, I mean who knows, but what we do know is that as a collective whole we are better than the sum of our parts and I think the band will continue to be that way," English said. "That is where Jeff came in... We went out with Stu Allen too, and he is few years younger, and Jeff, he just fell into place with us, and so now is Jeff Mattson's time, and we couldn't be happier. He is just a smoking, awesome guitar player and I've been really impressed by his vocals too, and we like his work ethic. He's just giving us 110 percent, and we're really playing well with him."

Playing with the band of double drummers and often jazz-and-world beat-juiced improv is not an easy thing to do.

English said he figures they know between 350 and 400 Grateful Dead songs (the band had about 180 or so originals, of which they know about 160) including the many broad-based covers the Dead would pull out.

For instance, at the April 16, 1978 gig the Dead did at the Huntington Civic Center they pulled out a cover of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried," as well as the New Orleans Mardi Gras classic, "Iko, Iko."

"The music is steeped in American roots that go way back," English said. "When the Dead were first doing it in the 1970s their roots went back to the '20s and '30s and '40s and so it kind of encompasses all those different styles as well as modern styles," English said. "It has such a multitude of different sounds, so you can get bluegrass, funk, soul, rock 'n' roll and psychedelia. It has everything, and even if one of those styles is not a typical thing you like, there is another that is, and you get drawn in by the thing that is your style, and all of a sudden you like all of these other styles."

While DSO has been known for recreating an exact set-list from a given Dead concert, English said he wasn't sure if they would play the Huntington set.

English said that what DSO does is not about recreating but is all about reinterpreting the spontaneity, and kinetic energy and magic of the Dead, which striped its live shows brushed with free and wide open instrument improvs and grooves.

"Some people get caught up in the whole shtick of that thing," English said of the set-list recreations. "We are consumed about the energy in the room where we are playing right now."

English said nothing conjures up the spirit of the Dead more than connecting with a field or theater of dancing fans.

"The Grateful Dead were very much a dance band," English said. "Even those sessions of music that weren't that easy to dance to, the Deadheads would find a way to dance to it. It is that kind of music that gets people out of their seats and up to shake their bones. That is one of the those things that really connects me with this music. I go to some shows with some really good musicians and people are planted in their seats. This is more of a participation music. With the Grateful Dead you are as fully involved as a listener as the musicians are."

WHAT: An Evening With Dark Star Orchestra

WHEN: Tuesday, Aug. 3. Gates open at 6 p.m. Show time is at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Harris Riverfront Park in Huntington

HOW MUCH: $22 in advance or $25 day of the show

GET TIX: At the Big Sandy Superstore Arena box office, online at www.Ticketmaster.com, or charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000.

DARK STAR VIDEO: Go online at www.herald-dispatch.com and click onto videos to see a video of Dark Star Orchestra with its new lead singer Jeff Mattson.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "Quite possibly the most talented and accomplished tribute band out there... they've definitely mastered their inspiration's vagabond nature." - RollingStone.com

"Recreates the Dead concert experience with uncanny verisimilitude... In fact, Dark Star Orchestra often sounds more like the Dead than the Dead sometimes did." - Chicago Tribune

"There are moments where I can close my eyes and go back 30 years and have it be every bit as rewarding and satisfying. Dark Star is an amazingly legitimate representation of the Dead." - Dan Healy, Grateful Dead sound engineer 1966 -1994, toured with DSO as their sound engineer from September to December 2008.

"The hottest Grateful Dead tribute act. A cover band for people who don't like cover bands." - Washington Post

ON THE WEB: Go online at www.darkstarorchestra.net.

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