'Ithaca is Grateful' for the Return of The Dark Star Orchestra
Celebrating their 11th year together the legendary Dark Star Orchestra will return to the State Theatre on Tuesday November 18. Recreating the Grateful Dead's spirit and sound through their music, the Dark Star Orchestra will pick another classic show from the vaults to bring alive for the Ithaca audience.
The band will mark its fourth appearance in Ithaca next week following last year's 30th anniversary celebration of the Grateful Dead's famous 1977 Barton Hall concert. Ithaca Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson declared May 8, 2007 as ‘Grateful Dead Day' with DSO recreating the illustrious 1977 set at the State Theatre downtown to a crowd of over 1500. Having been on tour since their last appearance, the Ithaca Dead Head Community will surely give Dark Star a warm welcome back.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Dark Star drummer Dino English to talk about their current tour, their influences and why they're not just another cover band.
How do you choose which Grateful Dead show you're going to perform each night?
We typically decide before we go out on tour and Rob [Eaton] usually picks them after he has put a lot of time and research into it. We've played all of the shows already and really like to play the 1976-78 years, but we try to keep it fresh too. We'll play stuff from early 70s to later 70s, 80s and even later than that. But about 15% of the time we'll play our own picks, not original set lists, but just a collection of songs in our own order.
Are there any particular venues that you look forward to playing?
Sure we have our favorite cities that we like to hit- the last time we played in Ithaca it was the 30th anniversary show of when the Dead played at Barton Hall in 1977. Having that day declared Grateful Dead day by the mayor was definitely a complete honor for us it was major highlight of our long career here. We've played a couple years at Jam in the Dam [in Amsterdam, Holland] and that was pretty cool, but we're looking at the possibility of heading to Japan in the near future.
How closely do you follow the roadmaps for each song? How do you determine where to divert from the originals?
The main thing we do is keep with the same basic structure of the song from that particular time period. The arrangement is what we are following. Not necessarily the notes but the harmonic quality and melody. We just want to make sure that all of the parts of the song are there. When the Dead hits a jam it's wide open and we don't really follow that. We are more interested in digging up the details of the song rather than the parts that are open to interpretation.
How do you as a percussionist channel the rhythmic styling of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzman?
When [drummer Rob Koritz] and I first joined the band we played the music how we approached it ourselves rather than how Bill or Mickey [Hart] would approach it. We found that in doing so my style of approach was naturally more along the lines of Bill and Rob's was more reminiscent of Mickey. My setup is more of the drum set approach- the backbone so to speak and Rob is a lot more of a world beat and percussive kind of player. Personally I'm into jazz and funk and Kreutzman has a strong jazz approach to a lot of the jam. We have a lot of the same influences too like Elvin Jones and John Coltrane among others, and I try to come from that jazz style approach.
What do you have to say to those out there who think DSO is just another cover band?
I know that there are a lot of people who come to shows who don't regard as us a cover band at all, they regard us as a band that is carrying the torch, per say, at this point. There are other bands out there playing Grateful Dead but I think it's our attention to detail and production that sets us apart from other bands. Right now we have Dan Healy the original Grateful Dead soundman of 30 years doing our front of house sound. He is a legendary soundman and many consider him to be the best in the world- so I would say that's another thing that sets us apart. Also having members like [keyboardist] Rob Barraco who has played with such bands as Phil Lesh & Friends and The Dead.
It's especially an honor when we get any of the original members of the Grateful Dead to join us onstage. It's a very spur of the moment thing and the spontaneity is really what the music is famous for. We've been lucky enough to have Bob [Weir] play with us 3 times and every time is a blast. Donna Jean [Godchaux] we've played with a lot and it's always an honor to have her she's a wonderful woman and a great friend. As far as the torch being passed I'm not sure if that's the necessary intention that these guys had in mind, but it sure has been fun getting up there and having a good time with them.
11/13 Calvin Theatre - Northampton, MA
11/14 Community Arts Center - Williamsport, PA
11/15 Palace Theatre - Albany, NY
11/16 McCarther Theater - Princeton, NJ
11/18 State Theatre of Ithaca - Ithaca, NY
11/20 Garde Arts Center - New London, CT
11/21 Memorial Auditorium - Lowell, MA
11/22 Electric Factory - Philadelphia, PA
11/23 The Klein Memorial Auditorium - Bridgeport, CT
11/25 Town Ballroom - Buffalo, NY
11/26 Penn's Peak - Jim Thorpe, PA
11/28 Nokia Theater - New York, NY
11/29 Nokia Theater - New York, NY
12/1 Higher Ground - Burlington, VT
12/2 Higher Ground - Burlington, VT
12/4 Grand Opera House - Wilmington, DE
12/5 Theater at Lancaster Host Resort & Conference Center - Lancaster, PA
12/6 Shea Center for Performing Arts - Wayne, NJ
12/28 The National - Richmond, VA
12/29 The Norva - Norfolk, VA
12/31 Rams Head Live! - Baltimore, MD