The year 2005 was a sad one for the Dark Star Orchestra. Original keyboardist and former band manager Scott Larned succumbed to a heart attack while on tour.
The group rhythm guitarist/vocalist Rob Eaton, lead guitarist/vocalist John Kadlecik, vocalist Lisa Mackey, drummer Dino English, drummer Rob Kortiz, and bassist/vocalist Kevin Rosen decided to continue as a group.
After holding auditions, Eaton said they found a lot of good musicians who would be a handful on tour.
"They played well, but they wouldn't have been able to work with us at the pace we tour," he said. "We play a lot of shows. In fact, we just played our 1,500th show in the 10 years we've been doing this."
The band finally found keyboardist Rob Barraco. And he fit right in with the mission of the DSO to play Grateful Dead music and capture the essence of the original jam-band.
"Rob came to us with an impressive resume," Eaton said. Not only did Barraco play with Phil Lesh and Friends (an offshoot band headlined by Lesh, the Grateful Dead bassist), "he also toured with the surviving Grateful Dead members as the Dead in 2002 and '03."
For a decade, the Dark Star Orchestra have been giving Deadheads a shot of nostalgia by playing set lists from the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. But the band also creates its own sets from the sometimes overwhelming Grateful Dead catalog.
The Dark Star Orchestra's new CD, "Ithaca 30 Years Later," was recorded at Cornell University's Barton Hall on May 8, 2007, exactly 30 years to the day after the Grateful Dead played there.
"It was a great night," said Eaton, who was introduced to Grateful Dead music by his step-brother in 1972. "The mayor proclaimed it 'Grateful Dead Day' and we played to a sold-out audience."
The set list featured "Ripple," "New Minglewood Blues," "Jack Straw," "Scarlet Begonias," "Saint Stephen" and "One More Saturday Night," to name a few.
"We don't re-create the concert as much as we play it as the Grateful Dead would play it back then," Eaton said. "The music itself lends to a lot of improvisation. And we don't play the sets note for note."
With so many set lists to choose from, sometimes band members just play what they want.
"In a given tour, 33 percent of it is dedicated to our own set lists," said Eaton said. "And it gives us a chance to play songs that are on the Grateful Dead albums that weren't played as much. Or even, in some cases, not played live at at all."
However, Eaton never thought the Dark Star Orchestra would be as popular as it is with the legion of tie-dye fans.
"We still don't know what to expect next," he said with a laugh. "But I do see young people coming to the shows. And that's important because it's keeping the music alive. If people didn't have an interest, we probably wouldn't be doing this."
But it isn't easy."The touring gets old," Eaton said. "All the stuff that happens behind the scenes can get tedious and tiresome. I mean, playing the music is great. We do that for free. It's just the business side of this thing that merits the pay."
If you go
What: Dark Star Orchestra
Where: The Depot, 400 W. South Temple
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
How much: $22
Phone: 467-8499, 800-888-8499Web: www.smithstix.com
E-mail: [email protected]