BEAVER CREEK, Colorado " To cover a band's music is one thing, but to cover an entire culture is quite a trick.
The Dark Star Orchestra, who played in Beaver Creek, Colorado Sunday, not just recreates the enduring musical legacy of the Grateful Dead, but, intentionally or otherwise, provides all the elements of a Dead show that transcend the music. What exactly those elements are depends on the fan's interpretation, but Sunday evening's four-hour frenzy at the Vilar certainly put them all on display.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of the Dead's music and culture, and Dark Star Orchestra's mission to uphold them, is its unifying power. Hippies old and young, rich and poor, shaggy and shaven all turned out en masse, all in the name of good times, which were had by all.
There's a communal aspect to a Dead and/or Dark Star Orchestra show that's not found virtually anywhere else on the touring market. Even the assorted crowds at Phish or Widespread Panic shows are occasionally filled with the schemer(s) who aren't quite there for the music, man.
Coming from someone who's attended just about every Vilar event featuring an electric guitar during the past three-and-a-half years, I can safely say this was the best show to grace the stage in that time period.
The heterogeneous mix of hippies danced and sung throughout the evening, arms and legs akimbo in the aisles while more than a few air guitars were jammed. The two-headed percussive beast of Rob Koritz and Dino English kept feet moving, heads bobbing, and a handful of folks keeping time on an invisible ride cymbal.
Much credit goes to John Kadlecik (Jerry Garcia) and Vail-area resident Rob Eaton (Bob Weir) for their dead-on vocal tributes to the Dead's primary frontment. Kadlecik particularly has an eerie resemblance to Garcia's Dixieland-meets-Roadhouse voice.
Lisa Mackey (Donna Jean Godchuax) is an effective vocal complement who twirled away much of the night with revolutions perhaps reaching into the hundreds.
Sunday's show was a departure in Dark Star Orchestra style in that it was not recreated from one of the Dead's thousands of live concerts spanning more than 30 years. Instead it was a live mix tape of hits and rarities designed to work the crowd up and down, inside and out.
Dark Star Orchestra ignited the crowd with a rendition of the Cajun marching boogie "Iko Iko" before tackling the soul gem "The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion)" by deceased founding member Robert 'Pigpen' McKernan, which segued into "Built to Last" and into Bob Dylan's "When I Paint My Masterpiece."
The penultimate song of the first set with usually-stoic bass man Kevin Rosen taking lead vocals on "Pride of Cucamonga," and even slipping a quick smile, which was a sign of things to come.
Dark Star Orchestra ended its set with "Shakedown Street," a hunk of burnin' funk that effectively sent the crowd into a tailspin. If there's ever been a hotter jam session on the Vilar stage, I think anyone in attendance would like to hear it.
The second set was more improvisational including the organ blasts of "Alligator" and the serotonin rush of "Roll Away," another Vilar rave-up. Dark Star Orchestra, sensing the crowd perhaps could use a break, unleashed a 15-minute "Drums > Space" that progressed from tribal to trance to trippy. The funky sing-along "Quinn, the Eskimo" was an appropriate show ender.
Four hours gone and a crowd of equal parts exhaustion and awestruck, but the final line of "show me something that was born to last" from "Born to Last" seem to take on a reflective resonance. The Dead, its legacy and culture were clearly built to last. And Dark Star Orchestra acting as gatekeepers of all that is something we can all be grateful for.
Stephen Bedford is an Edwards resident and Vail Daily concert reviewer. E-mail comments about his review to firstname.lastname@example.org.