Dark Star Orchestra has been filling venues around the nation with its Grateful Dead improvisations since ’97. The Washington Post said they’re “the hottest Grateful Dead tribute act,” and “a cover band for people who don’t like cover bands.” Yet Dark Star guitarist and Vail resident Rob Eaton doesn’t like being called either — he prefers the term “spirit band.”
“The Grateful Dead’s music is not something that could be, or should be replicated,” said Eaton, who has been living in West Vail for the past 13 years. “It’s something that should be felt; it’s about emotion and based on improvisation.”
For those who aren’t familiar with Grateful Dead, they’re known as one of greatest jam bands of all time to come out of the musically pivotal ’60s era. Legendary members like Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and many more, took bluegrass, rock, folk and blues to create a sound unlike others. So when Dark Star Orchestra takes the stage to emulate a similar style, they make sure to stay in true Dead fashion, becoming less of a tribute band and more so a tribute to the past.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad show from them,” said Alexia Moot, who works State Bridge’s box office. A huge Grateful Dead fan, Moot has become a loyal crowd member through the years for Dark Star Orchestra, even following them on tour in the past.
Metaphorically speaking, this type of jamming is an art form all its own. Eaton compares the band’s concerts to a blank canvas.
“The border of the canvas is what we’re supposed to play: the arrangement, the sound, the instrumentation, or the order of the songs,” he said. “The inside is where we throw in the color and what gets made up.”
Dark Star Orchestra has seven members, all in their early 40s to mid-50s, and together they’ve played well over 2,000 shows. At the end of the last tour, bassist Kevin Rosen resigned. Colorado native Jim Allard will take Rosen’s place for some shows this summer. Allard is no stranger to Grateful Dead’s tunes, as he’s previously played in the tribute band Shakedown Street. The band’s first performance with Allard is tonight at Colorado’s Mishawaka Amphitheatre near Fort Collins, the Friday night before their Vail performance.
Skip Vangelas will be taking the place as the permanent bassist, after Allard. Vangelas has played with Rob Eaton in the New Jersey-based Border Legion and filled in on bass for four Dark Star Orchestra Colorado shows in the spring of 2001.
Eaton said the band is playing the best they’ve ever played, and he looks forward to performing at State Bridge with special stuff lined up for the crowd.
“I don’t consider playing State Bridge as part of the tour because I live here, and I get to play for family and friends,” he said. “Not to mention it’s a beautiful place.”
The band’s return to State Bridge is anticipated by many in the community, not only for the venue’s majestic mountain scenery, but also for the humbleness exuded from the band members.
“They have a great attitude, and they’re always really considerate of the fans,” said Moot. “No snobbery felt from those guys.”
Every Sunday morning from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., State Bridge hosts Bluegrass and Bloody’s. So stay and relax before Dark Star Orchestra’s second performance with live bluegrass bands and of course, and a morning pick-me-up bloody mary.
Allyson Litt is a Vail Daily intern. Email her at email@example.com.