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Vail’s resident Deadhead

Staff Reports

The Dark Star Orchestra is a cover band that does much more than cover the music. Their shows are dead-on renditions of classic Grateful Dead set lists without copying the songs note for note.Instead, they recreate the sublime feeling of being at a Dead show, trying to capture that sacred connection between the band and their audience.With a little imagination and some help from DSO, you can rock in your tie-dyed t-shirt and feel like you’re walking past Haight and Ashbury on your way to a Deadhead rally.No drugs are required to experience this trip, just a ticket to see DSO on March 24, at 8150 in Vail.And don’t think Vail is just another stop along the tour. DSO’s rhythm guitarist and vocalist Rob Eaton (comparable to Bob Weir’s role in the Dead) lives right here in Vail.We talked to Rob about emulating a legend, the DSO objective and all those crazy hippies.You’ve been to over 400 Dead Shows. That must have been over 400 great parties. What kept you coming back?One of the things that kept me coming back was the energy that happened at certain shows. It wasn’t that I wanted to see every show. It wasn’t the party. For me it was about what happened when the audience and the band got together. You didn’t want to miss it. It was better than any drug you could ever have. When it all came together it was something special.How does your audience compare to fans at a classic Dead show?The mindset is pretty much the same. The people that see us are a cross-section of grandma and grandpa and teens who never got to see the Dead. The music is the power that brings people together, and its what we all love.I think the energy in the audience is fairly consistent. You have some guy who’s seen several hundred shows and the 14-year-old kid who came along too late. When he’s up front smiling with all these hippies, he’s getting the picture of what it was like to be at those shows.What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen in an audience?One of the craziest things I ever saw was in 1983 on Oct. 17 in Lake Placid, New York. There was this ring all the way around the topside of the Olympic ice arena, where the concessions were. They were playing “The Wheel” and you had hundreds of people dancing and spinning around the wheel. This big walkway had all these Deadheads holding hands in a circle around the entire walkway of the arena. It was pretty trippy.You take on Bob Weir’s role in the shows. What does it take to reproduce the sound of such a legendary guitarist?I play rhythm guitar. We don’t take on roles so much. There’s nothing contrived here. We don’t do everything note for note. We play the music in the spirit that we all remember it. I don’t try to do what Bob did; I just play the music as true to the sense of music that we know. It’s all about the music. It’s not about being somebody else.Bob Weir told Rolling Stone that watching you play was “like looking in a mirror.” How do you replicate his style so precisely?He was the person that inspired me to play guitar when I was twelve. After years and years and years of having that influence, it’s how I know to play guitar. Not just with us and the Grateful Dead, but with jazz musicians. When Eric Clapton plays a blues song that was inspirational to him, he’ll sound like whoever it is. The music was not meant to die, it was meant to live on. I think Jerry would be happy to know that the music is being loved and shared and brought to a new generation of kids.DSO’s new album, Live at the Fillmore, is a live recording of a show in May of 2004 in San Francisco. What made you choose this show to release on CD and DVD?The original filming was of the opening band, Donna Jean’s band, who was a member of the Dead. They decided that since they were there they would film us, too. We didn’t really have a whole lot to do with it. It was sorta the film crew’s project. When they saw that they had something good, they produced it and funded it themselves. That they thought what we had done was worthy of disc was cool.DSO’s bootlegs are pretty hot among collectors. What’s the difference between one of your recordings and the original Dead show that it’s based on?The only similarity would be the order in which the songs are played. The only other similarity would be the arrangement of the songs for the time period we are doing. Everything between the lines is improvisation. They’ll both sound like Grateful Dead but the notes will all be different.We’re not trying to copy a show because it’s all about being in the moment. It would take a lifetime to copy one show and it would be contradictory to the spirit of it. I wouldn’t be out here doing what we’re doing if that is what we were doing.Then would you say DSO has its own style?I think our style is very reminiscent to the Grateful Dead’s style in terms of how we approach the music. Take a painter and he has a canvas and a wood frame. The canvas for us is the set list but everything that we play is improvisation, like the paint. We do some shows where we don’t use a set list and play anything that we want. That is when we sound the most like us.Do you think the Grateful Dead would have called themselves a “jam band”?Absolutely. I think they were the original and quintessential jam band. All those bands like Phish came after the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead were the first real true rock ‘n roll jam band and the most successful. They went the longest and made more money than anyone else doing it. They were the ultimate jam band.Will Dark Star Orchestra be around for 26 years like the Dead?None of us even thought it would get to the level it’s gotten to and we have no expectations for the future. The people tell us what to do. Every tour we go out on is bigger and bigger with more and more people. It’s definitely growing. The more we play the music, the more it entrances us as well.Chris Black can be reached at intern@vailtrail.com.Who: Dark Star OrchestraWhat: Grateful Dead tribute bandWhere: 8150 in VailWhen: March 24Tickets: $20


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