The Grateful Dead’s most popular cover band, Dark Star Orchestra, has officially outdistanced the original band’s record of concerts played, according to The Philly Voice. The band will celebrate with a three-night set in Philadelphia this NYE weekend.
The legendary rock band Grateful Dead had performed over 2,300 shows in the 30 years between their inception and the death of vocalist-guitarist Jerry Garcia. Two years later, in 1997, a group of dedicated Deadheads formed Dark Star Orchestra – one of many cover bands playing tribute to Grateful Dead after their final show. They didn’t expect to become the most popular and longest-lasting, having played over 2,700 Dead-inspired shows, and certainly didn’t expect to share the stage with founding members years later.
On playing with the band’s lead bassist Phil Lesh, DSO’s keyboardist Rob Barracco said: “There’s nothing cooler than being validated by your heroes. Phil said that when he played with us that it was like putting on an old, comfortable pair of shoes. It’s amazing that that the members of the Grateful Dead are down with what we do and then there is the response by the audience. They keep coming out to see us.”
And on outnumbering their heroes in shows played: “Nobody in this group ever imagined that,” Barracco said in a phone call to Philly Voice.
“It’s hard to believe we’ve had that many shows and we’re still going.”
The greatest attraction to DSO is in their commitment to re-enact sets just the way the Dead performed them. They don’t just play hits, or their favorites; the group plays exact set lists from a certain date and a certain city to recreate that specific show. Down to the equipment, Dark Star Orchestra pays tribute by mirroring the music of the Grateful Dead as closely as they can.
“We use similar soundboard and monitors,” Barracco said. “We try to nail exactly what they did. That concept has always had huge appeal to Dead fans.”
And the reason for their staying power?
“The Dead is a cultural phenomenon,” Barracco said.
“Jerry Garcia said it best [to Deadheads] when he said ‘This is your last chance to join the circus.’ Dark Star Orchestra is much bigger than anyone in this group could have envisioned. But that just shows you how powerful the Dead is. Phil Lesh once told me that their music will be going strong 100 years from now, and he’s right. There is something eternal about the Dead’s music.”
Dark Star Orchestra plays the 2,500 capacity Electric Factory in Philadelphia December 29-31 at 8 PM.