The Grateful Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra set for the Lyric in Oxford
Over 50 years ago, The Grateful Dead established themselves as one of the preeminent jam bands in rock and started a musical (and cultural) revolution.
Now, the Dark Star Orchestra is continuing that legacy nearly 20 years into their own existence as a cover band.
Dino English, who has been one of the DSO drummers since 1999, says that when the Dead aren’t doing their own tours (and even when they are), DSO still plays shows and acts as “an entryway for people to discover the music.”
“When (the Dead tours) weren’t available, we’ve been out there giving people a taste of what’s been going on,” English said. “That’s one of our objectives, give people a place to experience this music.”
On The Dead’s longevity, English says it’s more than just the music that has made them cultural mainstays.
“It’s a cultural experience- kind of a sociological experiment,” English said of the band. “A lot of it has to do just because it’s great songwriting. Robert Hunter’s lyrics were a huge part of it. There were other bands that started in the ‘60s and developed from there, but they don’t have the full package that the Grateful Dead does.”
One of those factors that separated Jerry Garcia and Co. from other bands, English says, was their knack and love of improvisation nightly onstage.
“Most bands were playing the same every night, very tight,” the drummer said. “The Dead weren’t concerned about playing tight. They were concerned about playing something new. That spirit carried them through a lot of years, it never got stale. They were influenced by jazz and that played into their approach.”
Like the Dead, Dark Star tours with two drummers, making their rhythm section all the more formidable. English discovered the power of having dual drummers when he saw the band Genesis live in the early ‘80s.
“I thought it was just so big and powerful,” English remembered. “Then I discovered the Dead and realized these guys had a whole different approach. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of playing off of each other, that’s what Rob (Koritz, the other DSO drummer) and I are able to do. You really have to listen and communicate musically with each other. But he’s more of a percussionist than I am. He’s an expert at hand percussion.”
Being with DSO for almost 20 years has given English some cherished memories. Particularly the shows where his band was joined onstage by some of the original Grateful Dead members.
“The first time playing with (founding Dead member) Bob Weir in 2002 was a huge deal,” English said. “These guys were all heroes of ours and we got to meet them and play with them. Any time you get to play with the guys who made this music, it’s always very exciting for us.”
Dark Star Orchestra will be playing at the Lyric Oxford on April 10 with the show starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $45 and can be purchased at thelyricoxford.com.
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