Given the recent frosty weather conditions, downtown Sacramento’s Crest Theater was the perfect venue for Dark Star Orchestra’s re-creation of the Grateful Dead’s concert held at the Cal Expo Amphitheatre back on June 9, 1984. Last night’s performance was attended by a mostly older crowd and many of the attendees were lighting up before the concert even starting.
In fact, just before the band began to play I was alarmed by the sight of a bunch of smoke wafting through the air. I grabbed a security guy to let him know the theater was on fire, but he said it was Ganja Man. I wondered to myself if this Ganja Man had a super hero complex running around with a name like that. After a few minutes, I noticed the smoke getting thicker so I asked the security guy to go find this Ganja Man and tell him to put out the fire. He turns to me and says, “Dude, ganja’s not a man it’s weed, you know pot.” I felt like an idiot and wished I’d spent more time listening to Cheech and Chong when I was growing up.
Ok, so maybe that didn’t really happen but you get the idea.
Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) was formed in 1997 when guitarist John Kadlecik hooked up with keyboardist Scott Larned with the concept of re-creating complete Grateful Dead concert performances. The band name even comes from the Grateful Dead song, Dark Star.
The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Dead, as they were referred to by their fans, was best known for their unique and eclectic style fusing elements of rock, folk, blues, country and jazz. Fans of the Dead were known as Deadheads and were extremely dedicated to the band, following them from concert to concert. The more dedicated deadheads began selling tied dyed shirts and veggie burritos in order to make money so they could continue to follow the band. The Grateful Dead disbanded after lead singer and guitar player, Jerry Garcia, suffered a fatal heart attack in 1995.
DSO has been able to remain true to the Dead’s past performances because the Dead allowed their fans to record their performances. This has provided DSO with a huge archive of past shows which is currently stored in a database referred to as the Deadbase, listing all the Dead’s past performances along with the order of songs. Since the Dead's music was improvisational, DSO doesn’t try and play the music note for note. They improvise as well.
Current members and their Grateful Dead counterparts include Jeff Mattson guitar and vocals as Jerry Garcia , Rob Eaton on rhythm guitar and vocals as Dead co-founder Bob Weir, Kevin Rosen playing bass as Phil Lesh, Dino English on drums as Bill Kreutzmann, Rob Koritz on the second set of drums as Mickey Hart, Lisa Mackey performing vocals as Donna Jean Godchaux, and Rob Barraco on keyboards playing as three past performers.
I was able to speak to one gentleman, who wished to remain nameless, as did everyone else. He was in his late 60’s and has been following DSO around since last year. He was an original deadhead and attended a number of Grateful Dead concerts. He spends most nights in his van as he tries to keep up with the bands aggressive tour schedule. Dressed in a tied dyed shirt and armed with an oxygen tank he headed straight for the stage as soon as the concert began. Yes, I said oxygen tank!
I also spoke to a woman who said she was 60 (she volunteered this information). She knows one of the band members, and she and her husband attend as many performances as possible. Just before the concert started, she pulled out a small rug to dance around on. In between songs, she did stretches.
DSO recreates the music from a concert nearest the location of the venue they are playing and refuse to release any information until after their performance. For you die-hard deadheads, here is the complete set list from last night’s re-creation of the Dead’s June 9, 1984 Cal Expo Amphitheatre concert
Set One: Iko Iko; Hell In A Bucket; Loser; Cassidy; Dupree’s Diamond Blues; CC Rider; Deal
Set two: I Need A Miracle; Bertha; Playing In The Band; China Doll; Jam; Drums; Space; Black Peter; Sugar Magnolia; One More Saturday Night
Encore: Keep Your Day Job
DSO will be playing at the Crystal Bay Club in Crystal Bay, NV before heading to Southern California.
For more information regarding Dark Star Orchestra
Photos by Randy Miramontez.
Randy Miramontez is a Contributing Writer and Photographer with Sacramento Press