Swinging From a Dark Star

For decades trippy illusions of music have come alive not only by the musicians who paint the pictures to tell a thousand stories, but by the fans who have propped them up on their shelves. Two groups, Dark Star Orchestra and the Rex Foundation, have kept alive the grassroots legacy of the Grateful Dead, unselfishly uniting and supporting the right of humanity through art, science, and education.

Photo of Dark Star Orchestra by Genette Nowak

The Black Tie Dye Ball on November 29 at the Nokia Theater, featuring DSO, celebrated 25 years of the Rex Foundation. The Dead founded the Rex Foundation in 1984 to create a sense of community through the connecting force of music, allowing people to feel a part of something. Since the beginning, $8.4 million has been distributed to over 1,000 organizations that support creative endeavors: Hearts of Gold, Living Beyond Belief, Rock and Wrap it UP, the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, are just to name a few.

Before DSO took the stage, a reception was held just outside of the theater doors where hippies of the past and present decked out in tie-dyed tour-shirts drank, ate, and mingled. A silent auction featured autographed pictures of DSO and the Dead, a book authored by Jerry Garcia, a PRS SE Custom guitar signed by the members of All Good Music, an original DSO setlist, a vinyl 45 of “Ripple,” and a basketball signed by Bill Walton. The internationally known banjoist Cynthia Sayer opened with her jazz trio, gearing up the crowd for a memorable night.

Anticipation was high to see what date in history DSO would be recreating. That’s their shtick, performing exact setlists played by the Dead. To say DSO is the Grateful Dead cover band seems ridiculous because, quite honestly, cover bands seem to lack innovation. DSO sublimely recreates all nuances of what it was like to listen and see the Dead live. November 29, 2008 was actually July 8, 1978.

Photo of Donna Jean Godchaux and John Kadlecik by Genette Nowak

When watching DSO do their thing it’s hard to believe that it isn’t the Dead on stage. Their precision with performance does more than pay homage to the music; it pinpoints character and caliber in music history. When Donna Jean Godchaux, back up vocalist for the Dead, took the stage with DSO, opening with “Bertha” jamming into “Good Lovin’,” a sense of nostalgia was brought aboard and the fans waded in her presence.

John Kadlecik, lead guitar/vocals, remarkably imitates Jerry Garcia through voice and riff.  In a recent interview, Kadlecik said that his voice does its own thing but, “My voice does its own shaping to what I hear in my head.” Kadlecik concentrates on phrasing and pitch that enables mimicry of Garcia on an astonishing level. All the members of DSO: Rob Eaton, Dino English, Rob Koritz, Lisa Mackey, Kevin Rosen, Rob Barraco, and Kadlecik, have studied live Dead sets for many years and their replication is eerie.

Before DSO, all the members were in successful Dead bands playing the popular Dead songs. Kadlecik wanted to do it differently, he wanted to be “Faithful to the deeply psychedelic and emotional ballads. Dark Star (the band and actual song) represents the Grateful Dead’s greatest potential for exploration, in deep and unfeathered jamming, captured with well intent.” So, When Kadlecik and bassist Rosen formed DSO they weren’t interested in simply playing a bunch of Dead songs, but keeping the music in true spirit of live format. “Dead Head musicians have a lot of different favorite periods, and by playing actual setlists we scratch every Dead Head musicians itch,” said Kadlecik.

In terms of learning the material, Kadlecik remembered, “In the beginning it was just one set for every week for the next rehearsal, hoping everyone did their homework.” As for present day, “It’s impossible to not keep learning, it’s a continuous process.  Now, more casual listening and passive learning.”

The Black Tie Dye Ball had everything a Dead Head could ask for- provoking jams, good people, great spirits, and a highly energized family-style drum circle (Bill Walton played the cowbell!).

DSO’s current tour is a fundraiser for the Rex Foundation, a dollar from every ticket goes to the organization. The Rex Foundation is still celebrating 25 years with more events across the country featuring other bands to continue their longevity of helping others.

by Genette Nowak



1 comment to Swinging From a Dark Star

  • Gary Hildreth

    Hey Genette
    Nice job on the review. Hope you had as much fun as my wife and I had at the show. I don’t know if you have seen my shots yet. But here is the website

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