Dark Star Orchestra lights up a rare acoustic show
Formed in 1997 as a Chicago bar band that played Grateful Dead tunes, Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) soon began touring upwards of 200 nights a year. With an increasing number of people hungry to see DSO, the band now plays the same large concert halls at which the original 1960s iconic band used to perform. DSO lead guitarist John Kadlecik—talking from the road in Seattle—reflects on the early years. “I had been initially playing with another Dead cover band, but my idea was to recreate shows in their entirety,” he reminisces. “When DSO caught on, we all quit our day jobs.”
Rolling Stone magazine hails DSO’s fanatical attention to detail. Famous for playing Dead shows from different decades—song for song, including onstage banter and era equipment—DSO has earned its reputation by being fastidiously dedicated to the music and the feel-good spirit of the experience. When the tribute band perfectionist is asked about the upcoming rare acoustic show at the Rio Theatre, Thursday, Oct. 8, he’s as funny and slightly mysterious as Garcia ever was. “We don’t do it enough for there to be any generalization to make,” Kadlecik says. “I may be bringing a new piece of gear in or a new acoustic sound. Acoustic shows use different tones—the drummers play more with the congas and brushes. Everything could change when we get there and see what the limitations of the room are. Everything that I tell you right now might go right out the window.”
The Washington D.C. native is still reeling from his recent inclusion, alongside Grateful Dead founders Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, in a new conglomerate called Further. While the rest of DSO just had their first time off in years, the reprieve wasn’t much of a rest for Kadlecik. “Rehearsals for Further were intense,” he says. The multi-instrumentalist may have spent a lifetime walking in the shoes of the bearded one, but he says that playing alongside the originators of the sound was unusual. “I was a little bit nervous. It was weird and exciting.” With more Further shows just announced, this could be the beginning of a bigger stage for the Jerry clone.
The DSO online forum was buzzing with comments leading up to the Further show in Oakland, as loyal fans were anxious that Kadlecik wouldn’t be allowed to shred the guitar solos. He comments, “From my perspective of intent, I was pulling out all my influences. Really just letting the Garcia fall naturally here and there.” At the helm, Bob Weir took the lead, and Kadlecik adjusted his playing to the rhythm guitarist’s instrument choices. “I would dial in tones based on what Weir would play—not so much for the song, but if he picked up the Gibson 335, I’d go for more of those early ’70s Strat tones, using a thinner pick and different choice of pick-ups not to necessarily play in that style, but just to match up guitar tone with guitar tone.”
DSO’s West Coast tour is working in conjunction with the Rex Foundation, formed in 1984 by members of the Grateful Dead and Bill Graham as the giving-arm of the Dead’s large family. The Rex Foundation has funneled $10 million dollars into charitable nonprofits that further humanity through the arts, science or education, and DSO has been a vital part of helping raise money. On this leg of the tour, all tickets sold have one dollar going to benefit the foundation.
Kadlecik leaves the door wide open when asked if the show at the Rio is going to be an epic evening of entertainment. “Every time we do an acoustic show it’s a special event. I think people will hear what they want to hear.”
Dark Star Orchestra performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8 at The Rio, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25. For more information, go to ticketweb.com or call 423-8209.