Dark Star Orchestra, a Chicago-native tribute band to the rock group, the Grateful Dead, is set to perform at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee this Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.
Originating in 1997, the band has been known for recreating the Grateful Dead concert experience. During many of their concerts, DSO performs the complete original set list in order, while providing voice and musical equipment highly comparable to the Grateful Dead. They also have been called the hottest tribute band to date.
Members of the Grateful Dead themselves, such as Bob Wierd, Phil Lesh, Bill Kruetzmann, Donna Jean Godchaux, Vince Welnick, and Tom Constanten have appeared during DSO shows and even performed with them. In addition to this success, even members of the rock band Phish have performed with DOS.
Current members of DSO include Rob Barraco, Rob Eaton, Dino English, Rob Koritz, Lisa Mackey, Jeff Mattson, and Skip Vangelas.
While finding themselves in Milwaukee again, drummer Dino English, who recreates Bill Kruetzmann’s musical roll, was able to speak with the UWM Post for fifteen minutes amongst busy schedules on tour.
Early welcome on your return back to Wisconsin! What can Milwaukee fans anticipate for your show Oct. 1…
Dino English: “We are going to be doing about three and a half hours of music with a thirty-minute break; two sets. It’s a roller-coaster ride, we will take you up and down and all around.”
Do you know what era of the Dead you will be recreating for Milwaukee?
Dino English: “I am looking at the list right now, but I can’t tell you! I’ll tell you it’s going to be an actual Grateful Dead show. Sometimes we do our own set list.”
Do you have any memories specifically from performing in Wisconsin?
Dino English: “In Milwaukee? Sure! People from Milwaukee rock so hard. Milwaukee has some of the most vibrant fans around. Last time we were there, I thought people were going to rock so hard they were going to fall off the balcony. They were rocking that hard. Looking up at the balcony and looking at the front row, I started getting worried. They were getting down so hard. We always enjoy Milwaukee, it is a great town for us. We like playing the Pabst Theatre, which is a beautiful room that we always seem to play well at.”
Dark Star Orchestra’s goal is to continue the Grateful Dead concert experience. What other goals and aspirations does the band have?
Dino English: “Well we are trying to get to certain places we haven’t played before. We are trying to get to Red Rocks, that is on our bucket-list. There are nice places that we have always wanted to play, such as the Beacon Theater in New York City.”
You’ve been with the band since 1999. Members of The Grateful Dead have performed on stage with Dark Star Orchestra before. Even members from Phish! How has this affected the band’s success and what doors have been opened up?
Dino English: “”Jon Fishman was the first noteworthy musician to sit in with the band back in 98 and it was actually right before I joined, it was back in ’98 and it brought attention to them right away and it was helpful. The first time it was definitely a highlight. 10 years later, Phil played with us and we finally got him into the fold. That was a great show, we really enjoyed playing with him. It’s always a pleasure to have these guys and girls come down and play with us. Anytime they want to, they can. The coolest thing is when they come back because they obviously had a good enough time the first time that they’re willing to come play again. It seems to be every couple years one of them will pop in.”
Can you speak a bit on the DSO set lists and tour preparations?
Dino English: “Rob Eaton schedules the shows and what kind of eras we are doing. The main desire is to do something different that we did last time in and different from each night. Sometimes we are limited by stage size on what we can do. That takes a lot of planning in itself. As far as other preparations, a lot of us practice quite a bit and personally I practice several hours a day. At forty-eight years old, I am still trying to get better. Other members are always striving to be their best, I think that is one of the things we have going for us, helping us continually improve.
Next, I want to ask what your favorite venues and overall who are DSO most reactive crowds?
Dino English: “Favorite venue? That is a tough question because there is a lot of good ones out there. I always like the summer tours where it is outdoors. As far as theaters go, Milwaukee! Milwaukee with the Pabst is a pretty good one! It seems like the East coast crowds are a little bit more rambunctious. The West coast crowds are a little bit more laid-back. They are also a bit more free-spirited in the West Coast, a little more of fee-style dancing going on there. I think favorite venue is whatever venue we are really kicking ass in.”
What is your favorite era of Dead shows to recreate and why?
Dino English: “I prefer the shows that happened between 1977 and ’87. By 1977, the amount of songs they had expanded quite a bit and there was a lot of material to choose from. There isn’t a lot of repeats. They settled into their routine. The first set contained more straight ahead songs. Then the second set progressed to more jammy-songs that would eventually flow into the drums and space segment followed by a poignant Garcia ballad that would then lead to a rocking closer. I just think that the flow of the shows really developed along that time.”
Together, DSO has been performing since 1997. That’s quite some time! Do you see the band slowing down at any time soon?
Dino English: “Not slowing down, I would say we are slowly moving towards less shows per year. Last year we were at 115, I think we are trying to get down to 100 shows to get more balance in our lives. A lot of us have kids and at one point we were doing 170 shows per year, and with traveling days that ended up being three-fourths of the year and now we are down to about half. It is definitely significantly better as far as balance goes. Ideally, if we could get around 80 shows a year, that would be prime for a balanced life because we all really love playing but we also have regular lives that we really want to participate in as well.”
Lastly, what does DSO have stored for the future? Can fans expect any new projects?
Dino English: “well, we are slowly working on some original material. We have one song that we worked on with Robert Hunter. We did that in 2010, and it has been some time. That is our one original song, but we have a few more in the works right now. We are doing some recording, getting those together, so hopefully they see the light someday. Writing original materials is a slow work in progress on the side of what we do but the new songs we are working on are coming along pretty well!
Anything you’d like to add?
Dino English: “Milwaukee is cold in January and we have a really fun event going on in Jamaica in January, “Jam in the Sand”. I think this is our fifth year and they all have been so much fun. If you have vacation time, that would be something to consider. It’s a while off, but Memorial Day weekend we have an event we always plan throughout the year where we try to get our favorite bands or musicians to perform along side us. It normally occurs in Ohio, it is a three-day event and we play three-day shows, four-hour shows, so that’s a lot of Dark Star. It is a fun event so that might be something else people are interested in.”
Catch Dino English with the rest of the Dark Star Orchestra members this Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, at the Pabst Theatre. Buy your tickets here!