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Dark Star Orchestra raises the tribute-band bar by re-creating Grateful Dead concerts in full

 Dark Star Orchestra's members are experts in several different eras of the Grateful Dead.
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Date published: 7/2/2009


Our baby-boom-weighted population continues its slide toward the AARP age range, buoyed by waves of nostalgia. That shift has facilitated the inevitable rise of the rock 'n' roll tribute act.

Elvis impersonators have had the most success, to the point of becoming an irresistible self-parody. Beatles tributes tour the globe, as do Bee Gees cover bands, expert Journey forgeries and top-notch Pink Floyd apers.

The local Celebrate Virginia Live lineup has featured no fewer than three well-regarded tribute acts this season: ZOSO, a Led Zeppelin sound-exactly-alike; a tribute to Rush named Limelight; and the venerable Grateful Dead appreciation society that is Dark Star Orchestra, scheduled to play Tuesday night.

Dark Star Orchestra has become an institution unto itself, earning rave reviews from die-hard Deadheads, casual fans and former members of the real thing.

According to its Web site, DSO has played about 1, 700 shows--many in front of large, enthusiastic crowds.

"Every Deadhead has his opinion," drummer Dino English said in a recent phone interview. "The way they vote, in the long run, is by coming to the show."

But the reaction varies, depending on what expectations concert-goers have coming in, he added.

"I think a lot of people can see what we're really all about. Others can't get past the stigma of the cover band thing. Most people see that we're Deadheads playing Dead music, and they're glad we're doing it."

Any top-drawer tribute act needs to have its heart in the music, but DSO's members have immersed themselves in the Dead's catalogue and traditions like few other tribute acts ever have.

Their level of devotion coincides with that of most Grateful Dead fans--people who revel (still) in every set list, song choice and extended guitar solo Jerry Garcia and company kicked off the stage during their 30 years of very active playing.

English is one of those people. He studied music in college, and spent his weekends composing and playing original songs. During the week, however, he would meet up with local musicians and play what they all knew: Grateful Dead songs. He heard of DSO through the grapevine.

"I checked them out one night, and sure enough, they were doing it right," he said.

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What: Dark Star Orchestra pays tribute to the Grateful Dead with a faithfully rendered performance. Where: Celebrate Virginia Live, Gordon W. Shelton Boulevard, near the new Wegmans When: Tuesday, July 7, 6 p.m. Cost: $15; all tickets for the previously rained-out June 5 show will be honored at the gate. Info: 540/850-5483 Web: darkstarorchestra.netcelebratevirginialive.com