Dark Star Orchestra to Bring an Acoustic Grateful Dead Set to MIM

Categories: Jam

There are an estimated 300 Grateful Dead tribute bands (by one website's account), including the Tempe-based Xtra Ticket. But of all those bands, only Dark Star Orchestra actually play the Dead.

Let us be a little clearer. DSO picks a Grateful Dead show from a list of thousands spanning the Dead's 40-plus-year career -- that's a hell of a lot of shows! -- listens to them (almost everything the Dead did is archived) and then performs that set list. The band always brings in the right equipment -- organs or pianos, percussion instruments, the "Donna" singer, etc. to get the feel as right as the songs. Yet, DSO doesn't try to emulate the concert note for note, but rather puts its take on the show. Having studied the Dead for so many years and having performed over 2,000 concerts, DSO accurately captures the feel and intensity that was the Grateful Dead. This is as close to the real thing as it gets.

With all those concerts, however, Dark Star, like the Grateful Dead themselves, rarely play acoustic sets. The Grateful Dead did some long acoustic-show runs in the early 1980s in New York and San Francisco, with scattered sets before and after, so it was always a special occasion when the boys unplugged.

For their April Fool's Day set at the Musical Instrument Museum, DSO goes acoustic in what is an even rarer occasion for them. How they handle "Monkey and the Engineer" or "Casey Jones" all depends on which historic show they select.

Up on the Sun caught up with Dark Star Orchestra drummer Dino English to get his take on the acoustic tour, the challenges and adjustments needed to play acoustic, and a hint at what the Phoenix show might entail.

Up on the Sun: To begin, what is your role in the band, and how long have you been doing it?

Dino English: I am one of two drummers in the band, stage right. I primarily fulfill the same musical roll as Bill Kreutzmann fulfilled in the Grateful Dead, laying down a nice backbeat that hopefully will inspire people to dance or at least connect emotionally to the music. I've played in Dark Star Orchestra for almost 14 years.

DSO has played hundreds of shows. How rare a gig is it when you get to play acoustic?

We are quickly approaching 2,200 shows played. I'd say we average roughly one acoustic show a tour. This tour, we will be doing two.
I would think that the opportunity to play acoustic would be a nice break, something different?

It is a nice change of pace. Actually, our whole presentation is geared toward being a nice change of pace from night to night. We take a different approach to playing Grateful Dead music on a night-to-night basis, and playing acoustic is another notch in our belt of possibilities for any given show. With every different approach or era we play comes a fresh perspective. That keeps it fun for us to play and fun for the audience to follow along as we morph into a different sound from night to night.

For us drummers, playing acoustic means paring down to kick, snare (played most often with brushes), conga drum, and various percussion (instruments). Playing acoustic brings up different gems that we don't play electric. The gigs tend to be a little less formal (if that's possible) in that the guitarists sit and relax and share a few stories or banter between band and audience. Nick Tiano, our stage manager, has affectionately named it "stools and stories" night.

Location Info


Musical Instrument Museum

4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, AZ

Category: General

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