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Concert review: Dark Star Orchestra sends Columbus back to the Grateful Dead era

Members of Dark Star Orchestra perform at Express Live! on Oct. 13. Credit: Emily Pepin | For The Lantern

Express Live became laden with hippies, lovers of rock ‘n’ roll and Grateful Dead fans alike Saturday night. At 7 p.m., the doors of the venue opened to eager fans awaiting Dark Star Orchestra to take the stage, with the line wrapped around the bar next door and halfway down the adjacent sidewalk as fans arrived for a night of Grateful Dead delight.

Dark Star Orchestra is a cover band that formed in 1997 in tribute to the Grateful Dead. At every concert the band recreates a setlist from a previous Dead show. The show gives fans both old and new a chance to experience the craze that swept the nation in the ’70s and ’80s.

The community that once followed the Grateful Dead to every show was seen swaying, dancing and laughing under the lights with Dark Star Orchestra.

The band members were dressed casually, wearing jeans and band tees. The lead guitarist was dressed in a NASA T-shirt, while the bassist was rocking a humble Grateful Dead tee. The casualness of the bandmates was traditional in a Dead show as well. The fans painted a portrait of tie-dye, dreadlocks and Dead-inspired outfits.

That night Dark Star Orchestra recreated a concert from June 1984 and took the audience on a journey back in time.

The setlist stayed the same, but Dark Star Orchestra put its own unique twist on each song. The concert began with “Jack Straw,” a slow jam that fans bobbed their heads to as they made their way into the venue.

The second song of the set was popular radio hit, “Friend of the Devil.” Fans all around were smiling and singing along to each verse. Dark Star Orchestra put its own style into this fan favorite with a slow, drawn out tempo. The next few songs, “Little Red Rooster,” “Cumberland Blues” and “My Brother Esau,” brought the concert into a jam session that no one could resist dancing to.

Fans weren’t disappointed with the rest of the first set, belting out every word right along with the band.

The second set began like the end of the last, whirling concertgoers right back into a dance frenzy. Groups of old friends and strangers laughed and danced together throughout the venue. Even in front of the Mikey’s Late Night Slice stand people were swaying to the music, pizza in hand.

Nearing the middle of the second set, the band surprised the crowd with a Beatles cover, “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” and not one person was quiet. The band would do two more cover songs before the set was over.

In the last moments of the show, a loud encore would bring the band back on stage for two more songs. The first was a slow, loving and sullen Grateful Dead song called “Brokedown Palace.” The second was a cover of founding Grateful Dead member Bob Weir’s song , “One More Saturday Night.” The encore was a perfect end to the show.

Nearing midnight, the concert ended and fans reluctantly poured back out onto the streets of Columbus. Dark Star Orchestra had successfully recreated a Grateful Dead experience for fans young and old. More than 20 years after its start, Dark Star Orchestra rocked Columbus like Grateful Dead themselves.

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