By Maria Wyllie Explore Big Sky Associate Editor

BOZEMAN – Dark Star Orchestra isn’t your typical cover band. Tonight, Bozemanites will find out why.

The famed Grateful Dead tribute band is embarking on its fall Western tour this month with stops at the Pink Garter Theatre in Jackson, Wyo. on Sept. 27, the Emerson in Bozeman on Sept. 28 and the Wilma in Missoula on Sept. 29.

Rather than simply playing songs written by the Grateful Dead, DSO recreates the entire experience of attending a Dead show – something they like to call “raising the Dead.”

“In my opinion, if you’re interested in hearing the Dead, we’re playing it as close to the original form as possible,” said DSO drummer Rob Koritz in a phone interview. “Older Dead Heads like it for nostalgic reasons, and, for newer Dead Heads, we get to turn them on to music they never got to see.”

Because the music they’re covering is incredibly intimate, Koritz says roughly 90 percent of each song is improvised, which allows for creative expression while still emulating the Dead’s sound.

“What we’re doing is closer to performance art than a cover band,” he added. Kortiz has been playing with Dark Star since 1999, two years after the band was founded. And he isn’t bored yet.

DSO typically performs a show based on a specific set list from the Grateful Dead’s 30 years of extensive touring. At the end of each night, they announce the date and location of the original show.

“We offer a sort of a historical perspective at what it might have been like to go to a show in 1985, 1978 or whenever,” said rhythm guiatarist and vocalist Rob Eaton in a press release. “Even for Dead Heads who can say they’ve been to a hundred shows in the 90s, we offer something they never got to see live.”
But to keep things fresh, DSO members build their own set lists about 30 percent of the time. Koritz says this enables them to play songs that were rarely performed or to play songs from different decades next to each other, thus creating a whole new experience.

Through their accuracy of sound, DSO has even garnered the attention of original Grateful Dead band members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay, Vince Welnick and Tom Constanten, who have all made guest performances.

“Playing with Dark Star Orchestra is something that feels just exactly like it felt when I was playing with the Grateful Dead,” said Grateful Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux-McKay, according to a Vootie Productions press release.
Other notable guests have included Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman of Phish, Keller Williams, Warren Haynes, Steve Kimock, Peter Rowan and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, among others.
Even if you don’t usually listen to cover bands, Koritz urges wary listeners to see what it’s all about.
“For Dead Heads who are skeptical, give it a chance,” he says. “If you come one time, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Tickets to the Sept. 28 show can be purchased at Cactus Records in Bozeman or online at Ticketriver.com. Visit darkstarorchestra.net for more information.