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Channeling The Dead 

Dark Star Orchestra lead guitarist and vocalist Jeff Mattson, a Long Islander, performs Jerry Garcia’s role in the band’s concert re-creations.

For over 16 years and more than 2,200 shows played, Dark Star Orchestra has embodied the Grateful Dead’s live experience for fans both old and too young to have ever seen their own Grateful Dead show. The tribute band that “Rolling Stone” magazine called “quite possibly the most talented and accomplished tribute band out there,” will play The Paramount in Huntington for two nights, Dec. 30 and New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31.

To understand Dark Star Orchestra, one has to understand the Grateful Dead, who performed over 2300 shows over their four decades together as a band. Their lasting impact on American culture cannot be overstated – particularly in our music, with artists in genres as diverse as metal and Americana citing them as a major influence.

The Grateful Dead only released 13 studio albums, but countless live recordings are still rabidly sought after, traded and collected because every show was different, with its own improvisations and arrangements, depending on the mood of both the band and the audience. With The Dead it was always about the live performance, and Dark Star Orchestra is doing its part to keep that alive.

Recreating historic Grateful Dead set lists, and intermittently crafting their own, Dark Star Orchestra offers a continually evolving artistic outlet within the Grateful Dead’s musical canon. Matching equipment, stage layout and even members (various eras could include female vocals or multiple drummers), Dark Star Orchestra’s determined commitment to “raising the Dead” has earned them high praise. A Chicago Tribune review exclaimed that “Dark Star Orchestra often sounds more like The Dead than The Dead sometimes did.”

Many original members of the Grateful Dead themselves have joined the band on stage as guest musicians for a set or two, as have Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman of Phish, a band whose rambling improvisations have earned them strong comparisons to The Dead.

“Playing with Dark Star Orchestra feels just exactly like it felt when I was playing with the Grateful Dead,” said Donna Jean Godchaux, Grateful Dead vocalist and frequent DSO guest.

While recreating set lists song for song, Dark Star Orchestra does not try to match the music note for note. Anything so formulaic would be of a great disservice to the free spirit of The Dead’s live performances. It’s really about the sound that’s created. It’s about a sense of familiarity. It’s about a feeling that grabs listeners and takes over. It’s about a contagious energy… In short, it’s about the complete experience given by one of the greatest live acts ever.

Dark Star Orchestra has been delivering this to Grateful Dead fans since 1997 when a group of musicians came up with the concept of performing complete Grateful Dead shows from the band’s touring history.

The band secured four Tuesday night gigs at Martyrs’ in their hometown of Chicago. The crowd was scant that first night, but through word-of-mouth, they sold out the room on the fourth night. One year later, Gordon and Fishman of Phish dropped in after their own show. Fishman ended up sitting in for the majority of the evening, which included a rollicking drum section of four percussionists!

The buzz that followed sparked national interest. A winter tour sold out almost every performance and their website got millions of hits.

Tickets are $39.50 – $125 at the box office, or go to paramountny.com.

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