Dark Star Orchestra may play the songs of the Grateful Dead, but anyone who's seen them perform live knows why they can't be called a cover band or a tribute band.
"We feel like it's more than that," said Dark Star Orchestra drummer Rob Koritz. "I look at it as performance art because the Grateful Dead's music is all based on improvisation. So it's actually us getting to go out every night and express ourselves musically.
"What we do is not note for note; it's not copying the Grateful Dead. We use their songs, but then when we get to the solos and jamming, that's us."
Members of Dark Star Orchestra are (from left): Dino English (percussion), Rob Koritz (drums), Lisa Mackey (vocals), Rob Eaton (rhythm guitar, vocals), Rob Barraco (keyboard, vocals), Kevin Rosen (bass guitar, vocals) and Jeff Mattson (lead guitar, vocals).
Dark Star Orchestra has been bringing their performance art to State College for more than 10 years and will do so again at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at The State Theatre.
Koritz said he's been a "Deadhead" since he was a kid because of both the improvisational nature and the band's subject matter.
"I love what they're singing about, and I love the stories they're telling," he said.
If you go
What: Dark Star Orchestra - Fly Through the Night Fall Tour
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
Details: Tickets are $27 and can be purchased online at www.thestatetheatre. org/events or by phone at 272-0606.
Now, Koritz gets to take the stage and play those songs up to 250 times a year with the band's extensive touring schedule. Though he technically takes on the role of the Dead's Mickey Hart every night, Koritz doesn't really think of it that way.
"I'm going out there and play the drums in a certain style, and that style will be Mickey Hart's style from that time period," he said. "But it's still me playing drums, you know. It's still me going out there and playing the way I play and incorporating Mickey's style into what I do."
Though Dark Star Orchestra is not the Grateful Dead, the band has been acknowledged as the closest thing to it, with the Chicago Tribune claiming it "recreates the Dead concert experience with uncanny verisimilitude."
Kristy Cyone, marketing director for The State Theatre, said the closeness with which the band can recreate a Grateful Dead set is a testament to the effort they put into their craft.
"You can't go back in time to see a [Grateful Dead] show, but this is the next best thing," she said.
To further replicate the real thing, DSO's set at any given performance won't just be a catalog of the Dead's greatest hits. Rather, Koritz said the band will pick a set list from a specific era of the Dead, spanning anytime from 1969 to 1992. Then, DSO will play the set with the same instrumentation, arrangement and influences while still adding their own improvisational flair.
Koritz said that they approached their live show like this to set themselves apart, and it "caught on."
"I think people like it because they're going to be surprised," he said. "If we did it the other way, they could come out every night and know exactly what we're going to play if we were a greatest hits package. But this way, they still get to be surprised. ... Maybe they'll hear that rare song that they really like that doesn't get played very often."
This approach has drawn large crowds of local Grateful Dead fans when DSO has played The State Theatre in years past, Cyone said, and she expects this show to be no different.
"Even if you're not a huge fan [of the Grateful Dead], it's very interesting to see them in their craft," Cyone said. "They're impressive on all levels."
Koritz said a DSO show also usually draws "Deadheads" of all ages.
"You have teenagers who never got to see the Grateful Dead and that weren't even alive basically when the Grateful Dead ended. Then we get all the way up to people in their 60s who saw the Grateful Dead in the '60s," Koritz said. "When I first started in the band, it was almost more important to me that people who had seen the Grateful Dead over the years came and saw us and liked us. That justifies what we're doing. But, as time went on, I've realized it's equally as important playing for the younger folks to turn them on to this great music that they never got to see live."
No matter who's in the audience, Koritz said he hopes everyone comes away from a DSO show with a "taste of the music" that he loves so much.
"I hope they come away with that, and I hope they come away with a sore body from dancing hard because we made them move their feet," he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.