Thursday, July 9, 2009
Dark Star Orchestra at Celebrate Virginia Live
On Tuesday, we went to our first concert in the Celebrate Virginia Live series, to see Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band. The series started in May, and has brought bigger-than-usual names to the Fredericksburg area. The venue is an undeveloped piece of land at the back of the Celebrate Virginia project, with a large stage, plus vendors selling food, beer and wine, band merchandise, and on the night we went, a moonbounce for the kids. Concerts are scheduled for Friday nights throughout the summer, although Tuesday’s concert was a rescheduled appearance due to rain in June (despite the fact that the shows are advertised as “rain or shine,” I guess the spring monsoons made the field too much of a mudhole), which may have been why the crowd was fairly light. We got there early to set up our chairs close to the stage—totally unnecessary, as the available space far exceeded the audience. And in any case, once the music gets going, everyone stands, so sitting in your perfectly positioned chair only gets you a wide-angle view of the guy's butt in front of you.
Each DSO concert is a faithful recreation of an actual performance by the Dead, song for song. We got a Dead concert circa 1986, which featured a pretty good representation of the Dead’s music. The imitation was credible—the Garcia and Weir counterparts were very similar in voice to the originals (the Lesh was not at all convincing), and the crowd (including tattooed youngsters, aging hippies, and lots of folks in commercially-printed tie-dyed T-shirts) clearly let themselves be transported by the music. We are big Dead fans, having seen the originals many times back in our college days, and for us, this band was enjoyable, but nothing like the thrill ride that was the Dead at their best (not that the Dead were always at their best). Still, it was fun to hear the old songs played live again, and I give DSO credit for an energetic and crowd-pleasing show.
I do find the idea of a tribute band a bit odd, particularly for musicians as talented as these guys. Aren’t they dying to play their own music? Don’t they find it creatively stifling to have to recreate someone else’s decades-old songs? I feel a bit sorry for the guys. I suppose it comes down to economics—if targeting the Dead-fan demographic fills the seats, it guarantees to keep the band’s career going. Not a bad way to make a living.