Grateful Dead tribute band to perform at Md. Theatre

Dark Star Orchestra performs Wednesday

Dark Star Orchestra performs Wednesday

November 05, 2009|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE

The first time Rob Barraco saw The Grateful Dead in concert, he was 15.

By then, he had had his sights set on a career of music.

By the time he was 6, Barraco was already playing both the keyboard and guitar. Music followed him throughout school.

After receiving a Bachelor of Music from the State University of New York-New Paltz, Barraco embarked on a career many musicians would envy - a life as a working professional.

"I've been pretty much making a living from music since college," Barraco said during a telephone interview from his Long Island home.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Barraco will join his bandmates at The Maryland Theatre as they perform the music he heard live when he was a teen. Dark Star Orchestra is a Grateful Dead tribute band.


But for a while, the Dead had to wait.

Barraco spent the 1980s and 1990s as keyboardist for the stage band of "The Cosby Show" and its spin-off "A Different World."

During the late 1980s, Barraco toured with R&B artist Freddie Jackson.

"When I got a taste for being on the road, I knew this is what I was meant to do," he said.

But it was his gig with The Zen Tricksters that lead Barraco to perform the Dead's music.

They were working on their second album, "A Love Surreal," when Barraco decided to pass a copy of the album to a friend who knew Phil Lesh, a founding member of the Grateful Dead.

Barraco said he asked his friend to pass the album to Lesh, hoping to hear some feedback.

"I was looking for just that. I would have loved to hear he thought it was cool or he didn't think it was really cool," he said.

Months passed, and Barraco didn't hear from Lesh. He talked to his friend during a gig they played in San Francisco and asked if he had ever heard anything from Lesh. His friend said no.

"It just really depressed me," Barraco said with a chuckle.

While on the road, Barraco stopped at a convenience store to use a pay phone to call home. His girlfriend told him that his agent was calling for him.

Seems that the copy of "A Love Surreal" was lost when Lesh moved his office, and he had just recently discovered it. And not only did he liked it, Lesh wanted to play with the group.

He ended up playing with Lesh and touring in the San Francisco Bay area, and then went around the country. They even performed in a double-billing with Bob Dylan.

"It really started a great relationship," Barraco said. "I think what Phil liked about me besides my playing and stuff was that I was so attuned to the repertoire. I was able to teach anyone who came into the band after that the repertoire."

Eventually, Barraco toured with Lesh for a number of years as The Phil Lesh Quartet. Then, after Jerry Garcia's death, when The Dead formed, Barraco played with them for two years.

In 2005, Barraco joined Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band, after the tragic death of keyboardist Scott Larnerd.

Their manager called Barraco right after Larnerd's funeral because the band already had a tour lined up and they had to perform. Barraco said he felt bad for the guys and also had a free month, so he agreed.

"I went on a road and after only a few shows, I realized I was having a really great time, a wonderful time," he said.

Barraco said he loved their approach to the music and that they were "nice, normal people, which is hard to find in this business."

He said they just clicked. So much so that Barraco told the band, he would love to continue with them. But to do that, he had to say no to Lesh to tour with him.

But don't think that what Dark Star Orchestra is are a group of guys trying to sound like the records. These guys are accomplished musicians, which they need to be to capture The Grateful Dead's musical integrity.

"In order to play this music, you have to be really in the moment, and it has to be approached like you would approach a jazz group. It's highly improvisational. You can play the same song five times in the row - it won't come out the same," he said.

What keeps the band together is more than just their respect of The Grateful Dead. It's about their love of music.

"It's translating the sounds in your head. I'm not one to say God gave me this gift or the universe gave me this. Frankly, I don't really care. I just know that it's there and I need to get it out," he said. " ... My bandmates are the same way. They're accomplished musicians who work at their craft. And because of that, we're able to pull this off night after night. I don't think you could any other way."

If you go ...

What: Dark Star Orchestra

When:7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11

Where: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

Cost: $32.50

More: For tickets go to or call 301-790-2000.

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