STRATTON >> Two years before Jerry Garcia's death, guitarist Jeff Mattson and his buddy noticed their idol at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City.

Garcia was talking to someone. After they left, Mattson's friend decided to approach Garcia. The three talked for a few minutes until reality resumed.

"It was a real surreal experience," Mattson said. "We caught him in a good mood. We talked about things that we were mutually interested in. It was a good fan moment."

Today, Mattson plays Garcia's lead guitar role in Dark Star Orchestra, perhaps the pre-eminent Grateful Dead tribute/jam band. Dark Star will revive Dead's psychedelic vibe at Stratton Mountain Resort at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) has performed for audiences in and out of the U.S. at more than 2,000 shows in their 19 years together.

Mattson said that they're different from a traditional tribute band.

"Our mission is to try and recreate what the Grateful Dead sounded like during their 30-year history in respect of the different eras and the way the band sounded then," he said. "We're trying to capture the essence of how the concerts were back then."

The band chooses the best set lists from many of the Grateful Dead's most well-loved shows.

To enhance the experience, surviving members of Grateful Dead have joined Dark Star Orchestra on stage including Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Bill Kruetzman.


Currently, Lisa Mackey sings, Rob Koritz and Dino English play drums and percussion, Rob Eaton plays rhythm guitar and sings, Rob Barraco plays the keyboard and sings and Skip Vangelas plays the bass and sings.

Nineteen other musicians have been a part of Dark Star Orchestra or sat in on a show between 1997 and today. Mattson took over for John Kadelick in 2009, who left to join a band called Furthur with Phil Lesh and Bob Weir.

Mattson is the founder of The Zen Tricksters, a well known jam band from the early 80s. In that, he's played with latest members Klyph Black, Tom Circosta, and Dave Diamond, and past members Rob Barraco, Jennifer Markard, Joe Chirco, Pete Levin, Joe Ciarvella and Alan Lerner.

He also plays in the Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson.

Mattson said he grew up listening to the jazz his father listened to. He ended up getting drawn into rock music and the bands that improvised.

"When I started getting into rock music I was drawn into the bands," he said. "I didn't realize this at the time; Bands that jammed. My father was more of a purist about jazz. He learned to appreciate what I was doing and was very proud of me."

The Dark Star Orchestra performs a recent show.
The Dark Star Orchestra performs a recent show. (supplied photo)

He said he knew that every jazz show was different every night. It's different from a "studio performance note-to-note."

He added that the highlight of his music career was the influence surviving Dead members had on him while jamming together.

"I'm lucky enough to play with former members of the Grateful Dead," he said. "It's nice validation for what you're doing — to fit in with the band. I'm sure the other guys would say the same."

He said DSO is most successful in recreating a true Grateful Dead experience — better than other cover bands.

"The shows are just so different every night," he said. "It would be against the spirit of the music. We're improvising constantly within the context of the songs. That kind of sets us apart. Not playing the same notes every night. It's more of a jazz concept. Using songs as vehicles to improvise."

This is DSO's last outdoor show of the season, Mattson said.

— Contact Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471.