Photo courtesy of Keith Briner

By C. Alan Crandall
For the Daily Camera
Previously published in the Boulder Daily Camera

In 1978, the Grateful Dead played Red Rocks for the first time, on July 7 and 8. Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of those now-legendary Colorado performances, and to celebrate, the most famous Grateful Dead Cover band, Dark Star Orchestra, is set to replay a performance from 1978.

Considered by many fans to be the best Grateful Dead cover band, Dark Star Orchestra — or DSO — for the last 20 years has toured worldwide, and is known during their own shows for recreating sets from specific Dead shows. DSO has played more than 2,600 shows —

The tribute act comprises Rob Barraco on keyboard and guitar, Rob Eaton on guitar and vocals, Dino “Vortex” English on drums, Rob Koritz on percussion, Lisa Mackey on vocals, Jeff Mattson on guitar and vocals and Skip Vangelas on bass. The band, plus guests, on Sunday at Red Rocks will recreate the Dead’s set from July 8, 1978.

Grateful Dead alum joins DSO

Joining DSO for the 40th Anniversary show is one of the original members of the Grateful Dead, Donna Jean Godchaux. In 1978, Donna Jean

By Susana Millman. Donna Jean Godchaux, a former member of the Grateful Dead, plans to perform with Dead tribute act Dark Star Orchestra on Sunday, July 8, 2018, at Red Rocks.

Godchaux performed at Red Rocks, along with her husband, the late keyboardist Keith Godchaux, and Dead members Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann.

“I consistently call Red Rocks the hallowed hall of rock ‘n’ roll,” Godchaux said. “And, you know, if you get to play Red Rocks you’re doing OK. Not only is it gorgeous, it sounds really well … And the audiences are just fabulous. I’m so looking forward to it. But, I can’t believe it’s been 40 years.”

It won’t be the first time Godchaux has performed with DSO, most recently about a month ago in Birmingham, Ala.

Keller Williams is warming up for DSO for the July 8 event. “He is awesome,” Godchaux said of Williams. “He has gotten his gig totally down. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And he’s very good at it.”

Godchaux talked about the difference between playing with the Grateful Dead and DSO.

“Well, number one, that was four decades apart,” she said. “Everything changed and was different. Being in the Grateful Dead, it was a whole ‘nother era. Nobody cared about money and nobody cared about anything but playing music. And that was it. And things have changed a bit and time has moved on. So has everybody else. It’s a different animal than it used to be. But I’m telling you this, I loved singing with the Grateful Dead.”

40 years ago

In 1978, the average rent was $260, gas was 63 cents a gallon, “Space Invaders” hit the arcades, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was in the theaters, and the Grateful Dead played their first shows at Red Rocks. The scene at the historic venue on July 7 and 8 was unlike any it had experienced before.

Concerts at Red Rocks back then were far less controlled by security. By midday on the 7th and 8th, the seats were filled by fans who showed up as early as 4 a.m. to get good seat. There were too many fans to try to remove from the venue before opening the gates.

Evergreen resident John Twigg has been to every Grateful Dead Red Rocks show. “The July 8th was my third show,” he said. “July 7th, 1978, was my second show. My first show was in October ’77. Before then I wouldn’t really call myself a deadhead. I saw them in ’77 — it was the one show at McNichols (in Denver) — and then I went away thinking, ‘Yeah, pretty good band’ … Then when I went to see them at Red Rocks that’s kind of when I got on the bus and said, ‘Hot dog I gotta get more of this.'”

Twigg continued: “There wasn’t a lot of structure at Red Rocks shows. I don’t think the city was prepared for what happened in ’78. it was like, the first day you could just go up there and grab a seat. And there wasn’t anybody even there to tell you not to do stuff … It was a big party atmosphere. The show was like at 7:30 at night. By noon people were there and the place was full, and there were too many people for them to start kicking people out.”

The Grateful Dead performed at Red Rocks on 20 occasions, between 1978 and 1987.

Donna Jean joins the band

In 1970, after hearing the Grateful Dead, Godchaux was determined to join the band.

“The first time I heard the Dead I turned to the person next to me and said ‘When I sing again it’s gonna be with that band.’ I was just absolutely mesmerized. They were having a magical night. It was at Winterland in San Francisco. And I just couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘How in the world do they do that?’

She explained what she found so extraordinary about the Dead: “The interaction that they had between one another, and how everything was different from night to night. And you couldn’t say that you had ever seen the same show twice, because they always played it differently … To me that was just the next thing that I wanted to do musically. So by that time I had met Keith. And of course he was into the Grateful Dead. And so we just set our goal and our minds and our hearts and our spirit that we were gonna be with that band.”

Team Donna Jean

Musician Zion “Rock” Godchaux, son of Donna Jean and Keith Godchaux, will attend the July 8 Red Rocks show, as will his own son.

“Three generations of Godchaux will be at the Red Rocks show. And how cool is that,” Donna Jean Godchaux said. “So we’re gonna have ourselves some fun. My brother and my sister-in-law are coming. The people who own the recording studio here in Muscle Shoals (where she lives) are our best friends, Jimmy Nutt and his wife, Angie. They’re coming … So I have what we call Team Donna Jean coming into Denver.”

She added, “I so look forward to it and getting back to Red Rocks. I have to say as well, my favorite venue in the world is Red Rocks. You can’t beat it with a stick. And it is a hallowed hall.”

For more information visit

he Grateful Dead played Red Rocks 20 times. Band leader Jerry Garcia is pictued during a 1981 concert at the venue. (Steven Purcell / File photo)

If you go

What: Dark Star Orchestra recreating 7/8/78

When: 5 p.m. July 8

Where: Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 W Alameda Pkwy., Morrison

Cost: $40-55

More info:

Grateful Dead set list, July 8, 1978

First set


Good Lovin’

Dire Wolf

El Paso

It Must Have Been the Roses

New Minglewood Blues

Ramble on Rose

Promised Land


Second set

Samson and Delilah

Ship of Fools

Estimated Prophet

The Other One

Eyes of the World


Wharf Rat

Franklin’s Tower

Sugar Magnolia


Terrapin Station

One More Saturday Night

Werewolves of London



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